Provence. Travel to the countryside of a wonderful hinterland
Provence. The countryside
After touring the cities of Provence, which we saw here http://culturehikes.com/en/provence-travel-france-mediterranean-light-cities/, we continued with the countryside.
As I wrote, I was fortunate to discover the countryside of Provence while participating in a voluntary restoration program in Graveson, a village near Avignon.
In return for the work of our multinational volunteer team, in our free time, we travelled through the cities and villages of Provence. I had visited the cities myself before, but the countryside is harder to visit without being guided by locals.
After the Camargue. which we saw here http://culturehikes.com/en/provence-camargue-country-wild-horses-gipsies/, we will go a little further north, in the area stretching between Arles, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence.
Les Baux-de-Provence. In the home of bauxite
Our first stop is the village of Les Baux-de-Provence, northeast of Arles. Built in a spectacular location on the top of a cliff, it is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. In the Provencal dialect it’s called Lei Bauç de Provença. Its name comes from its location: bauç means rocky peak.
This word gave its name to the bauxite, as it was first discovered here in 1821.
Les Baux was the seat of a prince, and its castle, built between the 11th and 13th centuries, was one of the most powerful of medieval France. The princes of Les Baux were believed to have been descended from the biblical Magus Balthasar, and their coat of arms was a sixteen-pointed silver star that symbolised the Bethlehem star.
Although today Les Baux belongs to France, the successor to the throne of Monaco is called, among other things, the Marquis of Les Baux.
Les Baux-de-Provence is fully integrated into its natural environment. Source: Rolf Süssbrich (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Though ruined, the castle of Les Baux-de-Provence remains impressive
In the interior of Les Baux-de-Provence
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. In the home of Nostradamus
Northeast of Les Baux-de-Provence is Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. What makes it more known is that the famous Nostradamus was born here.
Michel de Nostredame (1503 – 1566), usually Latinized as Nostradamus, wWas a doctor and a renowned astrologer. He published prophecy collections that have since become widely known. He is known for his book “Les Propheties”, published in 1555.
Since the publication of this book, Nostradamus has attracted many fans. These, along with a great part of the popular press, attribute to him the prediction of many major world events.
The house of Nostradamus, the most famous prophet of the West
A little street in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Outside of Saint Remy lies the archaeological site of Glanum. Glanum was originally Celtic and then a Roman city. The archaeological site features a triumphal arch and a mausoleum of the 1st century BC, known as “les Antiques”.
Glanum, near Saint-Remy-de-Provence: Roman triumphal arch and mausoleum (“Les Antiques”). Source: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Graveson. The subjective centre of Provence
Graveson, near Avignon, has nothing special to be mentioned. But for us, it was the centre of our acquaintance with Provence. We were staying here because we were participating in the voluntary restoration program of a gate of the medieval wall. From here we were always starting to get to know the cities and the countryside of Provence.
Graveson. Front of medieval houses
One of the ‘three sisters of Provence’ (les trois soeurs provençales): abbey of Silvacane
East of Saint Rémy and north of Aix-en-Provence is the abbey of Silvacane. It’s a former Cistercian monastery, founded in 1144 and dissolved in 1443.
It’s one of the three Cistercian monasteries in Provence, known as the ‘three sisters of Provence’. The other two are the abbey of Sénanque and the abbey of Le Thoronet. Silvacane was perhaps the youngest. These three monasteries are among the most prominent medieval monuments of Provence.
The order of strict architects
The term Cistercians originates from Cistercium, the Latin name of Citeaux, near Dijon in Burgundy. In this village, a group of Benedictine monks founded the abbey of Cîteaux in 1098.
Their purpose was to follow more strictly the rule of Saint Benedict. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the greatest figures of Western monasticism, entered the monastery in the early 1110s and helped to spread the order rapidly.
The life of Cistercians initially emphasised manual labour and self-sufficiency. Many monasteries supported traditional activities such as agriculture and brewing.
However, over the centuries, education and academic pursuits have dominated the lives of the monasteries. This led groups of monks to detach and create new orders, such as the Trappists, in order to return to the original rules.
The buildings, dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, are mainly Romanesque (ie with small openings and semicircular arches), with some Gothic elements (pointed arches). As is usually the case with early Cistercian buildings, the architecture focuses entirely on austerity and harmony.
The interior of the church, without decoration or distraction, is an excellent example of the Cistercian architecture of the 12th century.
The abbey of Silvacane. The outside of the church has the characteristic austerity of the Cistercian architecture
Abbey of Silvacane. The interior of the church. It’s considered a masterpiece of the Cistercian architecture. Source: Jmalik at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
East of Avignon is Gordes. It’s another village of Provence in a stunning natural environment.
Gordes. Another village of Provence fully integrated into the natural environment. Source: I, Luc Viatour [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Our acquaintance with the countryside of Provence was completed with the village of Francis, the stonemason who oversaw us in our work at Graveson (the one who took us for free camping in the Camargue). This brought us more to the east, in the inland of Toulon.
But that was not a simple visit but a participation in events that was destined to be a unique experience. So, stay tuned.
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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