Arles – Fete des Gardians

Arles, where the horses are white and the cattle are black, set in the region of rice farming, is the heart of Provence both in location and the traditions which are still celebrated. The Fete des Gardians, a tremendous festival held every May 1st is very much worth the trek into ancient Roman holdings where century old stone buildings and monuments can still be seen, such as the arena in Arles with streets around its circumference leading to the base of this mass of handcarved stones the spokes of a tire.

The Gardians have been in existence for centuries and their organization has been in existence since 1512. They are the “cowboys” of the Camaraque riding white horses across the plains and low water areas herding other horses, sheep or the black cattle, using long poles topped with a three pronged device to force cattle into desired areas, usually for branding.

We set out early on the morning of May 1st arriving in time for a great parade full of women and girls dressed in the costumes only worn in Arles. It is amazing to contemplate that they have been wearing costumes like this for centuries, full of tradition and memories. There are intricately designed scarves worn over the shoulders, held in place from possible mistrals with either 3 or 5 straight pins in the back, the hair done up in a type of pompadour circled with a wide ribbon designed to match the long dress its train trailing behind the wearer who sometimes hold the train up out of the street with a length of decorative chain attached to the waist. The jewelry also is steeped in tradition and long chains are seen hanging down waist length with fabulous cameos, or intricate crosses attached. I also saw silver pins of cigales pinned to scarves. Married women dress in colorful outfits but the single women all wear white scarves with little white head dresses tied in front in the shape of a little butterfly. Smaller girls wear simple white caps tied under their chins. The men wore colorful shirts, usually with a tie, a black coat and the easily recognized black hat. There were musicians in the parade playing flutes with one hand and a drum with the other. White horses came down the street ridden by the men, many with women seated them, their skirts colorfully spread over the rump of the horse. It was a magical privilege to observe tradition in the making and to see that children were there, also dressed in costume, sure to follow their parents in keeping the Gardian story alive.

The members of the parade went into the narrow streets of Arles and ended up in front of Notre Dame de la Major for a blessing all done in Provencal, the old language still spoken here in Provence


An older lady in colorful costume. Notice her purse. Many of the women carried these, along with a fan or an umbrella.


The girls with while scarves on their shoulders and the white head scarves are unmarried.


Isn’t she pretty?


I love these two-so cute.


Another group of unmarried girls.


This little one was pushing her buggy down the street at top speed, while never stopping the action of sucking or licking her arm.


Lots of dignity and history here.


Here come the gardians on their white horses.

3 thoughts to “Arles – Fete des Gardians”

  1. Linda, I loved these pictures from the Fete at Arles. Just beautiful. And I also loved your Walk in Provence entry and photos.

    Thanks so much!

    Donna

  2. Such great photos! Thanks for sharing these and telling the story about this holiday. I had NO IDEA about this celebration. France is such a diverse country, with so many traditions. I am constantly learning something new and today, it’s thanks to you!

  3. Thanks, both of you. France is diverse. I am constantly amazed at all that is here. Go in any direction and there is something new and interesting. I plan to go to as many festivals as I can this summer. They are what make Provence what it is, along with the markets. Linda

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