Les Baux-de-Provence, St. Remy & Glanum

On Friday, we headed towards Les Baux, south and east of Avignon and up into the Alpilles mountains. We stopped at St. Remy first, intending to leave our car there while walking to Les Baux and bussing back. Alas, the bus from Les Baux didn’t start running for the season until the following day, and figuring out the walking route was too complex. (Unlike the Brits, walking guides are not found in every tourist I – and they’d be in French, anyway.) So we walked the final 1.5 km of the route to Glanum, the ruins of al old Gaulic-Roman town. Turned out that there were things to see along the way.

We left the car in the agreeable company of the St. Remy carousel. This carousel offered a variety of transport modes – including a flying saucer and a Jules Verne style rocketship.

Vincent Van Gogh spent a year here (1889-90) at a convalescent home, and many of his most notable works were painted in St. Remy. The road we followed led to the monastery-cum-home where Van Gogh stayed, with his St. Remy scenes adorning the way.  I had a bit of fun photographing Van’ Gogh’s view and now.

Glanum was first settled by Celtic people in the 7th century BCE, drawn by an abundance of water from a spring they considered sacred.

Haute couture for the Gaulic elite.

The Greeks established trading colonies on the coast of Gaul (Marseille and environs) in the 2nd century BCE, and Glanum expanded with Hellenistic style buildings. Julius Caesar made Gaul a Roman colony in the 1st century BCE, and Glanum became a Roman-style town. It was abandoned in the 4th century CE (when inhabitants were no long able to withstand “barbarian” invasions) in favor of the more fortified domain of St. Remy.

The Roman cemetery retains an astonishingly well preserved commemorative arch and two story cenotaph. The cenotaph is dedicted to a father and grandfather who fought in the Gallic wars (army service being a route to Roman citizenship), and its reliefs (of course) depict battle scenes.

While admiring the quality of the art, I always feel sorry for the captives and horses.

Glanum itself is more peaceful today, a setting for picnics, school excursions and strolls through the ruined town.

The Romanized Gauls continued to worship at the spring, but – being Romanized – they confined the sacred waters in an orderly rectangular box. The goldfish are certainly sacred.

Not so sure about the demon-head.

After a delightful lunch in the cafe on site, we strolled back to town, to encounter a cutthroat game of boules underway in the park.

We then ransomed the car and headed for Les Baux.  Every medieval town and monastery in this part of France is fortified, and many are perched on the Alpille’s soaring, easy-to-defend and difficult-to-assault limestone ridges. But Les Baux is extraordinary.

The French like their landscape to be tidy. (Maybe they got that from the Romans?) According to our audio guide, the orderliness if this region’s landscape is officially deemed to be part of its charm, with development prohibited accordingly.

The fortress and many homes are carved right into the limestone cliffs, taking advantage of stone’s strength and coolness in the hot Provençal summers.

The dovecote.


The little pincushions are lavender plants, almost as prolific as grapevines in Provence.

The medieval water reservoir. Rainwater seeped through the cracks and was collected in a large cistern beneath the stone cover.

The 12th century lords of Les Baux were known for their rapaciousness. They would no doubt approve of this century’s version of extracting revenues from the peasants.

The medieval castle site is extremely well interpreted, with live demonstrations of medieval crafts and weapons – including operation of a trebuchet.  Medieval wepaons consisted mostly of various forms of bashing – both walls and people.

The trebuchet is in the lower left corner.

I filmed the setup and eventual firing of the trebuchet and clipped it down to 2 minutes and 22 seconds – about 10% of the time it to load and fire the beast. The trebuchet was not know for its swiftness…


Today, more of Les Baux‘s pemanent residents are in the cemetery than the town, where they have a stunning view.

Not surprisingly. Les Baux attracts a lot of artists. The little church contains some exquisite modern stained glass.

We basked in some of that famed Provencal light on the route back to Avignon.


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