Witnesses of a rich history

Saint-Blaise Chapel

A Romanesque chapel, it is typical of the restraint and simplicity of this type of building in the Middle Ages.

Former chapel of the brotherhood of weavers and carders, whose patron saint was Saint Blaise, its construction dates back to the 12th century.

With a rectangular floorplan, it is very simple like many of the little Romanesque chapels that you may come across along the roads in Provence. Its façade is pierced by a round-arched door topped by an oculus and a belltower.

Quiqueran Hospital and its garden

Quiqueran Hospital bears witness to a refined culture, in the regular and restrained style of the classical Renaissance that was fashionable at the time. It housed the poor and the sick.

It was built in the 16th century during the Wars of Religion, on the initiative of Jeanne de Quiqueran, wife of Honoré des Martins, governor of Les Baux de Provence. Later renamed the “Hôtel Dieu et charité des Baux”, it was closed in 1787.

This “charitable home” was funded by the annuities given by individuals, and which their heirs continued to pay from one generation to the next. Some were paid in cash, but most were paid in kind in the form of donations of wheat, wine or olive oil.

The hospital consisted of a ground floor, a portico with three large arches and, on the first floor, a gallery decorated with small pillars supporting the roof. The entrance was on the other side, to the north, on a street that used to be lined with houses. The totally unadorned façade was very austere.

In the second half of the 18th century, the Quiqueran “charitable home” still housed six paupers, six patients and a maid who also lived there.

After the Revolution, for lack of resources, it was transferred to the Maussane hospital which, to this day, continues to house its archives.

The Quiqueran garden

The garden draws its inspiration from the gardens that were popular in the Middle Ages, loaded with symbols and partitioned off into different spaces, each with their own special atmosphere.

It includes plants and shrubs typical of the Provençal garrigue: thyme, rosemary and orchard fruit.

With an educational focus, this garden will allow everyone, children and adults alike, to discover the know-how of our ancestors regarding medicinal, edible and ornamental plants.

The courtyards

It was in the courtyards that the castle’s inhabitants lived. The first courtyard gave access to the seigneurial dwellings. Armour and lovely dresses could be seen there, along with the maids who took the bread to be baked in the bakery or went to draw water from the cistern. The guards also lived in this part of the castle.

Inside the houses around the first courtyard, the walls were covered with tapestries. Decorative, but above all useful for combatting the cold and the damp, they made the rooms less austere and more comfortable.

The craftsmen and peasants lived and worked in the second courtyard. Cut off from the first courtyard by a ditch, the houses formed a veritable village sheltered by the castle walls.

The second courtyard was a hive of activity. The peasants who tended the lord’s vegetable gardens, fields and vineyards, were housed here, as was the shepherd and his herds (pigs, sheep and goats).

There were almost certainly stables for the lord’s horses, and for the donkeys and mules that carried the heavy loads up from the valley below: grain, wood, water when the cisterns were empty. Chickens and geese could be seen pecking around all over the place.

The Sarrasine Tower

The Sarrasine Tower played a key role in the site’s defence. Closing off the castle’s south side, it served as the “castle guardian”. Built at the top of a rocky outcrop, it protected the castle from the south as well as the access through the Auro Gate. In Provençal, Auro is the name given to the terrible north wind, the mistral.

This structure comprised an ingenious defensive system designed to mislead any unwelcome visitors who, thinking they were entering the castle, were pushed back under the fortress’s walls. The assailants were thus taken in by the false doors and the layout of the terrain.

Another tower, still standing today, protected the castle’s north-western corner: the Paravelle Tower. It looked over the Vallon de la Fontaine et le Val d’Enfer (Fountain Valley and Hell Valley), but above all the Vayède Pass whose relatively great elevation made it an ideal place from which to lay siege to the castle.

The Maison du Four

Traces of the delicate Renaissance ornamentation can be seen in the Maison du Four.

The cornice is decorated with acanthus leaves, an ornamental feature widely used in architecture since the days of ancient Greece.

The Maison du Four, where they baked their bread, had three rooms on the ground floor. The oven can be seen in the room on the left with, to its right, a sink with its outlet hole. A window – which still has the stubs of its mullions today – opens out onto the castle alley.

The first of the bakery’s three rooms currently takes the form of a terrace. This is in fact all that remains of this room in the open air.

Originally, the bakery had two storeys. This can be seen thanks to the traces of a staircase above the entrance door.

The Keep

The keep is by far the castle’s most impressive vestige. Usually, the lord and his family lived together in a single room in the keep. Here, it is at the top of the rock that the Château des Baux was founded.

To build the keep, the lords of Les Baux had the rock giving onto the valley carved out to a height of up to 20 metres, to make it difficult to climb. It is mostly built with rock.

The rock was broadly hollowed out to build it. The stones were therefore available, ready to be dressed at a time when many castles were still made of timber, because the quarries were often a great distance away and it would have been costly to transport the stones.

On the first level, the keep had just one room, but from the first floor upwards there were three rooms and the keep then measured 35 metres by 12.

Today, the stone has kept the trace of certain features: the arches supporting the first floor, the doors and windows, the beam anchorage points…

The keep was still inhabited at the beginning of the 15th century, when the last princess of Les Baux, Alix, died in the “tower’s great chamber”. It was quite richly furnished with a sideboard and chests containing the family silverware, jewels and papers…

The castle chapel

The building has the castle’s oldest remains, and is a wonderful example of the Flamboyant Gothic style.

Built close to the castle’s entrance, the chapel ensured its religious and physical protection. In the 12th century, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and then, from the 16th century onwards, to Saint Catherine.

Admire the vault and its Gothic-style intersecting lierne and tierceron ribs. Initially in the Romanesque style with a barrel vault, it was restored in the 16th century.

In the 15th century Saint Mary’s chapel was richly furnished and decorated. There were two paintings, a small organ lent by the prior of the Carmes d’Arles, a number of liturgical books and gold plate. But above all it had a wealth of ecclesiastic vestments cut from costly fabrics.

A tapestry depicting the Three Wise Men and a large painting representing Saint Anthony hung on the walls.

The trou aux lièvres (The hares’ hole)

Ensuring the castle’s defence, the trou aux lièvres (hares’ hole) was a formidable trap for the enemy.

A sloping passageway with broad steps crossing through the whole rock, this deep ditch barred the way into the castle.

From the exterior, it could be watched from a parapet with machicolations carved into the rock. If any intruders came close, the guards could see them and repel them by throwing projectiles at them.

Even if the intruders managed to get in, they were still exposed to the projectiles that could be thrown from the roof of the chapel, just on the left.

At that time, there were two storeys with battlements. This defensive system also offered an effective escape route in the case of a siege.

Features in the walls such as this old doorway show us that the terrace had two stories and was topped by battlements.

The water cistern

The water supply always posed a problem on the spur. As the rock did not have a spring or a well, they had to collect the rainwater, and this is the cistern that was used to supply the castle with water for several centuries.

This cistern was covered with a barrel vault and had two openings: the first one received the runoff water and the second one was used to draw off the water.

Today, you can still see the traces of friction left by a rope which probably had a bucket attached to it. Regular holes drilled in the separating wall perhaps served to filter the water.

Originally there were three cisterns. The other two cisterns were at the peak of the rock next to the keep and near the castle chapel.

There is a ditch between the first courtyard and the bakery running down the castle alley, that took the rainwater to the cistern.

The walls were coated with a mixture of crushed terracotta, sand and lime to make them waterproof.

The troglodyte houses

These are dwellings carved out of the rock. They allow us to understand how the inhabitants of Les Baux managed to make the most of their rocky surroundings to develop.

They form a neighbourhood, mentioned in the 16th century land registers as the “Baume de Roucas”. In Occitan, “baume” means cave and “rouca” means rock. It was therefore a neighbourhood of rock dwellings, that must have looked something like those in the second courtyard.

These houses bear witness to the ingenuity of the inhabitants who used the stone to make their homes more functional: shelves were carved in the wall, fireplaces dug out in the thickness of the rock, not to mention the knobs that were used to hang things up and to dry hams.

The dovecot

The castle’s dovecot is an impressive testimonial to pigeon breeding, a widely developed practice in the Middle Ages. As meat was a luxury, there was a very real need to diversify the sources of food.

Throughout feudal times, the secular and ecclesiastical lords were almost alone in enjoying the right to build and exploit immense dovecots that could house as many as 2,000 nesting places. This feudal right was abolished at the time of the French Revolution.

The pigeons’ nests carved into the rocky wall are called “boulins”. A ladder was used to climb up to collect the pigeon eggs and squabs. They are designed to accommodate a couple.

Pigeons, greatly appreciated for their meat, were also used as messengers, a tradition that dates back to classical times.

Carrier pigeons belong to a special breed of pigeon with a highly developed instinct allowing them to return to their home dovecot, regardless of their departure point.

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Getting Here

At 3 hours from Paris or Toulouse, 1.30 hours from Lyon, 1 hour from Marseille or Aix-en-Provence, near Arles and Avignon, discover the village Les Baux-de-Provence and the beautiful and famous Provence.

Tourist Office

Maison du Roy, Rue Porte Mage,
13520 Les Baux-de-Provence
Tél. +33 (0)4 90 54 34 39

tourisme@lesbauxdeprovence.com

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Opening hours
Monday to Friday: 9.30 am to 5.00 pm
Weekends & public holidays: 10.00 am to 5.30 pm
Closure: 25 December and 1 January

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