History

History of les Baux-de-Provence

The geographical location of the Baux Plateau on the top of a hill has always given the local people the dual advantage of being able to observe the surrounding countryside and to protect themselves. This no doubt explains why the site was occupied from so early in prehistoric times and has continued to be so right up to the present day.

The earliest known texts, dating from the 10th century, mention "Balcium Castrum". They give the name of the local lord as Pons the Younger; his descendents take the surname, Les Baux. During a major building programme introduced by Lords Hugues and Barral des Baux in the 13th century, the early fortress was replaced by a keep that took advantage of the natural configuration of the rock and became a support for the other buildings in the castle.

 

Les Baux-de-Provence in the Middle-Ages

In the Middle Ages, the Baux lineage was one of the leading families in Provence, thanks to its land. Originally centred on Arles and Marignane, family possessions were extended over successive generations to include many other areas throughout Provence as well as in Comtat Venaissin, Dauphiné and Italy.

This meant that the Baux family was master of seventy-nine towns or fortresses known as the "Terres Baussenques" (Baux lands). The number consists of two figures claimed to have sacred meaning; it symbolised the entire area of land owned by the princes, with its unity and intangibility. It could be said to express their power. The dynasty left its mark on the history of Provence because of the influence and personality of its rebellious, warring lords.

During their eventful history, the fortress seems to have fulfilled its primary purpose as a stronghold during the Baux Wars and the Wars of Religion.

On the death of Alix, the last Princess of Les Baux, King Louis III of Sicily, Count of Provence, seized the mediaeval castle that had often been used to challenge the authority of his predecessors and annexed it to the Count's lands. The town and the "Terres baussenques" later became Crown lands when Provence was annexed to the throne of France during the reign of Louis XI. The King of France was mistrustful of a fortress that was so powerful and so distant from his court. Fearing that it might fall into the hands of an enemy, especially those who opposed his authority in Provence, he ordered its demolition in 1483.

 

However, because of its former might and its glorious history, the lands of the Baux family were integrated into the "Adjacent Lands" of the kingdom of France under the authority of none other than the king himself. They were not subservient to the County of Provence and they retained their customs, franchises and prerogatives.

 

Les Baux-de-Provence during the Renaissance

The Renaissance was a golden age for the town and the residential buildings in the castle were partially rebuilt. In 1631, however, the fortress was again in the hands of insurgents. The royal decision taken in the previous year to dispose of the "Parlement" in Provence (a consultative and judicial authority), led to a revolt in Aix-en-Provence.

It was put down by the Prince de Condé and some of the rebels fled and sought refuge in Les Baux. The town was besieged by Cardinal Richelieu's troops and, when the fighting was over, the fortress was again demolished.

In 1642, the lordship of Les Baux was given by King Louis XIII to Hercule Grimaldi to thank him for his policies in favour of the Crown of France. Hercule passed the title of Marquis des Baux to his descendents and its current holder is Prince Jacques of Monaco.

After the revolution, the marquisate was annexed to France. The village of Les Baux was gradually abandoned and had a population of only 400 at the end of the 19th century (there had been 3,000 inhabitants in the 13th century). Les Baux, however, had another date with History. In 1821, a geologist discovered a red rock there rich in alum earth - he called it "bauxite".

 

A revival

It was after the Second World War that the village began a new life as a tourist and cultural centre with the arrival of Raymond Thuillier who helped to make Les Baux internationally famous by opening the celebrated Oustau de Baumanière, an ambassador for gourmet cuisine that attracted all the world's best-known names.

In 1966, André Malraux signed a decree placing the entire town under the protection of the Ministry of Culture and the Environment and leading to its revival. This was another period of rebirth ("renaissance") for the town, with renovation that, in 1999, resulted in its listing as one of the "Most Beautiful Villages in France".