Friday, April 25, 2014

Arles:  Tauromachy and Roman History

Arles is absolutely crazy about tauromachy, the polite term for bullfighting.  They have just completed the four-day Easter feria, featuring a running of the bulls in the streets, Carmargue-style bull events (where a group of men dressed all in white try to grab a rosette from the animal's horns -- non-lethal), and Spanish-style events (definitely lethal).  The latter are now illegal in France except for a few towns that can show a very long and unbroken tradition of such events.

No animals were harmed in the making of this blog.

The archeological museum is located on the banks of the Rhone, right on the site of the ancient Roman hippodrome, the horse racing arena that could seat 20,000+ spectators.  It is a beautiful, spacious new facility with artifacts ranging from sculpture to mosaics to a recovered Roman boat to implements of everyday life.

Click here for a picture album.

Arles:  St-Trophime

Arles, situated on the banks of the Rhone,  has been settled since the Neolithic Era, but became especially important as a Roman provincial capital and trading center since the first century BCE.  Like Nimes, the colony was settled by military veterans, in this case Legion VI.  Arles still boasts a fine Roman arena (like the one at Nimes) and theater (like the one in Orange), but it is perhaps best known today as the place where Vincent Van Gogh lived starting in 1888, two years before his untimely death.

Spoiler alert:  If you are not into Romanesque sculpture, skip the picture album.  One of the principal masterpieces in Arles is the church of St-Trophime, especially the carvings on its magnificent west front and in the cloisters.  St Trophimus (3rd century CE) was the first bishop of Arles, said to have been sent here directly by St Peter and to have welcomed the Marys after their landing at Stes-Marie-de-la-Mer.  The ancient church was rebuilt in the late 11th-early 12th century, with the carved doorway completed ca. 1190. The interior consists of a very high barrel-vaulted ceiling with two smaller side aisles and a late Gothic chancel and ambulatory. A chapel in the north aisle holds countless reliquaries.  The cloister, dating from the 12th-14th century, is rich in beautiful carvings on its pillars and is regarded as one of the most beautiful in France.

For a picture album, click here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Vaison-la-Romain and Orange

Visits to two Roman cities in one day.  In addition to the Roman ruins, Vaison-la-Romain was hosting the biggest, baddest street market I have ever seen.  Street after street full of stalls with food, clothing, implements of every kind.

The old Roman city of Orange boasts the best preserved Roman theater in the world.  The stage wall is enormous and the seating was for more than 20,000.  It is still used for opera and other outdoor performances.

Picture album.

Nimes:  Walking Tour with TZ and MK

We took a day-long walk through the old central part of Nimes with our visitors, TZ and MK.  Highlights = the Roman Arena, Imperial Temple (Maison Carree), and the Tour Magna (1st-century Roman watchtower with beautiful gardens).

Picture album.

Les Baux-en-Provence and La Carmargue

The  ruined castle and the medieval village of Les Baux are situated on a very steep, isolated island of rock high above the valley floor in the Alpilles. The region is famous for the discovery of Bauxite in 1822 and for its fine vineyards. Once a proud fief of its own, it is now a picturesque tourist destination and a favorite with hardy bikers.  We visited with TZ and MK. The village also has a small museum of "santons," locally carved figures in the costumes and activities of local peasants thatnwere used in rural households after Nativity scenes in churches were forbidden after the Revolution.

The Carmargue
is the romatic heart of Provence, a vast, marshy delta region bordering the Mediterranean at the mouth of the Rhone.  It is famous for the walled crusader city founded in the early 1200s by Louis IX (St Louis) from which he launched his two crusades, but also for its rice fields, its stocky white horses, its herds of black bulls headed for the arenas, and its seafood.  Much of the area is a regional natural park, which is where we visited a huge bird sanctuary filled with flamingos, herons, storks, etc.

Click for a few pictures.

A Walk through Nimes

Susie and I take a walk through part of the old inner city of Nimes, with stops at the Maison Carree (Roman Temple from 1 BCE), the neighboring Museum of Contemporary Art / Public Library, and the Museum of the City of Nimes (devoted mainly to the city's past history as a center for weaving denim (de Nimes) and silk.

Picture album.

Three Holy Sites:  Montmajour, St-Roman, St-Laurent

Visits to three early religious sites in our area.  The Abbey of Montajour was a Benedictine foundation from the 10th century, situated high on a limestone hill overlooking the marshes and fields (often painted by Van Gogh) above the city of Arles. There is a lower church (crypt) cut into the rock, a 12th-century upper church and cloister. Also a fascinating necropolis of graves for the monks that were cut directly into the rock.

The Abbey of St-Roman is on a huge cliff above Beaucaire with an unbelievable view of the Rhone valley. The abbey is entirely underground, cut out of the rock by "troglodyte" hermits who lived in tiny underground cells from as early as the 5th century.

is an 11th-century windowless chapel by the roadside.  No entrance for visitors.

Click here for a few pictures.