THURSDAY 13TH DECEMBER 2012.
Today was cold with blustery winds and rain, just the sort of day to be curled up with a book in front of an open fire. However, because of limited time, we have to go out in the hope of improving weather. The aim today was to visit Le Grau-du-Roi, Aigues-Mortes and Port Louis near the mouth of the Rhone River.
Of course on the way south we were sidetracked. The following images show what we found.
In centuries past the local inhabitants believed if they built their houses next to a church there would be some protection afforded from the evils of the world.
I don’t know if it is just me but every time I see a tower like this I think it’s phallic. Builders unconsciously or consciously provided a symbolic representation of the phallus in many buildings all over the world. Phallic architecture became prominent in ancient Egypt and Greece where genitalia and human sexuality was a fascination. Remember the Temple of the Gods on Samothraki Greece (Day 6 Wednesday 3rd October). In ancient Greece the god Priapus had an interesting and varied job description: he was the fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit and plants, gardens and male genitalia.
Our first stop after the ruined villa was at Le Grau-du-Roi on the coast and it was not what one could describe as a historic location. It comprised mostly modern holiday apartments, definitely not the sort of place we would holiday. I dare say there may have been an old town area but we couldn’t find it.
Our next port of call after Le Grau-du-Roi was historic Aigues-Mortes. The walled town of Aigues-Mortes dates from around 102 BC when it was called “Ayga Mortas” relating to a pool of dead water which, in those times, the Camargue region was considered to be.
The ancient town these days is a tourist mecca, although today it was pretty well deserted. In times of glory it was the launching point for the Seventh Crusade. The crusaders, under the orders of the reigning pope, comprised military units of Roman Catholics from all over Europe bent on removing Muslims from the holy places in and near Jerusalem. The crusaders were defeated and forced to return home. The eight crusades were conducted over a period of 170 years.
Castles with flanking towers were harder to capture as the defenders could see to the left and right along the walls. Round towers such as the ones here were preferred to square ones as when dug under they were less prone to collapse.
Up until the 11th century castle walls were mostly made of wood. It wasn’t until knights and soldiers returned from the Middle East Crusades where stone was used extensively that stone building methods were introduced for castles in Europe.
Sitting at the top of the wall directly above the gateway arch is a machicolstion (the box like projection that looks like a garderobe). It had slots in the bottom through which boiling oil, molten lead or rocks could be dropped on the heads of the enemy attempting to get in through the main gate. It was quoted, “the oil did easily run down the whole body from head to foot, under their entire armour, and fed upon their flesh like flame itself.” A machicolstion is similar to a murder hole, which was a hole in a roof through which boiling oil could be poured on to the invaders.
Running vertical, directly behind the doorjamb is a groove and I suspect a portcullis slid up and down in this groove. A portcullis is a heavy timber or metal grill that protected the castle entrance and could be raised or lowered from within the castle. It dropped vertically between the grooves to block passage or to trap attackers.
The word portcullis comes from the Old French porte-coleice, meaning sliding door.
In the 13th century the fortress sat on the edge of the River Rhone but now it is some kilometres away due to siltation and reclamation.
King Louis IX was the only French king ever to be made a saint. He was a very popular monarch, noted for his kindness and fair dealings. Louis led the Seventh Crusade in the mid-thirteenth century from Aigues-Mortes and he died on another crusade twenty years later.
It was believed until recently that cycads were dinosaur food (250 million years ago) but recent research indicates they evolved only around 10 million years ago. The world distribution for cycads does not include Europe so the one here is an import.
I assume the tree has been trained to conform. If it were left to grow naturally the foliage would block the sun and become unwieldy in such narrow streets.
For the artist this scene is an ideal subject. The perspective of the street and buildings and the dark juxtaposition of the pollarded tree are crying to be drawn. It was a shame the sun wasn’t out as without shadow it lacks contrast befitting the subject.
Today when sitting in the Church of Notre Dame des Sablons I realised that my desire to come in contact with the fine arts of Europe once again has been realised. The following photographs show examples of beautiful artwork that has fed my soul over the past few months.
Pipe organs have existed, in various forms, for many centuries. The term “organ” comes from the Greek word “organon,” which basically means “tool” or “instrument.” From this word came the Latin word “organum.” By the Middle Ages, the term “organ” was used to refer to the pipe organ. An Egyptian musician and engineer who lived around 200 B.C., is generally credited with building the first pipe organ, ‘the hydraulic’. He employed an ingenious system using water pressure to regulate air pressure that may have been pumped by a windmill.
Looking at this sculpture makes me feel I would like to get to know this Madonna and Jesus better, not from a spiritual point of view but from a practical aspect. Who made you, when, and what are you made from?
Today we only scratched the surface of the Camargue. To do it justice and see what this vast area has to offer one needs a boat or canoe and of course some warm weather. Tomorrow morning we will explore Beaucaire, the ancient town on the west side of the River Rhone opposite Tarascon and then head into Robert Louis Stevenson country.