LES BAUX

The little chain of rugged hills with fantastic contours, which breaks
away from the great Alpine range and juts into the peaceful valley of
the Rhone, is called “Les Alpilles,” or little Alps. On the south side
of this small mountain chain, upon cliffs that stand almost isolated
from the main group, lie the ruins of the ancient Provençal town of Les
Baux.

The approach to this extraordinary place from over the mountain chain is
full of interest and surprises, if one starts out from St. Remy, which
lies well over to the north. The ascent by the winding road that curves
and twists round the great hills is a fitting preparation for the
scenery that lies to the south, for the distant hilltops are crowned
with great rocks, carved and chiselled by nature into such shapes that
the eye continually mistakes them for buildings erected by the hands of
men.

The tall cypress-trees that in the plains spire up into the sky
disappear as one ascends, and few shrubs or trees clothe the bald
hillside. Wild thyme and lavender betray their presence by the fragrance
of their perfume. Rabbits burrow amongst the undergrowth; hawks hover
high overhead, and with keen, penetrating vision sweep the rugged
landscape in search of prey. Few other signs of life disturb the quiet
of the lonely hills.

[Illustration: LES BAUX]

From the crest of the chain, just before the descent into the great
plains of La Crau, a weird scene breaks upon the eye. A valley of rocks,
so fantastic, so unearthly, that one can easily credit the Provençal
poet Mistral’s belief that it was here that Dante got the inspiration
for his graphic description of the topography of the infernal regions.
It is a valley of death, of ghosts of skeletons, rocks naked and gaunt,
altogether baffling description.

[Illustration: THE CASTLE LES BAUX]

As the limestone of which these rocks are composed is admirable for
building purposes, quarrymen have been at work upon the scene, and the
great square doorways, or openings, cut into the grotesque formless
masses accentuate the unreality of this spot. One could imagine it
inhabited by strange monsters of human shape bereft of man’s feelings
and emotions. But the wild mysterious grandeur of the valley
constitutes only half the astoundingness of the place. For on a great
precipitous rock, at the end of it, stands the town of Les Baux,
half-built, half-excavated, more than half-ruined, a strange confusion
of man’s and nature’s architecture. Above the town, which is carved and
built upon a plateau half-way up this mountain rock, a castle rears its
ruined towers.

This gaunt fortress looks right over the great, flat plain of La Crau to
the distant blue waters of the Mediterranean, over to the lands about
fifty miles distant upon which one of the world’s most decisive battles
was fought, when Marius with his legions laid 200,000 Ambrones dead upon
the field.

The great plateau of La Crau has undergone much change since Roman
times. In the fifteenth century a canal was dug across its arid surface,
and lands that were once marshy swamps and barren stony ground are
gradually yielding to the persuasive hand of the agriculturist, and
producing rich harvests of grapes and olives, mulberries, and almonds.

In the Middle Ages this stronghold of Les Baux was the capital of one of
the most powerful lordships in the whole county of Provence, and the
independent sovereignty of its rulers was unquestioned by neighbouring
and distant nobles alike. It was an important and celebrated town, its
name familiar wherever the minstrel sang his song or the troubadour his
lay. Its population mustered more than four thousand strong; but that
was long ago, in the days when a highway connected it with Orgon and
Arles. Year by year, ever since this was abandoned, the town’s
prosperity has declined; its churches, convents, and castle have lost
heart, for their inhabitants have fled. The wind howls through its
abandoned ramparts, and the sun’s rays penetrate into once gloomy
dungeons. Yesterday four hundred souls possessed the town; to-day there
are scarce a hundred who find shelter among its ruins; to-morrow Nature
will again take possession, and man’s architectural efforts will have
crumbled away.

Throughout all the many changes that Provence has experienced in its
rulers, the ancient family of Des Baux clung tenaciously to their rock
fortress, and their name was held in high esteem. Their coat of arms, a
star with sixteen rays, can still be seen along with several others
within the ruined Chapel of St. Claude. It occurs also in other parts of
Provence, and typifies the proud claim of the Des Baux to a direct
descent from one of the Kings who, guided by a star, came from the East
to lay rich gifts before the Infant Christ lying in the manger at
Bethlehem. The descendants of the Oriental King, proud of their origin,
added to their titles of Princes of Baux those of Princes of Orange,
Viscounts of Marseilles, Counts of Provence, Kings of Arles and Vienne,
Seneschals of Piedmont, Podestas of Milan, Counts of Milan, along with
many others.

To follow the fortunes of the Des Baux family, the feudal chiefs of the
surrounding country, is to dip deep into the history of Provence, for
their names are constantly cropping up over divisions of land and
inheritance by marriage with neighbouring and distant families. Suffice
it to say that from the time of Count Leibulfe, who founded the house
and lived probably in the eighth century, to that of Honoré Camille de
Grimaldi, from whom the marquisate of Baux was taken by force during the
Revolution, its princes have been related to nearly every great family
in Europe. The Château, which has resisted many a siege, is of almost
monolithic construction; its ramparts, towers, staircases, banqueting
halls carved out of the rocks. The builders have made use of the natural
foundations, and the result of the natural and artificial construction
is one of the most fantastic castles that ever existed.

[Illustration: Church at Château. Renard.]

When René succeeded to the Barony of Baux the town was in a thriving
condition, and in 1444 he set about putting the castle, much battered by
successive sieges, into repair, restoring the ramparts and towers; and,
internally furnishing it with all the resources the period could
command, made it over to his second wife Jean de Laval for her lifetime.
Old King René, artist, poet, and musician, found in Baux an ideal spot
after his own heart. For nearly three centuries Baux had been a
favourite rallying-place for the Troubadours and the ancient “Court of
Love.”

The records of the numerous wars and forays in which the Lords of Baux
and their retainers were engaged have not, however, aroused the curious
interest of later times so much as have the town’s romantic associations
with the literature of the dark ages, written in the dialect of the
Langue d’Oc, better known as Provençal.

This language, which still lingers in the South of France, arose
gradually out of the corrupted Roman dialects of the first centuries,
throughout the colonies occupied by the conquering Empire of the West.
The particular variety of dialect known as Provençal gained a wider
celebrity than that spoken in Iberia, or in the districts north of the
Loire. It was developed from the old Romance language, and about the
eleventh or twelfth century was extensively in vogue among the cultured
classes throughout Europe.

A crop of poets sprang up in amazing profusion in the valley of the
Rhone, and all who had pretensions to learning and refinement wrote in
the language of Romance until well on into the fifteenth century, when a
decay set in and other languages developed into more permanent and
literary forms. The Provençal language, with its smooth and pleasant
sounds, seemed eminently adapted to the feelings and voluptuous thoughts
of a people who delighted in song, music, and the dance.

[Illustration: DAUDET’S WIND·MILL.]

The Troubadours, or finders (inventors), sprang from all classes of the
people, and the admiration which was accorded their productions,
combined with the flattery and praise bestowed upon the authors, tended
to awaken latent vanity and draw thousands into the field of poetry.
Princes and Knights, the aristocracy of the country, entered into this
domain; and lays, thousands of verses long, recounted the adventures of
the Brave Knights who fought for the Cross, and incidentally for
themselves, against Saracens and Turks. The lack of any other
literature, unless among a few obscure monastic students, gave a great
impetus to these lays, written by the Troubadours and sung sometimes by
themselves, but more often by the strolling minstrel who learnt by heart
the long-winded romances.

Of a lower order were the Jongleurs, who entertained the Lords and
Ladies in their great halls in winter, and in the courts and gardens in
the summer months. They were tumblers and acrobats, who practised every
kind of antic and contortion to amuse audiences who knew neither theatre
nor music-hall.

An old romance relates how one of these Jongleurs, fallen upon evil
days, sought refuge in a monastery, where he assumed the cowl.
Distressed at his inability to render the Holy Virgin sacred service,
and worried lest this might be discovered by the inmates of the convent
and lead to his dismissal, at last, in all humility, he betook himself
into a vault at the hour when the monks were engaged in their devotions.
Here, in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin, divesting himself of
hooded gown, he went through a series of

[Illustration: A STREET IN CHATEAU. RENARD]

antics and contortions with such determination and fanatic zeal, that at
last he fell in a fainting condition upon the hard cold floor. When he
recovered, he rejoined the brethren in the refectory and partook of
food, which he ate tremblingly and with sore misgivings. The poor
tumbler continued his eccentric devotions at matins and vespers daily,
always in fear that the Abbot should discover his strange worship and
insist upon some more becoming form of service beyond his power to
render. The Abbot and brothers, anxious to know the “why and wherefore”
of the tumbler’s daily visit to the lonely crypt, concealed themselves
to witness his devotions. The astonishment they felt on observing his
extraordinary method of doing homage to the Queen of Heaven was further
increased when they beheld the glorious Lady, crowned and clothed in
shining raiment, accompanied by the angelic hosts, descend from the roof
and minister with loving care to the unconscious acrobat. The unearthly
visitors vanished when the exhausted tumbler revived, and he returned to
his cell, equally unconscious of the heavenly ministrations and the
espionage of his brethren. The story goes on to relate, in the sequel,
how the Abbot honoured the tumbler ever after, admitted him as a
perpetual brother to the monastery, recognised the efficacy of his
worship, and pointed out to those whose sense of religious propriety was
shocked when the story of the tumbler’s carryings on leaked out, that
the true spirit of religious service was of more account than its
method.

This romance throws a little ray of light on some aspects of life in the
Middle Ages, but there are many more, less elevated in sentiment, which
depict the curious conception of chivalry, religion, superstition, and
love common at a period when society was emerging from the darkest age
that Europe has experienced since the advent of civilisation.

The literature and traditions of the Troubadours is extensive, and the
lives of nearly one hundred and fifty of them have been written. Nearly
every king and great prince in the Middle Ages had a troubadour attached
to his court. Richard Cœur de Lion, who had pretensions to poetry
himself, patronised and encouraged some of the most famous of the
fraternity, such as Arnaud, Daniel, Vidal, and Flouquet of Marseilles.
The Princes of Baux were most enthusiastic patrons of the poetic
brotherhood, the tourney, the joust, and that most curious pastime of
the age, the “Court of Love.”

[Illustration: The. Pavilion of Queen Jeanne. Les. Baux]

These parliaments of Love, which were the outcome of the cult of
gallantry, flourished in Provence, and particularly in the romantic town
of Les Baux. The walled “Court of Queen Jeanne,” as it is called, can
still be seen in the valley, and a very beautiful little pavilion of
Renaissance architecture adorns the spot. In this tribunal women were
the only judges and reigned supreme. Troubadours came from all parts to
extol the beauty of their mistresses, and put nice points relating to
the etiquette of gallantry before the Court. Contesting parties argued
out these impossible subtleties with grave seriousness, and the pedantic
ingenuity of the Council and Court was exercised to determine imaginary
cases, in which bright glances, stolen kisses, and furtive
hand-squeezings constituted the most important evidence.

Another part of the diversion offered at these gatherings was the
recital by the princely troubadours of their songs, to the accompaniment
of the viol and guitar, played by themselves or by the jongleurs. It was
at this court that Guillaume de Cabestan sang the praises of the
Princess Bérengère, wife of Lord des Baux, and those of her
sister-in-law, Tricline Carbonnelle. These songs are largely concerned
with the adventures of princes and knights in the domains of Love and
War, and descriptions and histories of violent passions, to which the
warm-blooded peoples of the South were peculiarly subject. So obsessed
were these early poets with the fascination of the greater passions
that one can hardly wonder at some of the fantastic turns their songs
and stories took. Most of them have failed to stand the test of time;
their affectations and pedantic unreality failing utterly to reflect
natural feelings and spontaneous emotions.

The strange relationship that grew up between the troubadours and the
great ladies to whom they offered their platonic admiration and regard,
is sufficient to brand many of the lays with the stamp of insincerity.
Each troubadour was, by a sort of unwritten code, bound to choose some
lady-love; it did not matter if she were married–indeed, she generally
was–and to this divinity, were she fair, fat, or ugly, he offered lays
and songs that praised her beauty in extravagant terms.

As the troubadour was generally dependent on the patronage of the great
for his bread, it was common to select the wife of his patron for this
high honour. Doubtless if the troubadour were of humble or lowly origin,
the difference of his estate from that of the object of his poetic
worship would prevent any undue familiarity being encouraged, although
many of the earlier love-songs of the troubadours affect a deep and
“love-at-a-distance” kind of worship of the fair divinity. There are
many stories told by the troubadours themselves that unblushingly
proclaim that the relationships existing between worshipper and
worshipped were such as to disturb domestic peace; but when outraged
husbands wreaked their just wrath upon these sighing swains, the
sympathy of the narrator of the story is invariably on the side of the
author of the trouble.

One of the best known of these tales is as follows: Guillaume de
Cabestan, before mentioned, made love in troubadour fashion to the wife
of Raymond de Seillans. Raymond, doubtless, saw more in the attachment
than he thought consistent with his honour, and to revenge himself upon
the guilty lovers, he slew the poet, tore out his heart and had it
cooked and served up for dinner. After his unsuspecting spouse had eaten
of the dish, and he had made known to her the loathsome nature of her
repast, the lady lost her reason and threw herself from a window on to
the rocks below.

The Castle of Baux is now a crumbling mass of ruins. Every year sees
additions to the collection of fallen boulders that lie like tumbled
giants on the sloping terrace below.

The only chapel still in use, the best-preserved building

[Illustration: MONTMAJOUR.]

in the dismantled town, is dedicated to St. Vincent, the patron saint of
Les Baux. It has a central nave flanked by two side aisles of unequal
proportions and different dates, and of these the more ancient, to the
right of the entrance, has little side chapels, cut out of the rock
which forms the south side of the edifice.

[Illustration: THE CHURCH LES BAUX]

Towards the end of the last century, for unexplained reasons,
excavations were made in the crypt of the church, and several of the
heavy slabs of stone that covered tombs were raised. Bodies, clad in
rich garments, in a perfect state of preservation, were discovered,
which, however, crumbled away on being handled and exposed to the air.
All that remained were the long tresses of golden hair that belonged to
a young girl, supposed to have been one of the princesses of Baux, whose
wonderful beauty had long ago incited the troubadours to eulogy.

The value of this find was quickly appreciated by the keeper of the
languishing little hotel that stands in the “Place Fortin.” He obtained
possession of the “Golden Tresses,” and, with an eye to business,
altered the name of his hostelry to “A la Chevelure d’Or,” and exhibited
the relic to his customers. After this curious relic was recovered by
Mistral and lodged in the Museum which he founded in Arles, the sign of
the hotel was changed to “The Hôtel Monaco,” a name obviously suggested
by the connection of the town with the Grimaldi family, who were
presented with the marquisate of Les Baux by Louis XIII. in 1642. But
change and decay is the keynote of Les Baux; the name has again altered
with the declining fortunes of the town, and, as if in mockery of the
destitution and poverty that lie around it on all sides, the sign upon
the weather-beaten walls of the neglected hotel reads “Hôtel de
MONTE-CARLO.”

[Illustration: The MANSION of The MANVILLES LES BAUX.]

An old man upon whose hatband the word “Guide” is with difficulty
discerned, one or two stray hungry-looking dogs, a few wild-looking
fowls, the Hôtel Proprietaire, and innumerable flies constitute the
crowd who forgather daily in the most popular resort of the town. The
arrival of a traveller awakens but mild excitement in Les Baux. Two
human hearts may beat a little quicker in the hopes of gain. The dogs
sniff round the stranger with bewildered curiosity, and the flies buzz
gleefully on discovering a new victim to torment. The guide (and a guide
who knows the place is necessary to the stranger), bent with age, is
quite in harmony with the surroundings. With a pathetic humour he leads
his clients up the “Grande Rue,” and tells them, with a smile, that it
is not like the “Cannebière” at Marseilles, for the only café in Les
Baux is the Hôtel de Monte-Carlo.

At every step he points to some ruined doorway with fine carving of the
seventeenth century; windows with beautifully moulded mullions and
inscriptions; houses once inhabited by noble families whose fame still
survives. At every turning, in front of every doorway, in the ancient
chapel, in the roofless convent of the White Penitents, at the cemetery
and the Château, the old man shakes his head and croons to himself in a
voice ineffably sad, “Ah! Les Baux!” Nearly every house in the town is,
in some part, hewn out of the rocks, and what carving and masonry they
possess is generally on their fronts and gables. The

[Illustration: A WINDOW AT LES. BAUX.]

kitchens and cellars are excavated in the rocks. The ruins of the Chapel
of St. Catharine show still the remains of the architecture of the
thirteenth century, but the other four churches that once ministered to
the religious population contain only vestiges of their former style.

Of the larger mansions of the town, the most important is that of the
“Hôtel de Manvilles,” at the end of the Grande Rue, a
fifteenth-to-sixteenth-century building, the chief features of which are
the beautiful windows, framed in with delicate classic pilasters,
supporting entablatures composed of simple and dignified mouldings. On
one of the wings of the building the inscription “Post Tenebras Lux
1571,” on the frieze over a window of great beauty, recalls that Claud
II., one of the counts of this house, espoused, at the instigation of
his Protestant wife, the cause of the party at the Reformation.

The mansion of the Porcelets, near by the Church of St. Vincent, has
been restored, and, after being an orphanage, is now the school for the
handful of children who have had the misfortune to be born amidst these
melancholy surroundings. Few of them will remain in their native town
after they have grown up, and one would imagine that the memories they
will carry away with them of their early days will seem like some
fantastic dream. The Porcelet family were of the highest social rank in
the fourteenth century, and they were also very numerous. These were the
first nobles of the town of Arles and Marquises of Maillane, friends of
King René, and the object of his satire.

Regarding the origin of their name, there is a legend that relates in
detail how a haughty dame of this family flouted and taunted a poor
beggar-woman with having a family too large for a person in her
miserable condition to maintain. The woman was, so the story says,
really a fairy in disguise, who laid a spell on the high-born dame,
condemning her to give birth to as many children as a sow, which
happened to be near by, should bring forth little pigs. In time the sow
had a litter of nine, and when the great dame had, in the course of
time, a family equally large the people nicknamed them Porcelets, a name
that stuck to them ever after.

These legends of the past, when recounted on the spot, have a
fascination that is enhanced by the romantic surroundings.

One stumbles upon curious reminders of feudal customs, such as the deep
narrow cisterns which received a tithe of all the wine made in the
district under the manorial sway of the Des Baux.

Across the wide valley, to the westward, the rocks tower one above the
other and form the hill of Costa Pera. Time and the elements have worn
its face into crevices and wrinkles and honeycombed it with innumerable
caves. Midway up the cliff, there appears a deep hollow which at first
might be mistaken for a well. It is, however, the entrance to a series
of large caverns, that locally go by the name of the Grotto of the
Fairies. Here in the very heart of the rock, cut and worn into weird and
fantastic shapes, are halls, passages, and declivities, twistings and
windings, amongst which the imagination runs riot and calls up the
visions of strange, elfish, unearthly forms to people the uncanny
surroundings.

One can easily comprehend that this grotto became the foundation for
grotesque legends, and how it might readily acquire a reputation for
being the abode of witches who guarded jealously a she-goat made of
solid gold, which was bound to bring fortune and prosperity of every
conceivable kind to the mortal fortunate and daring enough to carry off
the precious curiosity. There are no limits to the phantasms that the
mind’s eye can see in the deep, mysterious recesses, according to its
mood or to the state of the owner’s digestion.

Les Baux has many curious legends and traditions, some of them based
upon actual experiences, slightly exaggerated, and others the effects
of the unaided imagination. Of the latter class, a very beautiful one,
that has formed the subject of many poems, records the death of the last
of the noble house of Des Baux. When the Princess Alix was on her
death-bed, the star which had guided her remote ancestor to Bethlehem’s
manger shone with its last flash of splendour through the window on the
fading princess, and at the moment her soul passed away, the light,
which for a thousand years had been the beacon of this illustrious
family, went out for ever.

[Illustration: On the road to Montmajour]

On the heights above the Grotto of the Fairies are the remains of the
ancient Roman Camp built by the army of Marius, and within its enclosure
the upper casing walls of a cistern remain intact. The remains of
another camp of Marius, which still goes by his name, lie on the hills
that overlook the town from the north. The impregnable nature of these
positions on the hills around Les Baux thus early singled them out for
occupation in times of war and danger, and, when the Phocean colonists
of Arles were driven from their city by the Visigoths, led by Euric, in
the fifth century, they found a refuge on these austere mountain slopes.

Two relics of the Roman times, that have aroused much discussion, stand
at the foot of the powdery cliffs of Baux. One of these is a huge block
of greenish sandstone, about twenty feet high, which has fallen from the
heights above. For years, the three life-size figures that are
sculptured on this stone were regarded in the country as representing
the three Saints, Marie, Martha, and their black servant Sara, whose
bodies were alleged to lie in the church by the sea at Les Maries. About
the middle of last century a tiny chapel, erected in front of the carved
monolith, was dedicated to the three Marys, and called “Les Tremaie.” On
close examination, it is discovered that the figures are dressed in
Roman garments, and although much mutilated and corroded by the weather,
they are unmistakable Roman work of either the first century before or
after the Christian Era. Below the figures is an inscription which is
undecipherable, containing only the characters

F. CALDUS

AE . POSUIT . P…..

The opinion of experts to-day is practically unanimous in making the
three figures represent Caius Marius, Julia Marii, his wife, and Martha,
the Syrian prophetess who accompanied them, and was carried about in a
litter throughout the campaign. If these deductions are correct, it
fixes the date of the monument somewhere about 100 B.C., and gives
further proof of the antiquity of Les Baux.

[Illustration: THE POSTERN

LES BAUX]

The other Roman monument lies at a little distance, and although smaller
is almost as interesting. It has attracted the attention of curious
archæological investigators, who have deduced a variety of origins for
this stone; some making it an ancient sacrificial altar, others a simple
monument to a man and his wife, probably Caius Marius and Julia.

Les Baux has finished its brilliant career, and it seems fitting that
its castle, churches, convents, and mansions should crumble and mingle
with the dust of centuries, vanishing from man’s sight along with the
jousts and tourneys, “Courts of Love,” gorgeous processions, Saints’ day
celebrations, picturesque midnight masses, and all the showy properties
of its once romantic stage.

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