The Lion in Winter is my favorite movie of all time. The Plantagenet family gathered all together for another happy Christmas: Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Peter O’Toole as Henry II, a very young Anthony Hopkins (debuting on the silver screen) as young Richard Lionheart, presented in quintessential medieval glory/squalor – what’s not to like? If The Lion in Winter rings no bells for you, watch this trailer for the 2016 restoration and DVD re-release of this 1963 classic.
I watched The Lions squabble not long before we left, and got curious about where it was filmed. Voila! It was filmed right close to Avignon! So, of course, we had to visit the Chateau Tarascon and the Abbaye de Montmajour (Made into Chinon Castle through the magic of Hollywood.
Here’s a clip of that splendid scene when Eleanor arrives at Chinon primed for the family festiviites. And here’s a montage of then and now.
I wondered where the director filmed the opening credits sequence: scary sculpted Medieval faces peering from the gloom as John Barry’s thrilling score (heavy on tympani) thunders along. The answer? The heads were lining someone’s driveway. Yep, they’re everywhere.
Tarascon has its own special Medieval beast, the Tarasque, a mix of lion, turtle,hippo and scorpion. It reportedly terrorized the vicinity until Saint Martha tamed it with her loving ways. When she brought her pet to town, the townsfolk slaughtered it, then named the town after the beast in a fit of remorse. The Tarasque’s descendants are found lurking throughout the castle.
The castle itself dates to around 1400, built by a collaborative of powerful barons to protect approaches on the Rhone. (A companion castle was built across the river at Beaucaire).
The south tower has cannonball holes from the last time it was assaulted.)
The interior living quarters retain a certain elegance.
And the garden is delightful. (Another memorable LiW scene shot here…)
After the last Count of Provence died without issue, the chateau served as a prison.
Prisoner graffiti is everywhere on the castle walls, including these wonderfully artistic renderings carved by Catalan soldiers.
Today, the chateau serves as a venue for art exhibitions. On our visit, the theme was an updated take on the “cabinets of curiosity”and fantastic beasts.
I was pleased to see the Egyptian ba credited as an origin of the Sirens.
One room holds a complete 18th century apothecary setup.
Amazing views from the towers (not surprising – that was kind of the point in medieval times).
And the gargoyles are still functional!
Tarascon village has a middle eastern feel.
Well, except for the cyclists and the public library.
One last Tarasque, and we’re on to Montmajour.
A religious community began on the rocky knoll of Mountmajour in the 10th century. A group of hermits settled here to look after Christian graves carved out of the rock.
Benedictines built the fortified abbey in the mid-11th century. Originally functioning as an an island, the surrounding marshland was gradually drained.
There’s a very old crypt carved into the cliffof (the Hermitage of St. Peter).
And some graceful interior remains.
Our final stop for the day was a journey back to Roman times via the ancient city of Arles.
There’s a fine arena, used today for bullfights and other spectacles.
And bits of a Roman theater used for smaller productions.
We stopped for fresh Provencal cherries on the way back to Avignon.