The Alpilles are the chain of rugged limestone hills running east-west on which we look out every morning from our balcony. They are where bauxite was first discovered and named after the village of Baux-de-Provence to which we are headed on yet another glorious morning. Although from our vantage point they appear rocky and barren, since the middle ages they have been terraced to grow almonds, apricots, olives and grapes, all crops that thrive in arid conditions.
High atop a very defensible Alpilles peak, Les Baux was settled very early in human history. Traces of habitation have been found dating back as far as 6000 BC, and the site was used by the Celts as a hill fort around the 2nd century BC. During the Middle Ages it became the seat of a powerful feudal lordship and from their castle the lords of Baux controlled 79 towns and villages in the vicinity. Despite their strengths, the lords of Baux were deposed in the 12th century.
However, the great castle at Les Baux became renowned for its court, famed for a high level of ornateness, culture and chivalry. The Baux line died out in the 15th century with the death of the last princess of Baux, Alice of Baux.
Baux was revitalized with the discovery of bauxite in 1822 (get the name?) which was mined in enormous quarries until late in the 20th century when mining was depleted.
Now the tiny village and castle are a popular tourist attraction. An abandoned limestone quarry has been put to creative use as a projection space and in 2012 is celebrating the art of Gauguin and Van Gogh. Hesitant to get bamboozled by a tourist trap, we nonetheless bought tickets. It was great fun and really amazing.
Check out the web site and the Youtube to get a feel for what we experienced.