Upper Les Baux by my guest blogger, Emily.
The ancient, crumbling citadel of Les Baux, high on a barren rock spur in the Alpilles mountains is a mysterious, magical, windswept place. In the middles ages, the lords of Les Baux were very powerful, and one – Viscount Raymond de Turenne – was known as “The Scourge of Provence.” He pillaged and terrorized the countryside and took delight in forcing unransomed prisoners to jump off the castle walls. Great guy! These days, things are considerably more calm and the view 650 feet below features olive groves and vineyards rather than broken bodies.
Upon entering the upper citadel area, one is walking on ground that’s been occupied for more than 1000 years, and was virtually impregnable for most of that time. The most recent remains date from the middle ages.
In our mind’s eye we could see the hustle and bustle of those far-away times as we explored the area. Plaques describing each point of interest are scattered throughout and there’s a very good audio tour on individual ear phones (included with admittance fee) which really added to the experience.
On all sides of the high rock spur there are reproductions of medieval siege weaponry, such as catapults for slinging enormous rocks down on enemies and an apparatus for pouring boiling oil over the side of the cliffs. These guys didn’t mess around! AND, they claimed to trace their linage back to Balthazar, known far and wide as one of THE three kings of biblical fame.
The remains of the original castle and adjoining dwellings were carved into, out of and on top of the rock, and in its hey-day sheltered 4000 people – but not very comfortably. They did have a slanted field to catch fresh rain water, which drained into a cistern carved out of rock. Two sunken containers for storing olive oil still can be seen, and a pigionnier, but the highlights are the remains of two towers with sensational views, a chapel and a dungeon.
The stairway to the donjon is on the far left.
These stairs to the donjon (castle keep) are treacherous from centuries of wear, and the treads are very, very narrow and very, very steep. I passed on this experience – either out of cowardice or good-sense – but monsieur hauled himself all the way to the top and was rewarded with a spectacular view. (I would really hate to be up there when the mistral is blowing.) While waiting for him to rejoin me I thought about the noble women who were sequestered in this tiny enclave and wondered if their lives were that much better than those of the peasant women below; safer perhaps, better fed, more luxurious clothing to wear but I suspect they led fairly grim lives.