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Roches de la Provence

When I thought back about our third day exploring Provence, I realized that the common theme between the stops was rocks!  First, the castle des Baux de Provence is an ancient medieval fortress sitting on its limestone hill in the Alpilles, a chain of small mountains.  Before you literally climb to see its ruins, you go through the most charming village, still quiet with few tourists in early March. Still all the French style souvenirs shops along the way were waking up with their offers… and we succumbed naturally to a couple of them. 

L’existence d’un château des Baux remonte au Xe siècle donc bien avant l’intégration officielle de la Provence par la France en 1486. Il a d’abord été la propriété des seigneurs des Baux, une des plus puissantes familles de la région.  Le château étant un haut point stratégique au Moyen-âge avec des pans de murs entiers taillés à même la roche, il est constamment l’enjeu des contestations des héritages familiaux surtout lors qu’une femme en est la seule héritière.  Mais c’est les guerres de religion du XVIIe siécle qui donnera un coup fatal à l’intégrité de la forteresse. Des protestants s’étant réfugié dans la forteresse, celle-ci est conséquement jugée rebelle à la couronne de France. En 1633, le Cardinal Richelieu sous ordre du roi Louis XIII, voit au siège de la ville des Baux pendant 27 jours, et fait abattre les remparts de la forteresse marquant le début de son lent déclin par rapport à son importance stratégique. 

Following this already major attraction in this area, we were highly recommended to go see the multimedia show at the “Carrières des Lumières” which was only 800m from the same village.  This former quarry of the “Les Baux” stone, was used to build the castle des Baux but it was only in the 1800s that those quarries were massively exploited for construction. But in the 1930s, all the quarries faced closure since less expensive building materials were emerging then.  In 1959, the Carrières’ wide empty space attracted artistic projects, such as an opera and a movie set, setting the quarry towards a new life. In 2012, the current vocation for this space took flight with the annual productions of a light and music show based on major painters’ works projected onto the high walls and pillars. In 2020, it was the turn of Dali and Gaudi to be featured.

Here’s a video giving a sense of the show and the space. We were amazed by the choice of Pink Floyd’s music to go along Salvador Dali’s works. The 2020 season was closed for a few months shortly after our visit due to the first wide-France lockdown. 

Pour notre dernière partie de notre thème de rocailles, nous nous dirigeons à la fin de l’après-midi vers Cavaillon où mon amateur d’escalade voulait avoir la chance de faire une Via Ferrata dans la région, sa première en Europe. La route vers le trajet est accessible du bas de la ville et la seule contrainte dans son cas était de retourner l’équipement loué avant la fermeture du magasin. 

For my own portion of that afternoon, I wandered around the city of Cavaillon.  I had seen in my guide book that a Jewish museum had been established to tell the story and show the synagogue (now desacralized) of the Cavaillon Jewish community dating back from the 15th century. One of only four synagogues in Provence, the Cavaillon community never ever exceeded 200 people and were confined after working hours to a ghetto of a few streets.  In 1772, a new synagogue was built over the original one and unlike typical decors of their interiors, its walls had bright colors and very intricate ornaments because they were designed and built by Christians. The Jews were only allowed to work as traders or moneylenders. 

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