Sunday, January 16, 2022

Visit to Aigues-Mortes and discovery of family ties to French Huguenots

It had been quite a few years since we visited Aigues-Mortes so when cousin Jean-Marc suggested we go somewhere on the sea, I suggested we go there. I still recall the first time we went to Aigues-Mortes, years before we bought our house in Sablet, that time with Tante Edith, Jean-Marc's mother.

Aigues-Mortes was founded in 1240 by Louis IX, who was to become Saint Louis on a swampy strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea. The 1st King of France to have a Mediterranean port, he built the future Tower of Constance and a castle which no longer exists, and developed canals towards the sea, Arles and Montpellier. He left from the port of Aigues-Mortes on his crusades in 1248 and 1270.

The Tower of Constance seen below was completed in 1248. The tower is all that remains from the castle built during Louis IX's reign. It was almost certainly the gatehouse tower, designed to be impregnable with its 18 feet thick walls. A spiral staircase leads to the different levels of the tower. 

On the top level is a terrace which was used as an outlook post and a lighthouse to guide boats and ensure that they paid their custom duties. 

The Tower of Constance

The 5,380 feet of city walls were built in two phases; the first during the reign of Philippe III the Bold and the second during the reign of Philippe IV the Fair, who had the enclosure completed between 1289 and 1300. The canal leading to the original port was on the north side of town.

We parked and entered into Aigues-Mortes through the Porte de la Gardette, the town's military gate. It is the only gate with the remains of a drawbridge. It was the only way into town from the 16th to the 18th century. 

Porte de la Gardette (The Gardette Gate)

Place Saint Louis is the main square of Aigues-Mortes in the center of town opposite Porte de la Gardette. In the center stands a monument to Saint Louis installed by James Pradier in 1849.

Monument to Saint-Louis at Place Saint-Louis in Aigues-Mortes

Aigues-Mortes Street

The North Wall

Aigues-Mortes street seen from the north wall

The Tower of Villeneuve seen below is a good example of a corner tower, designed to provide additional protection.

A view of the north wall from the east wall. The tower of Villeneuve is seen on the right.

The towers on the east wall were often places of refuge during the fighting between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Marks left by missiles can still be seen.

View through barred window to the Tower of Constance

View toward the north wall and the Porte de la Gardette

The south wall seen below is protected naturally by water where boats have sailed since ancient times. The bottom of the south wall was strengthened with earth excavated to make the Beaucaire canal in the 18th century. 

South wall and the Salins du Midi salt marsh

Aigues-Mortes marina seen from the west wall

Between 1575 and 1622, Aigues-Mortes was one of eight safe havens granted to Protestants. Upon revocation of the Edict of Nantes (the Edict was promulgated by Henri IV in 1598 and recognized the Protestant religion in the kingdom of France) in 1685, Protestants were subjected to severe repression marked in Languedoc and the Cevennes in the early 18th century by the "Camisard War". 

Beginning in 1715, ordinary women, often from the Cevennes (a cultural region and range of mountains in South-Central France on the south-east edge of the Massif Centrale) were imprisoned for having simply attended religious services or simply being suspected of having done so. 

Marie Durand, a French Protestant was imprisoned in the Tower of Constance on the 25th August 1730. The exact reason for her imprisonment is not known; perhaps because she attended a Huguenot gathering with her mother, maybe because her brother Peter was a well-known preacher, or perhaps because of her marriage. 

Marie was not released until April 14, 1768 after being imprisoned for 38 years. All she needed to do to be released from prison was to renounce her Protestant faith. The word "resister" scratched by her or one of her cell mates with a knitting needle into the stone wall was an expression of her faith. It was recorded that she was asked daily if she would renounce her faith but daily refused.  

Upon her release, she returned to her childhood home where she died in September 1776.

Tower of Constance

View of north wall and Porte de la Gardette

The Salins du Midi which is shown below is a salt company in Aigues-Mortes which produces the famous "sel du Camargue". Each year, this area produces 500,000 tons of sea salt. Salt production in Aigues-Mortes goes back to antiquity. In 1856, the various salt marsh owners united to form the Salins du Midi salt company. 

Salins du Midi salt marsh

A few days after our visit to Aigues-Mortes, I was texting cousin Annick about our visit to Aigues-Mortes. She texted back to say "your grandmother on your father's side was related to the chief Huguenot Pierre Laporte, better known as Roland". 

I discovered he was the leader of the Camisards, a band of 1000 men he turned into a disciplined army. He refused to lay down arms until the protections of the Edict of Nantes were restored. He was betrayed to his enemies and was shot on August 14, 1704 while defending himself against his captors. 

My cousin ended by saying "you too are linked to this history by your grandmother born in the Cevennes and married to your grandfather Ulysse. Did you know this?" I found out that Roland was born in Mas Soubeyran very close to where my grandmother Jean-Louis was born in the Cevennes.

Going to Aigues-Mortes during the off-season is much better than during the tourist season when it is run over with tourists.  This was a very enjoyable visit and we encountered only a few people as we walked the defensive wall and around town.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Delicious Lunch at Le Comptoir du 7 in Uzès

Every day trip almost always includes lunch. Before we go, I Google for local restaurants and check out those that were chosen by the inspectors to be in included in the red Michelin guidebook for the area. During our time in Provence now, we have run across more than a few who are closed for vacance annuelle for a week or more. 

Despite the challenges of les vacances annuelles, we have been fortunate to discover some old favorites and new to us restaurants that are open.  When cousin Jean-Marc called me the night before our rendezvous in Uzes to confirm plans that I told you about here, he said make sure you make reservations for lunch tomorrow. 

We have dined at several restaurants in Uzes over the years that have been quite good. I was curious if there might be one that was new to us and going to be open the next day. I like to call during dinner service as you usually reach someone to answer the telephone. Sure enough, they answered the phone at Le Comptoir du 7. They would be open for dejeuner the next day and had a table for 4 of us. 

After walking around the weekly market in Uzes for a while, we ran into Jean-Marc and Christine and headed over to the Le Comptoir du 7 restaurant. It was close by on the ring road that surrounds Uzes. We walked in and were immediately asked to present our Pass Sanitaire showing that we are fully vaccinated.    

Le Comptoir du 7 Restaurant in Uzes
The interior of the building is a long half-pipe with stone arch ceilings and walls which we found were from the days when the building was a relay station for France's version of the pony express. Le Comptoir du 7 Restaurant is the 2nd of 2 restaurants owned by the Maison St George Group.

The menu changes seasonally based on what is fresh locally and what arrives on a daily basis at the market. The cousins went with the 3 course menu of the day and we went with choices from the a la carte menu.

Shirley's Filet de Bar with Beet Puree

My Lamb Shoulder

The Cousins Filet of Salmon from the Menu of the Day

The ambience was pleasant and our meal was very good and service was friendly and attentive. Definitely would return here again if we are in Uzes for the market or after a trip to the Pont du Gard.  

Le Comptoir du 7 Restaurant
7 Boulevard Charles Gide
30700 Uzes
Tel: +33466221154

Chateau La Coste - Wine, Art & Architecture

Every time we come to Provence, we schedule a day for fun with cousin Annick who lives in Rognes, about 1 hour south of Sablet. She always comes up with new places or activities for us to experience such as walking around Lacoste, climbing Mont St. Victoire, visiting the Le Panier quarter in Marseille, to name a few. 

Today she proposed that we take a two-hour Art and Architecture walk at Chateau La Coste in Le Puy-Sainte-Reparade, a short distance from Rognes. The day was coolish, but the bright sunshine and blue sky made her proposal sounded very attractive for a day in Provence in time of COVID.

Chateau La Coste is a 600 acre organic winery and art center in Le Puy-Sainte-Reparade. The vineyard is owned by Patrick McKillen, an Irish art collector who has created a center dedicated to wine, art & architecture. 

Chateau La Coste includes luxury hotel Villa La Coste which include 28 suites, and 4 restaurants including Helene Darroze at Villa La Coste and Argentin Restaurant by Francis Mallman. While the restaurants are pricey, it costs only 15 Euros to walk the property.

They said it takes about 2 hours to walk the Promenade d'Art & Architecture, a collection of about 40 art installations, mostly sculptures. It took us over 3 hours to visit the site. Below, there are picture of a few of the installations that I particularly liked.

The spider below was created and installed at Chateau La Coste two days before the death of the artist. She said the spider was an ode to her mother. "She was my best friend. Spiders help and protect us, just as my mother did for me."

Crouching Spider by Louise Bourgeois

After research, the artist chose to use slate from Donegal for the bridge below in the north of Ireland for two main reasons; first because it has naturally horizontal lines, and second, because the stone is made up of iron and copper, which makes it oxidize so that with age and weather it develops red and orange tints of rust.

Shirley standing on the Donegal Bridge by Laurence Neufeld

The work below is made up of more than 1000 tons of limestone in grey, blue and red extracted from a quarry in Portugal. The artist deliberately chose to leave the marks and dents of extraction from the quarry.

Wall of Light Cubed by Sean Scully

Chateau La Coste Vineyard

In the piece below, scales made of cast iron are suspended in an archway made of stone from nearby Rognes. The piece also include natural magnets from China. 

Psicopompos by Tunga

The Oak Room below is integrated into an old stone wall and is composed of oak trees grown in Burgundy and transported to Chateau La Coste. After removing the bark, the artist interwined the oak trunks to create a circular form. The trunks were replaced by smaller branches and then twigs to create the ceiling. Approximately 1200 pieces were used to create this structure. The work does not require extra material to support its shape.

Oak Room by Andy Goldsworthy

In the piece below, 19 tetrahedra are arranged together to form a sphere. 

Schism by Conrad Shawcross

The installation below links an ancient Roman pathway to its modern counterpart and it is steeped in historical references. The path follows the contours of an ancient Chinese object, the Ruyi. The paving stones were taken from the Marseille port.

Ruyi Path by Ai WeiWei

The title of the piece below is a Japanese term which expresses how "rays of light filter through trees". This piece is made from ipe, a dense South American wood also known as Brazilian walnut. 1.5 tons of stainless steel support 12 tons of wood and the complex structure is made from 239 beams, ranging from 1.5 to 11.5 meters long. 

Komorebi by Kengo Kuma

Originally, the chapel below was a small place of worship for the local inhabitants of this countryside. The original structure dating back to 16th century was devoted to Saint Gilles and was notably a place of passage for pilgrims in route to Santiago de Compostela in North-western Spain. The artist restored the chapel and a framework composed of steel and glass now wraps around it.

La Chapelle (The Chapel) by Tadao Ando

Interior of La Chapelle

The vibrant red of the red cross is reminiscent of the color of wine produced by neighboring vineyards. Paired with the transformable nature of glass as a material the color of the cross makes reference to transubstantiation, the belief that the wine is transformed into the blood of Christ during Catholic mass. The glass globes which make up the cross are reminiscent of rosery beads.

La Grande Croix Rouge (The big Red Cross) by Jean-Michel Othoniel

Ancient Wheat Threshing Floor

There are 7 foxes in the piece below. They are stopped in their tracks on the small hill and appear to be hunting for something. Although they may appear identical, there are slight differences between the figures. Each fox is unique; with a bigger muzzle, a lump on their back or a dent or bump in front. 

Foxes by Michael Stipe

In the piece below, there is a oak wine barrel at the end of the steel platform. Hidden inside is a porcelain kitten.

Self Portrait - Cat in a Barrell by Tracey Emin

The aluminum and stainless steel work below toes the line between sculpture and and architecture. It is an interactive work, you can slide the panels, changing your perspective from inside to outside according to the position from which you look. 

Multiplied Resistance Screened by Liam Gillick

The Marriage of New York and Athens by Frank Gehry and Tony Berlant

View towards the Pavillon de Musique (Music Pavilion) by Frank O Gehry

When pushed, the piece below, the interior mechanism allows Drop to spin, tilt, rise and fall and glide horizontally and eventually return to equilibrium. The work received its name from its levitating shape and its material, polished stainless steel which when moving seems fluid and light.

Drop by Tom Shannon

The Pavillon de Musique below was created in partnership with the Serpentine Gallery in London. It was exhibited there before being permanently installed in its current location. Shirley followed their suggestion to try singing to test out the acoustics for herself.

Pavillon De Musique (Music Pavilion) by Frank O. Gehry

The mobile-stabile below was the first work acquired by Chateau La Coste. It is one of the few works here that wasn't specifically made for the domain and was among the last last mobile stabiles released by Calder.

Small Crinkly by Alexander Calder

Our walk-around the Promenade d'Art & Architecture would be wonderful any time of the year, it was particularly pleasant way to spend a day in the time of the Coronavirus. Please note, make sure you take care of any toileting before you depart as there are none along the promenade. 

Chateau La Coste
2750 Route de la Cride
13610 Le Puy Sainte Reparade
Tel: +33442618998

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Meet up with Cousins in Historical Uzès

There are towns and villages we happily visit time and again because of their uniqueness, proximity to historical sites, special markets, or cultural attractions. As Uzes has it all, a well-preserved chateau, cobblestone streets, 2 wonderful weekly markets, close to the Pont du Gard, and a Duke, it was an easy decision to meet cousins Jean-Marc and Christine in Uzes a few days ago.

Uzes is a well-preserved medieval town in the Gard Department on a promontory above the Alzon River. The old town, population 8,454, is surrounded 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. 

Pictured below is the 12th century Bishop Tower which was the seat of the bishop's secular 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)

The Saint-Theodorit Cathedral seen below, was formerly a Roman Catholic cathedral, but is now a parish church, named in honor of Saint Theodoritus. It was the seat of the Bishops of Uzes 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.

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.

Saint-Theodorit Cathedral and Fenestrelle Tower

Saint-Etienne 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

The Duche is the defensive feudal castle standing in the center of Uzes old town. The castle was never attacked or damaged and is in very good condition. Uzes is the "First Duchy of France", France's oldest and most important ducal peerage. Uzes was made a Duchy in 1565. 

The exterior courtyard of the Duche (Duke's castle) of Uzes

The Bermonde Tower is the Duche's keep, built in the 11th century by Bermond 1st. The corner watch towers seen below were added during a restoration in the 15th century. 

Another view of an exterior courtyard of the Duche of Uzes

Since we had never visited the castle, we decided to take a tour of the areas open to the public. First things first, we began our visit by climbing 135 steps up a narrow drill-bit like stairway to the top of Bermonde Tower.

At the top, there is a wonderful view of Uzes. This day was sunny but very cold and extremely windy, the Mistral and all. I had to hold on to my glasses because I feared they would get blown off my face and sent over the side of the Tower. 

View of Saint-Theodorit Cathedral and Fenestrelle Tower from atop the Bermonde Tower

The castle is a blend of architecture from the different periods of French history. It features 1000 year old wine cellar, feudal towers, ramparts, and both a Renaissance and 18th century facade. The apartments house fascinating collections of furniture.

A "French" girl standing at the entrance to Duche castle

An interior courtyard at the Duche castle

Jacques de Crussol is the current duke of Uzes and owner of the castle. Born in 1957, he divides his time between France, Switzerland and Italy. Just like the Queen of England, his family's flag flies over the castle when he is in residence. 

A portrait of Jacques de Crussol, the current duke of Uzes

The castle's gothic chapel with its magnificent stained glass windows seen below is consecrated and masses are still held there.  

Consecrated chapel inside the Duche castle

The Uzes market is held every Wednesday and Saturday morning throughout the year on Place des Herbes and along the neighboring streets. With its fountain, arcades and terrace cafes, Place des Herbes is a great place to shop for regional specialties. Afterwards pause for coffee or a leisurely terrace lunch. Parts of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu were filmed there.

Despite all there is to see and do in Uzes, the Gard Department's most impressive attraction is a 15 minutes drive to the Pont du Gard, a short span across the Gardon River built by the Romans to bring water from the Eure Springs near Uzes to Nimes. The Pont du Gard is definitely not to be missed.