In the Neighborhood


This little area of Provence is so dense with things to do and see that it’s almost overwhelming.  If the rest of southern France is half as full one could spend years exploring.  Of course that means return trips, not the worst thing.  Everywhere one goes there is something else in the “neighborhood” worth seeing and all of this is 1 hour or less from where we are staying near Le Thor (or L’Isle Sur la Sorgue).  So starting with that closest neighborhood the Sorgue is a river that lies between the Alps and the Rhone River with its source the biggest spring in France.

Because the lavender is in full bloom, a trip to the Abbaye de Senanque was an appropriate stop and in the “neighborhood” is the beautiful hill town of Gordes.  We did not stop there but the view from the road was spectacular.  So was the Abbaye. This was the only pocket that we really felt the oppressiveness of too many tourists.  Unfortunately Gordes has been discovered by movie stars and now all the rest.

The water from the Pont du Garde was destined for the city of Uzes, a medieval city mostly not on the tourist radar so a quiet stroll around led to some lovely surprises and lastly, Nimes has another almost totally intact arena that is in restoration.

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The source of the river which fills this cavity in the cliff that is a sheer 700 feet high.
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The spring surges over these rocks in March every year for about 5 weeks into the river below
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Even when the spring is not at its height the Sorgue which is some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen in a river rushes very fast.
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That is the Sorgue river below (where you see the green) with a fortress above. This area was a trade route for the Phoenicians and of course later the Romans. Roman coins have been found in underwater caves and Jacques Cousteau almost perished in 1946 trying to find the source of the spring.
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A paper mill on the banks of the river, you can see the original beaters making paper pulp with energy coming from two water wheels.
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Water wheels for turning the paper beaters.
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Finishing off the sheets of paper for sale. Petrarque lived here so there are many letterpresses poems by him for sale.
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It’s always a pleasure to experience something unexpected and so coming upon the view of Gordes from across the valley was wonderful. It is considered one of the most beautiful in France and you can see why. First occupied by the Romans and in more recent history was a center of the Resistance during World War II.
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The Abbey was founded in 1148 by Cistercian monks and grew in popularity until the 13th or 14th century including mills and expanded estates. It is built in the Romanesque style in a cruciform shape with a protruding apse at the end and a cloister inside.
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As you can see the monks now grow lavender extensively.
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Uzes was established in the 5th century as a major town although the aqueduct Pont du Garde was built to bring water to it in the first century BCE. It was known as an open minded city, hence there was a Jewish community though they were subsequently expelled by the end of the 6th century.
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In the 8th century fortifications were established and many towers possibly as a result of the expansion of Andalusia (Islamic Spain) into the southern regions of France.
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Cloth was a major industry and so Uzes became a Protestant stronghold in the 16th century and as a result of the strife many of the churches were stripped of their relics and artworks. This is a perfect example of our discussion on iconoclasm.
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This little fellow reflects the current sweet feeling one gets in this quiet town (probably not on Saturday market day which we fortunately missed) though it belies the strife that occurred here and elsewhere in this region since the beginning of time.
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Fortunes of this town came and went. A scholarly Jewish community reestablished itself in the 13th century, the French Revolution reduced the power of the wealthy cloth industry, and then became a sleepy hamlet.
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On the other side of the Pont du Garde is Nimes, sometimes called the French Rome because of the important Roman monuments here. It is located along the ancient Roman road connecting Italy to Spain. It’s hard to imagine it from this photo but there was a Neolithic settlement here dated from 4000 BCE.
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This arena did not impress me as much as the one in Arles maybe because it seems so chopped up as it’s in the process of renovation as is much of downtown Nimes. The arena was first built in 70 CE and then remodeled into a bull ring in the 19th century. I was surprised here too that bull fights still take place. Many events are held here and it has a movable cover. People are surprised to know that arenas even in ancient times had such covers.
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Extensive renovations are in process and since this arena is more stone while Arles is more concrete this will probably take longer. The section that is completed is very nicely preserved.
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As with other arenas this one has been someone’s private dwelling and then a “slum” community until the 18th century when it was slowly converted back into an arena.

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