The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Friday, October 16, 2009

Le Tour de Doug Part 4: Languedoc and Provence

After my time in the Alps, I drove a bit Westward again to Western Provence and Languedoc in the South of France:

Using the city of Avignon as my base, I explored this ancient region. The name “Provence” comes from the time when this part of France was a Roman province—around the 2nd Century BC—and nowhere are France’s Roman roots more clear than here. Avignon itself rose to prominence from 1309 to 1377 when it was the seat of the Popes. There were 7 of these “Avignon Popes” before the papacy moved back to Rome. The old heart of the city, still surrounded by fortified walls, is very well preserved, and a major draw is the massive and imposing Palais des Papes from which the Popes ruled:

Of course, an even better known sight lies outside the city walls: the Pont St. Bénézet, known to millions as the Bridge at Avignon!:

No one is really quite sure why someone wrote a song about it (in the 15th Century), or why that song has become so famous. In fact, the song has lasted much longer than the bridge itself, of which today only a small portion remains intact. The bridge offers a decent view of the city walls:

And an impressive view as you look back at the Palais des Papes:

And then the fun quickly comes to an end:

Of course, you may be wondering what the song even means. Well, when fully intact (It was built in the 1100s) the bridge had 22 arches (only 4 remain) and it straddled a small island as it crossed the Rhône (you’re looking at the island in the photo above). This island was (and remains) a popular recreation area, and in the old days people went dancing there. When it rained, they would go under the bridge for cover—hence dancing under the bridge at Avignon. To that point, the original lyrics were likely Sous le pont d’Avignon” (Under the bridge at Avignon), not Sur le pont” (On the bridge). Knowing that this song is really this dinky little bridge’s only claim to fame, it does get a display inside the bridge:

And just because it had to be done, you can click below for video of me actually dancing on the bridge at Avignon:

Exploring the area, I found an arid, sun-baked landscape. The city of Arles, once a kingdom unto itself, is anchored by an arena left behind by the Romans:

The town itself is dotted with other Roman ruins as well as a maze of quaint streets, alleys, and homes:

My next stop was the Pont du Gard. Another Roman ruin, this remarkable aqueduct has survived for 2000 years and is actually the tallest Roman aqueduct in the world:

Finally, I visited the city of Nîmes. This is yet another Roman outpost, and like Arles there is a Roman Arena at its heart. Them Romans did love their arenas... But this Arena is remarkably well preserved—so much so that it is still used to this day for concerts and bullfights:

Another fine Roman ruin in Nîmes is the Maison Carré (“Square House”). The name is odd because it is neither square nor a house: it was a Roman temple and today houses a museum of Roman artifacts:

It was certainly a unique area with a interesting combination of French, Roman, Spanish, and Italian influences...but it was time for me to head on to the coast of the mighty Mediterranean Sea and my final destination, the Côte d’Azur...

Next up…the cliffs of Cassis, the beaches of the French Riviera, the charm of hill towns and the royals of Monaco!! BUT BEFORE WE GO…JUST A COUPLE OF PARTING SHOTS!

This is apparently where the Popes buy their mustard:

And this is apparently the world’s oldest woman to play Little Orphan Annie:


Post a Comment

<< Home