Thursday, January 21, 2016

Return to Uzès, the first Duché of France

There are towns and villages we happily visit time and again which is good because our friends are getting to know the Vaucluse and surrounding area almost as well as we do. So it was an easy decision last fall to drive to Uzès; we love the town and Steve and Mary had not been there.

Uzès is a well-preserved medieval town in the Gard department on a promontory above the Alzon River. The old town is encircled by boulevards shaded by plane trees that have replaced the medieval defensive walls. Inside, there is a maze of small streets and shaded squares lined with beautiful old houses and mansions from the 17th and 18th century.

Street to center of old Uzès

Uzès is near the Eure springs which was the source of water for the Roman aqueduct built in the first century BC, to supply water to the town of Nîmes, 25 kms away. The most famous stretch of the aqueduct is the Pont du Gard, which carried fresh water across the Gardon River.

A medieval cobblestone street in the heart of Uzès old town

In the mid-16th century many citizens of Uzès were Calvinist and the town was the 5th largest Protestant town in the kingdom. Religious wars resulted in the destruction of all the churches and of the temple that Uzès had at the time. In 1685, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes caused many to leave for Protestant countries in Europe, or their colonies.

Bishop Tower (clock tower)

Starting in the 15th century, Uzès produced woolen, twill and cloth, then stockings and finally silk, until mulberry tree disease deprived the town of its textile industry, which gave work to 2000 people. This decline took the town with it, despite the development of the pottery industry and the licorice factory at the end of the 19th century.

L'atelier des Ours (the bear's workshop)

In the 20th century, Uzès gained a new lease on life when its town center was classified as a “protected zone” in January 1965. Ever since, Uzès has been upgrading and improving the town: roads have been paved, electricity cables hidden, facades renovated and the “protected zone” has been enlarged from 29 acres in 1965 to 101 acres today.

Bermonde Tower (castle keep)

As you wander around the center of Uzès, keep your eye out for the Hôtel Dampmartin with its tower with a staircase seen below, built in the 16th century on Place Dampmartin.

Hôtel Dampmartin

Uzès arcade

Bermonde Tower (castle keep)

Pottery shop

The old town is effectively a car-free zone. You walk everywhere because you have to, it is easy, and there is a lot to see.

Bishop Tower (clock tower)

The Uzès Town Hall seen below was built in the 18th century between 1767 and 1773.

Hotel de Ville (Town Hall)

Duché coat of arms

Olive tree growing next to Duché castle wall

The Duché is the defensive feudal castle standing in the center of Uzès old town. The castle was never attacked or damaged and is in very good condition. Uzès is the "First Duchy of France", France's oldest and most-important ducal peerage. Uzès was made a Duché in 1565. The current owner of the castle, Jacques de Crussol, is the 17th Duke of Uzès.

He grew up in the castle but these days, he actually lives in Paris but makes a point of coming to Uzès once a month, and spends most of the summer at the castle. Just like the Queen of England, his family’s flag flies over the castle when he is in residence.

Duché Palace with Vicomté Tower (King's tower/Royal tower) on left and Bermonde Tower (castle keep) on right;

The Bermonde tower is the Duché's keep, built in the 11th century by Bermond 1st. The corner watch towers were added during a restoration in the 15th century. You can visit the castle and climb to the top of the Bermonde Tower (135 steps) for a wonderful view of Uzès.

Bermonde Tower (castle keep)

The castle is a harmonious blend of architecture from different periods of French history: it features thousand-year old caves, feudal towers, ramparts, a Renaissance façade featuring Ionic, Doric and Corinthian elements, and an 18th-century façade. The castle’s apartments house fascinating collections of furniture.

Place aux Herbes

The Uzès market is held all year long on Saturday mornings and Wednesday mornings on the Place aux Herbes in the old town. With its fountain, arcades and terrace cafés, it is a great place to shop and visit and pause for a café or leisurely terrace lunch. Parts of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu were shot here.

One of the arcades which line Place aux Herbes

Terrace café on the Place aux Herbes

If you like beautiful ceramic pieces and happen to pass the shop below, you should go in and check out the ceramics by Swiss born and educated Heidi Caillard. Her beautiful guinea fowl figurines which you will find in our home in Sablet are her most famous works.

Lussan ceramic shop in the center of Uzès

Street in center of Uzès

Uzès cobblestone street

The 12th-century Bishop's tower was the seat of the bishop's temporal powers, used as a tribunal and prison. This tall, square tower is topped by an octagonal clock tower and belfry, added in the 19th century.

Bishop Tower (clock tower)

Bermonde Tower (castle keep)

Pretty Uzès shop

Uzès passageway

The Saint-Théodorit Cathedral seen below, was formerly a Catholic cathedral, but is now a parish church, named in honor of Saint Theodoritus. It was the seat of the Bishops of Uzès until the diocese was abolished under the Concordat of 1801 and its territory passed to the Diocese of Avignon.

The cathedral was destroyed during the Albigensian Crusades, rebuilt, and destroyed again in the 16th century Wars of Religion and rebuilt again in the 17th century before it was gutted during the French Revolution. In the 19th century, a new west front was added.

Saint-Théodorit Cathedral and Fenestrelle Tower

The Fenestrelle Tower avoided destruction in 1621 and is the only part of the cathedral which survives from the Medieval structure. The tower is built in the style of the Medieval Italian Lombard towers, and is the unique example in France of a round clock tower.

The Fenestrelle Tower

Saint-Étienne Church, the belfry can be seen below, was built between 1763 and 1775 on the location of an ancient church that was destroyed during the Wars of Religion.

Clock and belfry on top of the St-Etienne church tower

Cobblestone street to center of Uzès with Bermonde Tower in background

The Georges Borias Museum, the entrance is seen blow, is a museum of history, archeology and local traditions, located in the old Bishop's Palace, next to Saint-Théodorit Cathedral and the Fenestrelle Tower.

Georges Borias Museum next to Saint-Théodorit Cathedral and the Fenestrelle Tower

By the end of the day, we had walked all around Uzès, found a nice restaurant for lunch, where we were introduced to a stunning rosé wine, ending up going to the winery that crafted the aforementioned wine, so we could buy some to take home. All of which I will tell you about in the next post.

Here in Northern California, we are finally getting some significant rain giving hope that our four-year drought might come to an end soon. We feel blessed to have the rain but I hope it is sunny where you are. Have a great weekend. À bientôt.


  1. This village has been on my "wish list" for some time now. I am hoping to get there late summer.

    1. You are right ! Its a lovely town to stay and visit. You are welcome to our B&B ! La Maison des Oliviers Montaren ��

  2. Looking around for a link to subscribe to this blog without success. Help!

  3. Love this post as my mother was born in Uzès and I love finding out more about the Vaucluse and the Gard.

  4. Wonderful telling of the history of Uzès. Will definitely share.

  5. Thank you for a virtual tour of an area I knew well back in the 80's & 90's - I love the wines of the area, however as they become popular in Ireland the prices rise - no-one seems to know about Seguret, Sablet or Beames de Venise as yet!

  6. Thanks for sharing your trip to Uzès !
    I Love the Wines in Sablet ! One of my Favorites is Domaine de Boissan but there are so many ! Hope to see you in Uzès.