Les Baux de Provence
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is an association of 157 municipalities that gathers and promotes the most beautiful villages in France. Les Baux de Provence, perched on a high rocky outcrop in the Alpilles Mountains, is one of them.
And really deserves it. The stony plateau rises steeply six hundred feet above the surrounding countryside, from there can be seen the southern plains to Arles and the nearby Camargue marshes. The price to pay for this high position is the punishment of the mistral winds. In winter and springtime violently hit the town. It’s the half of the year and the inhabitants can identify two kinds of the same wind; one is the white mistral and gives the place a particular luminosity. The so-called black mistral, blowing rarely, is usually accompanied by rains.
The name Baux derives from the Occitan word bauç. It means steep or rocky cliff and ended up giving name to the type of rock rich in aluminium that abounds in the region, the bauxite, catalogued in 1821 by geologist Pierre Berthier.
An advantageous position as that granting by the heights was already used by the Gallic Celts two centuries before our era to build a settlement of easy defence, an oppidum that Rome would use to strengthen the position with a castrum. On the tenth century it was transformed into a castle that dominated towns and villages in the region. The lineage of the first Lords of Baux, the Pons originating in Arles, didn’t use the castle as residence, only exceptionally, as in the case of Barral of Baux in the thirteenth century. The Lords of Baux controlled for centuries this area of Provence pretending to be descendants of one of the Biblical Magi, King Balthasar, disputing their rights in Provence with the Counts of Barcelona between 1145 and 1162. On the death of Princess Alix, in 1426, the lordship of Baux was incorporated into Provence.
Currently, once you have managed to park the car at one of the many paying parking areas, including road sides, the access is close to the Maison du Roy, the tourist office. Everything is geared to tourism in Baux: shops selling any kinds of Provencal lavender soaps, the absinthe brand that supposedly drank Van Gogh, Santons, the Provence typical holy men made of clay, the ineffable paraphernalia of medieval reminiscences, from plastic coloured knights figurines to iron swords supposedly coming from Toledo, Spain. The rest are restaurants that already have their tables ready for lunch promptly before eleven o'clock.
There are not many streets in Baux, so no choice but to continue along the rue de la Porte Mage and once here, choose the Grand Rue or to the right by the place Louis Jou to the Porte d'Eyguières and rue de la Calade. If this is the choice soon is found the Musée des Santons, the aforementioned clay holy men in miniature, and later, when you reach Saint Vincent small square, there’s the homonymous church, partly carved into the rock and the Chapelle des Penitents Blancs. The first, built in the twelfth century, is dedicated to Vincent of Saragossa. A staircase leads to the Romanesque doorway.
If the first option was chosen, the Grand Rue leads to the Hôtel de Mainville now housing the City Hall and the mansion that belonged to Brisson Peyre which retains since 1571 the Calvinist motto Post Tenebras Lux, after darkness light. From here either the rue de l’Orme, the rue Neuve or the rue du Château inevitably lead to the castle entrance.
The first fortified enclosure defended the entire population on the rocky mass, its main entrance was until 1866 the Porte d'Eyguières, near the square where stays the church of Saint Vincent. A second level comprises the castle and Costapera esplanade in the north were before it was accessed between Paravelle and Sentinelle de Coye towers. To the south the entry is now placed through the rue du Trencat. Once inside the premises, on the left is found the chapel of Saint Blaise, a small, simple XII century chapel that today became a castle museum annex that was before linked to the guild of wool workers and weavers. On the esplanade there are some reproductions of medieval heavy weapons used for demonstrations. A walk along the esplanade lead to the edge of the cliffs, from there you can see the old bauxite mines, and in the background the plain of the Camargue. Crossing below the Tour Sarracine is the core of the castle with courtyards, a bread oven, tanks and services to the fortress residential areas. These were at the top, protected on one side by the cliff.
In 1631 the inhabitants of Les Baux supported the Protestant Reformation rebellion against King Louis XIII of France, the result was a twenty seven days fierce siege after which they surrendered. The following year, Richelieu ordered the destruction of the fortress.