Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers

Aix-en-Provence

Provence is windy.  During our trips to Provence, we saw a large number of wrought-iron bell towers.  Produced in Provence since the 16th century, they are unique to the region.   Once I saw my first one with The Luger on our trip to Avignon, I noticed them everywhere.

Near Les Baux

Their light and open framework allows the area’s strong winds, Le Mistral, to blow through them instead of blowing them over.  Their sound carries for miles.  They usually top the town hall or church, but can even top  a rampart gate.  Many of the towers have a strong Italian influence (which isn’t too surprising given Provence’s proximity to France and considering parts of the Côte d’Azur belonged to France at one time).

Vaison-la-Romaine

Aix-en-Provence

from the highway

Near Pont du Gard

The bellowers date from different eras, but most were built in the 17th and 19th centuries.  They were typically produced by local craftsmen.  Each designed and crafted the tower in their own particular style.  As a result, they vary dramatically in style.  Cool huh?

City Hall in Aix-en-Provence

St-Paul-de-Vence

On the way to Gap

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What’s Latin For Roman? Finding Out All About Ancient Rome In Arles

A model of Roman Arles

You can’t swing a cat in Arles without hitting Roman ruins.  I badly for anyone who wants to undertake a building project there.  They must expect to uncover Roman ruins when they start digging as they are everywhere.

They pop up on random streets and sections of viaducts decorate the middle of traffic circles!

Around 200 B.C., the Romans extended their empire into what is now southern France.  At the time, it was inhabited by the Celtic Gauls who resisted Roman domination.  Rome wanted control of the region to ensure the continuity and security of their supply lines to Spain.

In 56 B.C. Julius Caesar’s legions kicked the crap out of the Celtic Gauls.  Romans took control of the territory.   As a result, some of the most significant Roman towns outside of Italy are in the south of France.  We saw the Pont du Gard, the amphitheater and triumphal arch in Orange a month earlier when we visited with family.

The Roman Empire was huge.  We’ve seen Roman ruins in Portugal, England, Germany, and they are all over  Switzerland.  Geneva was a Roman town; there are at least two sites with ruins within a mile of our flat.  As a result, we are in danger of giving you Ruin Fatigue (a real illness) from tramping around so many of them.  The Roman ruins in Arles are some of the world’s best (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and we felt as though they were still a must-see.  We were right.  He says that they were the bomb.com.  Please bear with us.  I swear, we won’t post about them again for awhile.

Roman Museum in Arles (Musee de L’Arles Antique), is filled with models and artifacts from Provence’s Roman era.  This modern museum displays ancient artifacts from Arles.

lead bars

One of the most famous items in the museum is a copy of Venus of Arles.  Found in 1651 by workmen who were digging a well, it is a Roman copy of Greek statue (possibly the Venus of Capua).   Louis XIV liked it and snagged the lovely lady to decorate Versailles.   Post-revolution, it belongs to the Louvre.

Louis XIV thinks I’m hot!

While the objects were cool, the best part of the museum was how they put the items in context and explained the region’s role in ancient Rome.  From showing how the covering went on the amphitheater to explaining how viaducts worked.  It was Ancient Rome 101.

The amphitheater is the largest Roman building in Gaul.  Compared to the collesium in Rome, it is tiny.  Nevertheless, we’ve been to professional sporting events in much smaller venues.  They still hold bullfights there!

After seeing bullfights in Lisbon a few years back. We felt badly and rooted for the bull. Seeing what the animal went through made us wary of seeing another. Sorry. There won’t be any bullfight coverage.

During the 
middle ages, the arena was used as a fortress; people lived inside using its giant walls for protection.  There were 212 
houses and 2 churches inside!  Those were cleared out 
when restoration began in the 1800s.

My dad complains that thousands of people watch sporting events, but the opera can’t draw the same crowds or support.  The amphitheater seats 20,000.  The Theatre Antique (the theater) seats a mere 12,000.  Apparently sports were drawing larger crowds than the arts as far back as the Roman Empire.

Don’t Miss A Stroll Through Avignon

We brought visitors from the US on a whirlwind trip to France where we to see as much as possible in a weekend.  The first day, we saw Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Orange.  On the second day, we saw the Pont d’Avignon, the Palais des Papes and the nearby Pont du Gard before returning home.  It was a full weekend, but worth it.  Francophiles, don’t worry, this is the first of more trips to the south of France.  We’re actually headed back tomorrow.  On our whirlwind tour of Provence, we managed a quick stroll through Avignon.  It is a charming town.  While it is best known for the Papal Palace, it’s backstreets are worth a stroll.

The Place de l’Horloge, one of Avignon’s main squares is exactly how you’d imagine a square in the south of France.  The only thing I didn’t see was the petanque (boules/bocce ball) court.  It had grand buildings, a ferris wheel and was lined with outdoor cafes.  Avignon has many squares, but part of its charm is that it is old enough to have narrow alleys leading off of them.

Signs of Avignon past as a religious center are everywhere.

The riverfront (of the Rhone River), parks and gardens of the Palais des Papes, provide welcome open and green space.

The gardens of the Palais des Papes even had a grotto…just like another mansion in California.

Oh yeah, the enormous city walls and ramparts are pretty cool too.  Just make sure to avoid falling stones.  The sign below translates to “Pedestrians do not walk along the ramparts risk of falling rocks.”

Avignon’s Palais Des Papes

History time folks.  In the 14th century, Pope Clement  V and his court fled political turmoil in Rome, escaping to Avignon.  Clement V was French and well, where else would he go?  From 1309 to 1377 there were seven French-born popes and the papacy was not in Rome, but in Avignon.  Yep, the place with the bridge into the river, the Pont du Gard.

The Popes spent a fortune building palaces, decorating them and outfitting them with accouterments.  You can still see some of it today (and learn a little bit about the history) by touring the papal palaces.

The Papal palace was built between 1335 and 1364.

Needless to say, the Italians weren’t huge fans of the move and continually lobbied to get them back to Rome.  There was the Great Schism (which you may remember reading about in high school).  When Pope Gregory XI left Avignon and died, Rome and Avignon both elected their own popes.  These popes both excommunicated the other and tried to gain control of the church (with the accompanying revenues).  When all sides finally found a pope acceptable to all, Martin V, he established himself in Rome, ending Avignon’s time in the spotlight.

In addition to the pope pens, it is licensed sell alcohol.

 

Pont Du Gard

Pont du Gard is an imposing viaduct built by the Romans.  Frankly, at over 2000 years old it’s amazing that it is still standing.  The engineering behind it is even more astonishing.  We’d heard that it was pretty cool from Hokie over at The Swiss Watch Blog.  When Magglio, the Luger and Sneaky Pete visited, we made a trip to check it out.

In 19 B.C., Roman emperor, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (Augustus’ son-in-law) built it.  The Pont du Gard carried water across the Gard river valley, 25 km (15.5 miles) west of Avignon.

It wasn’t an isolated piece of infrastructure.  It was part of a larger nearly 50 km (31 mi) aqueduct.  The system brought water from springs near Uzès to Nîmes (known in Roman times as Nemausus) with a slight grade.  Its 34 cm/km (1/3000) grade its entire 50 km.  Walking around, you can see other parts of this system.

It took between 800 and 1000 men about three years to build.  When it was completed, it transported 20,000 cubic meters (44 million gallons) of water daily.  Constructed without the use of mortar (bearing masonry), its stones are held together by iron clamps.  Some of the stones weigh 6 tons.  They were moved into place using a complex system winch system.  You can still see the remains of the supports for the complex scaffolding.

Not a Peugeot or a Citroen but a Mazda

As the Roman Empire declined, they began to worry more about the barbarians at the gates than maintenance of their infrastructure. Deposits filled up a majority of the channel space. It was unusable by the 9th century.  Once it wasn’t useful for delivering water, people took what they could from it, taking stones for other purposes.  It was also used as a footbridge across the river.

In the 18th century, the aqueduct was restored.  Even by this time, it was tourist attraction. Additional restorations were done under the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-19th century.  The workers carved their names in the stonework.  These aren’t the only graffiti.  The original Roman workers also carved their names.  French masons over the years have also left their markings.   It looks like way more work than a can of spray paint, but clearly lasts much longer.  I am not suggesting tagging monuments, only noting that graffiti has been around since before the birth of Christ and impressed that we can still see it.

The Pont du Gard is an amazing piece of engineering and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is so impressive that it is easy to overlook its beautiful surroundings.  Enjoy the three-tiered series of stone arches, just don’t forget to enjoy the rest of the view.  It is a great place to take a dip, picnic or fly a kite.

You were warned