Monday, October 12, 2009

les Baux de Provence

Legend has it that Balthazar, one of the magi that followed the star of Bethlehem, later retired to the South of France and established the community now known as les Baux de Provence. The Provencal people seem to have a knack for inserting themselves into biblical relevance. Anothe rexample is the story of les Maries de la Mer, which now famously sets the premise for Dan Brown's DaVinci Code.

Though the story of the city's founding is historically dubious, there is a legendary quality to the ruined fortress perched at the top of an imposing hill. Throughout the middle ages, les Baux de Provence exemplified the era. Devious castellas sometimes inhabited the fortress, using their might to extort the local populace. The walls were fortified to thwart marauding moors. At least twice, the castle was besieged by rival factions. Knights and troubadours promulgated the myth of chivalry and honor within the walls of the keep.

Today, the castle grounds are a sprawling museum for learning about the myths and truths of the middle ages. Little remains of the actual castle walls, having been ordered destroyed during the wars of religion. However, the installation of several replica siege machines and a thorough audio tour bring the hilltop fortress to life.

It seems that life in Les Baux was closely tied to rocky outcropping into which it was constructed. Many walls of the castle were simply carved out of the rock. Many peasants even made troglodyte homes within the soft stone. These rock walls survive where the man-made ramparts have fallen. As a result, it's interesting to note the ridges and corbels chiseled into the rock to receive wooden beams or act as washing basins. The local people even relied on the rock walls to receive water. Gutters were carved into the rock to channel water into cisterns.

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Medieval life was hard on the peasantry, but court life would have lacked many of the creature comforts that we cherish today as well. The keep of the castle is a small square shaft with limited lighting and only minimal opportunity for fireplace heating. Loyalty was also hot and cold. A duke hoping to replenish the ranks of his warriors with a mercenary knight or desiring some entertainment from a troubadour might well find his wife swept away into a courtly love affair by these supposed compatriots.

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Today, you're more likely to lose your wife among the maze of specialty shops in the small village. There is no permanent city to speak of, it's entire existence is based on a reputation as one of the most beautiful villages in France - and this is true.

View more photos of les Baux de Provence on my Flickr page.
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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.