Category: Camargue

Memories Tour 2018: Camargue and Aigues-Mortes

Just because I didn’t make it to the last part of the Memories Tour 2018, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun and adventures. Join my co-tour leader and buddy, Patrica Sands, as she and the “sensational sixteen” ladies continue the tour and the story.

As you recall, I was on the Memories Tour in the South of France when I fell and broke my hip and shoulder. Every tour leaders’ worse nightmare. Click here for Part One

Patricia’s blog picks up where we left off. Click here.

Memories Tour

Our day in the Camargue got off to an exciting start. We were ready to explore the world of the fictional Jacques de Villeneuve, from Drawing Lessons, and eager to see the legendary horses, bulls, and flamingos of this unique region…

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Wish for France

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: History, Torture and Transformation

There are hardly more historically significant towns in France than Aigues-Mortes. Within the walled city, legends and facts reveal a rich history of conquering heroes and suffering martyrs. Today the place has transformed into a popular destination for travelers, filled with souvenir shops and sidewalk cafes. Visit with me inside Aigues-Mortes’ walls.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Matafère tower[

It all started with salt

From its earliest days Aigues-Mortes was significant for its salt fields and its location bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks and later the Romans, led by Gaius Marius (102 BC), occupied the land known as “Aigas Mortas,” meaning”dead” or “stagnant water.” Benedictine monks resided in the area in the 5th century and lived off the abundant fishing, hunting, and salt production. So important were the monks and the region to Charlemagne that in 791 he ordered the Matafère Tower to be erected amid the swamps to warn the residents if there were enemy fleets approaching. 

Before you can grasp the significance of Aigues-Mortes to kings and conquerors in France, it is essential to understand the importance of salt in the ancient world. As a trade item it was as valuable as gold. It was used a religious offering and a currency. A landowner who possessed a salty pond was considered a rich man.

In the 13th century it was Aigues-Mortes’ salt fields and the proximity to the sea that appealed to King Louis IX (Saint Louis). Intent on creating a passageway for trade and for his crusades, Saint Louis turned his attention to the spit of land in the marshes. He obtained the land from the Benedictine monks in exchange for property in Languedoc where the monks could plough the soil and grow crops. When the Benedictines left, Saint Louis built the town; rebuilt the Matafère Tower; named it the Tour de Constance; housed his garrison there; and used Aigues-Mortes as the point of departure in 1248 for the Crusade of Egypt (7th Crusade) and for the crusade where he died in 1270 (8th Crusade).

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

King Louis IX

As Louis IX had envisioned, Aigues-Mortes became prosperous as a trade route. The population and town grew on its own, but largely because those residing in Aigues-Mortes were exempted from paying tolls, tariffs and taxes. The Carbonniere Tower (Tour Carbonniere) was constructed as a watchtower in the marshland outside of town. The narrow road beneath the tower was the only land access to the town. Guards were stationed there to control who entered and exited the town and to collect tolls. The passageway continued be used as a toll road into the 1700s.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

The Carbonniere Tower (Tour Carbonniere)

In 1272, Louis’ son and successor, Philip III the Bold, ordered the construction of the walls that completely encircled the town. The work was not completed until 30 years later. Aigues-Mortes was a busy port in the 13th and 14th centuries, but when Provence was reunited with France, Marseille took over in prominence and prestige.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: Battles and Torture

From the 14th-19th century Aigue-Mortes was the site of battles, torture and merciless imprisonments. In the 14th century Templars were incarcerated in the Tower of Constance, tortured and burned at the stake. During the winter of the Armagnac-Burgundian civil war in the 15th century, a troop of marauding Burgundians were killed. Their bodies were dragged inside the walls, salted and stacked into the Tower of the Bourguignons (Tour des Bourguignons).

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Tower of the Bourguignons (Tour des Bourguignons)

Protestants who pillaged Aigues-Mortes in 1575 and took it over as their own were imprisoned there after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). They remained in prison until their deaths. In the late 1800’s, one of the largest massacres of immigrants in French history took place inside Aigues-Mortes walls. A riot broke out between French and Italian workers who  labored together in the salt fields. Police were unable to contain the riot and, reportedly, up to 150 men were killed — all Italians.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

“Resist”inscription in the Tower of Constance

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: Women Prisoners

After religious freedom was declared in France, it is said there were fourteen women prisoners in the Tower of Constance.

They were hidden away in a room deprived of air or of the light of day. The governor of Languedoc, who was on an official visit to the prison, found them there. It is said “they fell at his feet, overpowered with weeping so that they could not at first speak, and when speech came, they all together recounted their common sufferings. He was interested by the story of Gabrielle Guinges, who had given two sons to die in the French wars, yet was permitted to languish in prison. He was touched by the miserable appearance  of Jeanne Auguiere and Isabeau Maumejan, who were eighty years of age, and of Isabeau Anne Gaussaint, of Sommieres, who was ninety years and who had been imprisoned for 36 years.” The most famous women prisoner was Marie Durand who engraved the word “Resist” on the prison wall. Incarcerated at the age of 17, she was released 38 years later.

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: A Transformation

While Aigues-Mortes is no longer the important port it used to be, salt remains a major product of the region. Compagnie des Salins du Midi, now known as “Salins,” is one of the main salt producers in Europe. It is tourists that have captured the ancient city recently. Aigue-Mortes’ walls seem to bulge and vibrate with all the energy.

If you plan a visit to Aigues-Mortes, please stop by the tourist office and take a guided or audio tour. You can read about the history, but there’s nothing quite like hearing it from an expert. Time and money well spent!

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More reasons you should visit Aigues-Mortes? The Camargues!

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

Day Trip from Uzes: Arles, Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer and the Camargue

A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard

 

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard

Flamingos and Tidewater: A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard

There’s a most unusual place in the south of France, where white horses, bulls and flamingos roam, that you can find a surprising number of vineyards and major wine producers.

French Vineyard

Camargue Vineyard

The Camargue, in the southernmost region of France, spreads over more than 360 square miles of pastureland and wetlands formed by the two branches of the River Rhône and the Mediterranean Sea. It creates the largest river delta in Europe. Between its lagoons, reed beds, dunes and pine forests that provide a habitat for hundreds of species of birds and animals, the unique soil of the Camargue produces an exceptional variety of wine distinquished by its name, its freshness and its balance.

“Sable de Camargue “ is the name reserved for the vineyards that cover the sandspits of the Camargue from Lion Gult and Sainte Maries del Mer to La Mer á Séte. The vineyards’ proximity to the sea, its breezes, its tidewaters and low amounts of rainfall during the growing season bring freshness to the vines and a certain balance of acidity and ripeness to the fruit’s skin, seeds and stems. Some vines literally spend time wading in the tide.

While the mineral sands and tides might seem harmful to the growth of high-quality wines, the conditions also mean roots of the vines extend deep into the soil, adding a minerality and complexity to the wine. Also, vineyards in this region are largely unaffected by phylloxera, a disease that threatens wine growers today and that took out the entire French wine industry at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Sable de Camargue
Sable de Camargue, seemingly unknown, dates back to the early 1400’s during the reign of Charles VI. In 1897 Sable de Camargue wines were introduced to Paris where they were given the “Sand Vineyard” award during a “General Farming Competition.”

Sable de Carmargue wines are titled and regulated according to strict French standards. They hold a “Vin de Pays” title — a classification for “wine of the land’ or “country wine” — that focuses on the geographical origin of the vineyards rather than style and tradition. (The European equivalent of Vin de Pays or “VDP” is “IGP” or Indication Géographique Protégée.) The Sable de Carmargue VDP category covers wines made in three departments of Languedoc — Herault, Gard and Bouches-du-Rhone.

While the VDP classification in France gives winemakers a certain degree of freedom in a highly regulated industry, some “freedoms” are restricted because of the very nature of the Camargue, its cultural practices and environmental regulations. The bio-diversity of the land, with its delicate balance of wildlife, tourism and agriculture, means drainage and cleaning of the salty and regularly flooded crop-producing area is mandatory. Channels carved through the area for centuries ago surround the vineyards and manage water flow. In winter wine growers must fix dry rushes into the grassy marsh weeds to protect vines from gusts of wind and blowing sand. The use of organic, sustainable herbicides and fertilization is mandated.

French Vineyard
Grape and Wine Varieties
Recent changes in wine classifications have benefited the industry in the Camargue and have driven up sales, especially outside Europe. Products named and labeled according to the grape variety, rather than the growing region, is more readily accepted worldwide. Wines are similar to those traditionally found throughout France, although Grey (Gris) and Rosé make up approximately 94% of the wine production.

Grape Varieties in the Camargue

Grape Varieties in the Camargue

A First Taste

The first time I sampled a wine from the Camargue I was on a jeep safari tour. Seeing herds of black bulls and white horses was my trip mission, not visiting wineries. It was in that unexpected place that I discovered my new favorite summertime wine: Gris de Gris. Now each time I’m served a glass, I think back about that day and the whole adventure. The crisp, light wine with a fresh, elegant mouthfeel reminds me of the purity of the white sands and shallow marshes where it originated.
If you would like to try the wines yourself, look for these brands.

Example of Sable de Camargue Brancs

Example of Sable de Camargue Brands

(Photos in this post compliments of BarefootBlogger, PeteBine.com and Patricia Sands, Author)

More on the Camargue:

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

Day Trip from Uzes: Arles, Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer and the Camargue

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

White horses, bulls, pink flamingos, rice, salt, culture, and the economics of the Camargue region are all interconnected in this surreal geo-triangle in the south of France.

The “Camargue” spreads over more than 360 square miles of pastureland and wetlands formed by the two branches of the River Rhône and the Mediterranean. The largest river delta in Europe, the Camargue is a thriving center of agriculture and tourism.

Camargue region

Wetlands and grasslands of the Camargue

While the area appears to be a “natural” wilderness, it is in fact, “manipulated” to maintain its sophisticated biodiversity. Most specifically, in the last century alone, enlightened promoters of the Camargue have demonstrated how the creative and sensitive management of water levels can create a rich environment for man and living creatures instead of a desolate, salty wasteland, good for nothing but the extraction of salt.

Camargue region

Homes in the Camargue are for residents and popular as vacation rentals

Camargue region

A ferry carries passengers between two areas of the region every 30 minutes.

Camargue region

Ferry over the Rhone

Camargue region

The distinctive symbol of the area. The Camargue Cross.

White Horses of the Camargue

Camargue region

White horses of the Camargue

The breed of “white horses” found in the Camargue are believed to have appeared in the Paleozoic era (Solutre horses).  They are thought by some to have come from the Steppe grasslands of Eurasia that run from modern Hungary to Mongolia along the Silk Roads.


Camargue region

Nomad horseback riders from the Steppe are typified by Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongols; and the Huns, led by Attila. Steppe warriors migrated south seeking better lands and waged war with inhabitants on the way, including the Romans. Along with them, the nomads brought their strong horses that have ruled the marshes for centuries.

The horses have large hooves for walking in muddy waters and white coats to endure the sun.

Some who believe in mythology say the white horses were a gift from Neptune, “Poseidon’s Horses”, given to man as his faithful companion and put on earth to share the everyday riches.

Camargue region

Image by Walter Crane of Neptune’s horses

While the Camargue horses appear to run free, they are well-managed by “cowboys”  or “les gardians”.

Camargue region

Camargue Cowboy

Stallions roam the rocky grasslands.– a tradition that has been respected for generations.The rustic breed only eats grass from the soil — no additives.

Camargue region

Bred properly, a Camargue mare produces only one foal a year — by natural childbirth. There is no help from vets.. Mares are “quarantined” one year after giving birth to allow time for rest.


Camargue region

Those who know these animals recognize they are very intelligent. They are suitable for all types of requirements — for work or show. They must be treated gently but firmly. The trainer or handler needs to be in charge.

Visitors to the Camargue who wish to ride the white horses will find numerous stables and excursions available for all ages of riders. Entering the area is like a vacation playground with horses as one of the main attractions.

Camargue region

A hotel with stable for horseback riding in the Camargue

If you have a few minutes, take time to watch this video I found on YouTube. The majesty of the magnificent creatures and the accompanying music will make your day.

More on the Camargue:

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

Day Trip from Uzes: Arles, Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer and the Camargue

A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard

Tour South France for White Horses on the Beach

 


Camargue region

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7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

It’s hard to say when the Barefoot Blogger will ever get her fill of visiting the Camargue.

The preserved area south of Arles,  the Parc naturel régional de Camargue, is between the Mediterranean and the Rhone river delta. One-third of the Camargue is marshland, lagoons and lakes. The rest is cultivated fields brimming at different times of the year with rice, grapes and grain.

The ecology of the area is unlike any other place in the world. White Camarguais horses roam on open fields with Camargue bulls and all feed only on natural feed and grasses. Salt mines that create pink-tinted lagoons and canals produce some of the world’s finest salts.  Shrimp that thrive on the algae in the pinkish waterways feed flamingoes that gather in ponds and pools alongside the fields and roads. The shrimp diet colors the birds’ feathers pink.  It’s all a grand circle of life.

The Camargue Safari

The most recent jaunt to the Camargue was with my guests from the States, including 10-year-old McKenna. While her mother and I thought a safari would be a huge thrill for McKenna, we all totally enjoyed the 4-hour tour by jeep. It wasn’t just because of our adorable and multi-lingual guide, we learned there are at least 7 reasons this place is so amazing … and so popular for tourists. 

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Reason #1: The Camarguais horses

 

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visiting the camargue

 

Reason #2: The Camargue bulls

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Camargues Bulls

 

Reason #3: Flamingos

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Flamingos in the Camargue

 

 

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Flamingo

 

Reason #4: Salt mines

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Salt processed in the Camargue

 

 

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Balin Salt brand from the Camargue is exported worldwide

 

Reason #5: Rice

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Rice fields in the Camargue

 

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Reason #6: Wine

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visiting the camargue

 

Reason #7: The culture

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A home of a Gardian, or “rancher”

 

 

visiting the camargue

The Camargue cross is a symbol of “faith, hope and charity” to dwellers of the region

 

For more about the Camargues, please see these earlier posts:

Tour South France for White Horses on the Beach

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

Day Trip from Uzes: Arles, Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer and the Camargue

For your own Camargue Safari, contact Nancy McGee at southernfranceluxury.com

 

visiting the camargue

 

Oh! “The Places You’ll Go!”

Female expat living in Uzes travels in France for fun and education. Click here for Trip Ideas You Can Steal

 

The whirlwind tour of the south of France is now history for my recent guests, including 10-year old McKenna. Now that they’re gone, the words of Dr. Seuss’s poem seem perfect to share with McKenna as a reminder of her visit.

 

“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know.

And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

 

For five full days McKenna, her mother and I packed in as much history, animal adventures, and fun in the south of France as we possibly could. Here’s a picture view of the highlights. Posts to follow will fill in the stories and learnings.

Day One – Uzes

Saturday market and dinner with our friend, Geoffrey, at Le Comptoir 7 

How many ways can you say “foie gras”? This entree featured foie gras as pate, ice cream and creme brûlée!

Foie grae entree at Le Comptoir 7 in Uzes

Foie grae entree at Le Comptoir 7 in Uzes

 

 

Day Two – Pont du Gard and Nimes

 

Tracing the Romans in France started with a visit to Pont du Gard. Wading in the cool river water was a perfect way to cool down on a hot summer day.

Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard

 

 

 

Day Three – The Camargue 

A safari in the Camargue gave us “up close” views of the white horses, Camargues bulls and flamingos

 

Day Four – Sete and Carcassonne 

A day on the beach in Sete

A day on the beach in Sete

 

Bastille Day Fireworks in Carcassonne

Bastille Day Fireworks in Carcassonne

 

Day Five – Carcassonne 

 

Train rides from Sete to Carcassonne and back.

Train rides from Sete to Carcassonne and back.

 

… and a lot of 10-year-old craziness along the way!

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Stay tuned for the full story on each location, including the scoop on …

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Trip Ideas You Can Steal From a 10-Year-Old’s Visit to France

Special friends are on the way to visit the Barefoot Blogger, including my dear 10-year-old McKenna. Planning the 7-day visit has been easier than you’d think.

McKenna and I have always had a closer-than- usual relationship because we share the same birthday date. We both agree, that makes us “twins” of sorts.  Almost every birthday since she was born, we’ve spent the day together. Her mother and I are friends from IBM. This past birthday, McKenna wanted her theme to be “Paris” in preparation for her upcoming visit to France.

Paris themed birthday party

Paris themed birthday party

 

Here’s the 7-day itinerary. You’re welcomed to steal!

My guests are arriving the end of this week and we’ll be taking off for an active tour of southwest France.

Day one: Pick them up at the TGV station in Avignon and take a walk around the Pope’s Palace.

Day two: Saturday Market in Uzes. Of course, it’s my favorite thing to do! Trek in the Vallee d’LEure and take a swim at the public pool. Dinner somewhere fabulous in Uzes.

Day three: Pont du Gard tour followed by a visit to Nimes to follow in the footsteps of the early Romans.

Day four:  Morning tour and lunch in the walled city of Aigue Morte. An afternoon “Safari” tour of the Camargue, starting from Grau de Roi. Drive to Sete and spend the night at my favorite Airbnb apartment.

Day five: Breakfast at the city market in Sete followed by an afternoon at a beach club in Sete on the Meditterean.  Catch an early evening train to Carcassone in time to check-in our Airbnb “converted bar” lodging. View the Bastille Day fireworks display in Carcassone, along with 40,000 other tourists.

Day six: Guided tour of Carcassone and shopping (along with thousands of other tourists.) Catch the late afternoon train back to Sete. Drive two hours to Uzes.

Day seven: Say goodbye and scurry to Nimes for an early morning flight.

Collapse. Sleep. Repeat.

(Yes, there will be posts and pictures of it all. Stay tuned!)

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French folklore

French Folklore: Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer


What I love about living in France is the opportunity to re-learn history. I never expected French folklore from the Bible.

Who knew, for example, that Lazarus and Mary Magdalene ended up in France? According to Provencal tales, which I learned upon my recent day trip to Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer, Jesus’s friend Lazarus; his sister, Martha; Mary Magdalene; Mary of James, sister of the Virgin; and a servant girl, Sarah the Egyptian, all arrived in the south of France around 40 A.D. Albeit under less than desirable circumstances.

Legend has it that after the Crucifixion, while Jews continued to be persecuted in Jerusalem, the extended “family” of Christ was cast into the sea in a small boat equipped with neither oars nor food. Miraculously they landed safely here, now Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer, where they erected a small chapel and dedicated it to the Virgin. The two Marys and Sarah remained at the church while Mary Magdalene and Martha went on throughout Provence preaching. Catholic tradition says that Lazarus was the first Bishop of Marseilles. In the 11th century the chapel became a church and was reconstructed as a fortress.  

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Miracles attributed to the Saints are shown in paintings displayed inside the Church at Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer.

French folklore

Sainte Maria dela Mer

Sarah the Egyptian: Revered by Gypsies

St. Sarah is highly venerated by gypsies. Around the 15th century the nomadic groups from Spain and other regions began annual pilgrimages to the church. In a colorful procession, the gypsies would carry the statue of St. Sarah and immerse it in sea. Modern day pilgrimages honoring St. Sarah take place in May and October. The events are celebrated with horse races, parades of costumed ladies from Arles, and “the running of bulls”, staged by herders from the nearby Camargue. Gypsies march the statue of St. Sarah to the sea.

Gypsy Blessings  

While visiting the Church, I was sighted and stopped by a gypsy woman who pinned a religious symbol on my shirt. Looking straight into my eyes, she placed a finger on my forehead and gave me a blessing. As I thanked her and started to walk away, she stuck out her hand… for an “offering”. When I kept walking, she quickly removed the pin from my shirt. Oh well… guess “blessings” come at a price.

 

More about the Camargue

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

 

Uzes Day Trip: Arles, Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer and the Camargue

Let me reign in your expectations upfront. There’s no way you can take an Uzes day trip to Arles, Saintes-Maries and the Camargue and be satisfied.

I did, however, get a glimpse of these sites so that I can return for another visit. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the short preview as much as I enjoyed the day trip out of Uzes.

Uzes Day Trip

Sunflowers in France

But first, a field of sunflowers to start the day.

Uzes Day Trip to Arles. It’s More than Van Gogh.

Today most people go to Arles to trace the footsteps of Van Gogh. That idea intrigues me, but not for this trip. There were other places I wanted to see that are nearby. So I spent the morning in Arles visiting a couple of its most important Roman artifacts: the Arena and the Amphitheatre.

Frankly, I am surprised at myself, but history is taking on a whole new meaning. It’s actually fun to put together names and events now that I can put them into context.

Uzes Day Trip

Arles Arena

 Arles has a history that traces back to a primitive tribe of people who lived between the river (Rhone) and the marshes, Ar-laith. From early on, Arles was overshadowed by Marseilles, the nearby settlement by the sea, It’s interesting that the city’s fate and wealth took a positive turn when the people of Arles gave aid to Julius Caesar in defeating Pompey in Marseilles. Among other contributions to Caesar’s cause, the shipbuilders of Arles constructed twelve fighting vessels for Caesar’s troops, reading them to sail in less than 80 days.

Caesar bestowed the title “Colonia Julia Paterna Arelatensis Sextanorum” upon Arles. He then stationed his Vi legion in Arles which helped create a Roman city of great reknown. The Arles Arena is a reminder of the rich Roman city Arles became. Built on a smaller scale than the arena in Nimes, it appears to be a “mini” arena in comparison. Even so, it accommodates up to 25,000 spectators. Like in Nimes, the Arena has an active life still today, hosting popular bull fights and local festivals.

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Romulus Augustus, the last Roman emperor, died in 476 and, soon, Arles fell into the hands of barbarians. The city collapsed in 480 with the arrival of the Visgoths.The Theatre in Arles, by some accounts was built somewhere between 15BC and 30BC. Because of the religious significance of the original statues and monuments, it has been plundered repeatedly.

 

Arles reasserted itself through the years, at one time becoming the capital of the kingdom including Provence and Bourgogne.  Although the Roman architecture and magnificent structures in Arles have been ransacked and materials removed for other purposes, those that remain  rank among the finest and most important in Provence.

Uzes Day Trip

 

Next Uzes Day Trip: Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer

Holidays in France: Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer

 

 

 

 

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