Sunday, 22 November 2015

Finding T E Lawrence again in medieval Aigues-Mortes

Aigues-Mortes is one of the places recommended to us by the guy at Le
Aigues-Mortes walls 
Petit Arles creperie in Arles. The historic town is quite a drive from Castries, however we took this opportunity to view the Camargue delta and at one point drove across the thin strip of land past La Grande Motte. We saw several of the famous Camargue ponies and also two flocks of pink and white flamingos. I don't think we have seen flamingos since Tavira so that was exciting. The whole coastline along here looks as if moths have been at it! Huge lakes and ponds are everywhere although there is now a lot of commercial-industrial building too. We did briefly wonder at the long-term security of people living on what is essentially a flood plain.

Aigues-Mortes is certainly an eye-catching place. The thick medieval
Aigues-Mortes gateway 
stone walls surrounding the old town are maintained to a high standard and I can imagine that this would be a ridiculously busy tourist trap in the height of summer. Yesterday was sunny but with a strong wind so outside the town walls felt distinctly wintry. Sheltered inside, especially in a sunny spot was pleasant. We followed green 'P' signs to a free car park within easy walking of the old town. Near to the first huge gateway were several tall information stands, in French, which told the history of Aigues-Mortes. It was too windy to stop and read all of them, but the list of notable celebrities caught my eye as it included not only T E Lawrence (whose grave we saw in Dorset) who visited in 1908, but also two authors I read not so long ago: Ernest Hemingway stayed a while although we weren't told exactly when, and Alexandre Dumas came here in 1841.

Salt mining has been traced back to Neolithic times here and there has
been practically constant habitation since then. Charlemagne had the Matafere tower built in 793 and Louis IX bought the town and its surrounding lands from the Abbey of Psalmody in 1240. Louis IX ordered the massive fortifications, which were completed under his son's rule, and used Aigues-Mortes as a base for sending mercenaries out to the Crusades.  He took part in two Crusades himself, dying in Tunis during his second. From outside, the walls look impenetrable other than the slender arrow slits. From the inside it is possible to see that each slit has an arched area directly behind it with two bench seats, presumably for the sentries to rest upon while keeping their vigil.

I enjoyed simply walking the streets around Aigues-Mortes and was
Plaque above a house doorway 
suprised at the extent of residential housing within the walls. The commercial streets are limited and are mostly made up of restaurants, regional produce shops, tourist tat and expensive boutiques. I did find one shop I very much liked. Coton House is on Grand Rue Jean Jaures and sells beautiful Indian cotton clothing including medieval style laced dresses. The shop had that vintage-hippy-shop incense scent which I love. The prices were pretty good and I allowed myself to be tempted by a pair of embroidered lounge trousers. My Almerian ones have been worn so much they are starting to fall apart at the seams! We also pondered Camargue rice in a grocer's for a while, but didnt really want to spend €4 a kilo on each type and couldn't decide which of the three to try.

Once back into modern Aigues-Mortes, we paused to admire the wide canal that passes by. It's towpath looked very inviting for a long cycle ride!

Canal de Rhone 

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