Monday, March 7, 2011

Les Baux

You really need to use some imagination at Les Baux to see the castle. It must have been huge. It was once again situated atop a high rock overlooking the valley below. They could really pick the locations. Being built on solid rock did have some drawbacks, however. Access to water really sucked. Get it? Okay, crass. At any rate, there was no sucking water from a stone here. They created a system of gutters carved into the stone that would collect the rainwater. Otherwise, they had to haul it up by donkey from the valley. This was more challenging during siege.

The most interesting thing about Les Baux is that the lords of the castle were descended from Balthazar, one of the three kings who brought gifts to Christ at his birth. Perhaps even more incredible is the legend that says Christ was born right here in Les Baux.

Les Baux’s hometown boy, Yves Brayer, a Van Gogh-like kind of guy has work housed in a museum here. A very large work by Yves is located in the penitent’s chapel where the entire chapel walls are covered in his interpretation of Christ’s birth. One wall shows the birth. One wall shows Christ as king and one is more of a “starry night” impression. There are four walls but the last wall was the doorway and I don’t remember the theme. Another church across the street houses the cart of Christ. Each Christmas this is dragged through the streets by a lamb to celebrate the birth of Christ.

You’d think with this close connection to God the town would have a history of grace and goodness but alas, the lords of Les Baux were renowned for their cruelty and the town was no more peaceful than any other medieval town of the time. One lord threw kidnapped victims who weren’t ransomed off the tops of the castle walls. Once you’ve been to the top you know what a very long flight that was and what a rather unfortunate landing.

The castle had some interesting old trebuchets and a reconstructed battering ram. Many of the castles seem to have these and they are quite fascinating. It is hard to imagine a time when a device that took an hour to reload was considered one of the most deadly and could sometimes end a siege just by being brought into view. This castle was destroyed by the French king in 1483 and then by a different French king again in 1632. The lords here had a different point of view on the whole religion scene but when you are descended from an eye-witness doesn’t that count for something? By 1632 the French crown was really ticked and actually charged the townspeople of Les Baux for the costs of destroying their castle. Now that’s angry.

I really liked this town. There was a lot to like. The castle had a windmill and a pigeonerie, both of which were only allowed to be owned by a lord. That is so telling, isn't it? Both of these items could have lifted someone out of poverty and helped them acquire some wealth so both had to be forbidden. Because the mill was located at the castle, the farmers had to climb all the way up the mountain with their wheat in order to grind it. It was a fairly social affair as it took quite a while. You'd wait while the grinding was done. Pigeons were also big business. They could eat the eggs, the meat and use the pigeons for communication purposes so having a pigeonerie was profitable. The laundry was located in the lower town and was a communal affair in the 14th century. While the men were off chatting at the windmill, the ladies were gathered around the washing stone. There was enough here to give a real sense of time and place. In all, a very enjoyable visit.

1 comments: said...

Very interesting...thanks for sharing all of that...I'm sorry that the Lords don't live next door to your home in Langley! Love, your kind mother.