We were by no means done learning about Provencal history after our stop for lunch, there was quite a bit more to the day’s tour. We had become accustomed to the silent Frenchwoman in the front seat who only spoke to JB in French. Unfortunately, as the day went on, we heard more in French and less in English. However, this did not prevent us from enjoying our afternoon.
Not only did we visit The Maison de St. Paul de Mausole,the hospital where Van Gogh had himself committed but we stopped at the site of the Roman village of Glanum a short distance away. Both are close to the village of St. Remy de Provence, set in the Alpilles, a series of small limestone hills and mountains, none more than 1,500 ft high. The Alpilles have a rugged beauty that makes them a destination on their own.
Our next stop was the site of the Monastery of St. Paul de Mausole. Although it is no longer a monastery, since 1000 AD, various Catholic congregations treated the sick on this spot, particularly those who suffered from madness. although the convent at St Paul in 1789 was nationalized during the French Revolution, the building is still used to heal the victims of mental illness. It was here that Vincent Van Gogh committed himself for treatment from May 8, 1889 to May 16,1890. He was not confined to his room but was allowed to stroll around the extensive grounds and paint. In fact, he produced 142 paintings during his stay including the Cypresses and Starry Night. Mausole has a museum with information about Van Gogh’s stay but we did not go inside but instead wandered the paths where he might have set up his easel.
Only a short distance away were the ruins of the Roman village of Glanum. Archaeologists have found evidence that people have lived in this area since 2500 BC, but it wasn’t until ca. 600 BC that a wandering tribe settled in the area because of its spring, soon considered sacred and healing. First the Phoenicians and then the Romans were attracted to the area and it was they who named the town Glanum, after an ancient god. It was the Romans who built a variety of structures there, including a forum, temples, baths, and theaters. The town prospered until a series of barbarian invasions resulted in its destruction ca. 260 AD.
Excavation of Glanum started in 1921 and today much of the city has been uncovered. Because it was nearing the end of our day, we didn’t enter the city itself but did admire its two outstanding structures just outside the gates. The most eye-catching is the Triumphal Arch built ca. 20 AD. Although its roof was rebuilt in the 18th century, the exterior still has many beautiful bas-reliefs which illustrated the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. The other structure which stood outside the entrance was the Jules
Mausoleum which dates from perhaps 30 BC. It and the arch were the only evidence of Roman occupation visible until excavation started in 1921. It looks like a small round temple but is actually a mausoleum dedicated to a prominent local family who were given the Roman name Julius, a mark of honor at the time, and if you know Roman history, accomplished quite a lot during several centuries.
Our day would end with a stop at the Pont De Gard, a huge aqueduct, and yet another amazing reminder of Roman times turned into a popular recreational spot.
The amazing Pont du Gard is the highest of all the elevated aqueducts constructed by the Romans in Europe at 160 ft. high. It is also one of the best preserved as 35 of its original 47 spans still survive.
It was constructed ca. 40 – 60 AD and carried an amazing 8,800,000 imperial gallons of water a day to the fountains, baths and homes of the residents of Nimes. The Romans loved using water and bathing. Historians speculate that it might have been operational as long as the 6th century AD, but after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was no longer maintained and silted up. However, it survived because of its secondary function, as a toll bridge over the Gardon river. In the 18th century the aqueduct became increasingly popular as a tourist attraction and shops and restaurants of all kinds soon cluttered the area.
Cars were even allowed to drive on the bridge until the 1990’s. This all changed when it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. All the buildings were torn down, driving on the bridge was forbidden and a new visitor center was built nearby. As the Pont du Gard was our last stop before heading back to Avignon and it was late, we merely walked along the banks of the Gardon and marveled at the amazing structure build so solidly several thousand years ago. It is still a popular place to visit but now you see campers on the bank and kayakers in the river. The Ramblers were ready to get back to Le Limas so we were glad a stroll on the aqueduct wasn’t in the plan. We were not eager to climb the steps to the top but we were glad we had a chance to see it, truly amazing structure.
Back at Le Limas, we had a light snack and a relaxing evening watching the sun set over the Papal Palace as its lights slowly flickered on. The next morning we had another enjoyable breakfast while waiting for our second tour guide. We feared it might be JB again, because he had mentioned how much he knew about wines yesterday, however… We were relieved to find that our guide for the second day was Gilles, not JB, and that we were the only people on the tour this day. We would have enjoyed meeting fellow tourists but not if they totally ignored us all day. I guess it would have been worse if we had been snubbed by English speaking tourists. LOL
Gilles explained that he would be taking us to a variety of wineries, a chateau turned restaurant for lunch and then we would finish up at Chateauneuf de Pape. This all sounded very good to me, and the senior Rambler was resigned to having plenty of time to enjoy the fresh air of Provence on a beautiful sunny day.
Our first stop was at Mas des Tourelles, a winery on a Roman site which had been producing wine for several thousand years. Indeed, the current proprietors now made several wines in the Roman style which I later tasted (and didn’t much care for.) The tasting room was part of a restored complex that dated to the time when France was Gaul and a province of Rome.
We arrived slightly early and Gilles gave me a tour of the vineyard and explained that the limestone pebbles in the soil were an important part of the wine culture and imparted some of the terroir of the region which produced delightful wines that varied with the mineral and rock content of the soil.
Mas de Tourelles produces three wines that they say are made just as the Romans did. The first, mulsum, was mentioned by Pliny the Elder and is a blend of wine, honey and a variety of herbs and spices including pepper and cinnamon. According to ancient accounts, Mulsum was often served as an aperitif or with spicy dishes. Too sweet for the Rambler.
The second, Turriculae, was a Roman attempt at a dry wine, again not a Rambler favorite. They evidently added a concentrate of seawater and fenugreek during vinification. A French wine review called it “rich and supple with a round prune flavored finish.” Finally, the last Roman style wine was Carenum, a sweet amber colored wine which the wine review recommended as an aperitif, While it was interesting as was the winery structure itself, there were not wine I would care to drink in any quantity besides a tasting portion.
Our next stop, Chateau de Manissy, produces wines that were much more to the Rambler’s taste and a bottle of rose was purchase for drinking that evening.
The Chateau is owned by the Holy Family Missionaries and today is used as a residence for retired priests of the order. The Holy Family Missionaries have been producing rose wines here since the early 1900’s but today the winery is run by winemaker Florian Andre. The Chateau now produces organic wines both rose and red in the style of Chateauneuf de Pape. Since it was still early, I was the only one in the tasting room and it was an enjoyable experience.
Our next stop was lunch. Gilles drove us to an 18th century chateau which is now a restaurant. I am not sure we ever learned its name because it had all been arranged as part of the tour, Because it was a beautiful day, we ate in the garden and again, we were the only customers. The food was excellent and Gilles was a pleasant companion.
After lunch we would visit two more wineries, the first, a small, family operation, and the last the very famous Chateauneuf de Pape. At the family vineyard, the winemaker, a friend of Gilles, showed us through his operation. It was not fancy or slick but his family obviously took pride in its operation. His wines were simple but tasty, as we would say, a daily drinker, and it turned out that Gilles was a regular customer. We enjoyed talking about politics the EU and the US with the winemaker. Certainly EU regulations do not make his job easier.
I thought I would be able to finish blogging about our adventures in Provence today, but there is just too much to include yet, so I will add one more blog entry on this trip before we travel somewhere else.