Beaucaire

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For the town in the Gers département, see Beaucaire, Gers.
Missing image
Coming_into_Beaucaire_-_view_of_marina.jpg
View down into Beaucaire and the marina from the bridge leading to Tarascon.

Beaucaire is a small town and commune in southern France, in the Gard département of Languedoc-Roussillon.

It is located on the Rhône River, opposite the town of Tarascon, which is in Bouches-du-Rhône département of Provence.

It has a mediaeval castle.

Contents

History & Culture

Etymology

'Beaucaire' probably means:

  • Beau < French beau ('Beautiful') < Vulgar Latin BELLV ('Beautiful')
  • Caire < some Celtic root cognate with elements such as carn, cairn, caer referring to some stone object, perhaps a small fortress or a cairn.

In Roman times, it was along the Via Domitia, the first Roman road built in Gaul.

Missing image
Rhône,_château_de_Beaucaire.jpg
View over the Rhône, looking upstream from the Pont de Beaucaire, with a view of Beaucaire Castle.

During the Albigensian Crusade, Raymond VI of Toulouse besieged Beaucaire in May 1216. The efforts of Simon de Montfort to relieve the town were repulsed. The city fell after a three month siege.

Beaucaire was the site of mediaeval fairs.

Camargue bulls are annually run through the streets, Iberian-style.

Le Drac

From 20th–22nd June each year, Beaucaire celebrates the myth of the Drac.

The townsfolk bring the monster to life the form of a long procession, which snakes through the town led by a swarm of children carrying Chinese-type lanterns.

According to folklore, the Drac monster is invisible to humans and is capable of changing shape at will. He is usually, however, depicted as a large, fearsome, winged sea-serpent. The story goes that in 1250 he abducted a lavender seller and took her beneath the waters to raise his son. When she was released at the end of seven years, the young woman was endowed with a strange power: the ability to recognise the Drac with one of her eyes. One day, she recognised him as he was going about the market in Beaucaire. Upon being identified, the Drac ripped the woman's eye out.

The Drac was then supposed to have gone on to kill over three thousand knights and villagers, being perhaps one of the craftiest of all French dragons. Most of the kills were performed in Beaucaire. Sometimes, however, the dragon would search for other victims elsewhere.

Whole armies were allegedly sent against the Drac, but all failed. The beast is thus assumed either to have died of old age, or to be still living at the bottom of the Rhône.

There are variations on the story. Some say she got her dragon-slight by accidentally getting 'Dragon cream' in her eye. Others say the Drac gave her a box of human fat to rub into the hatchling's scales so that it would be visible to humans (otherwise she would not be able to care for it). She was supposed to clean the fat off her hands every evening with special water; but, one evening, she forgot to do so, rubbed her eyes with her dirty hands, and acquired her dragon-sight. Some say it was both eyes, or just the one. Still other versions confuse this beast with other monsters of regional folklore, and claim the Drac was slain by some saint or heroine.

The date above conflicts a little with the account we have by an eminent inhabitant of Arles, Gervais de Tibury, who was passing through Beaucaire in 1214. He said he was astonished by what the villagers told him. They claimed that the deaths of a fair number of people in the waters of the Rhône were due to a dragon who lived in the river, and who had previously emerged, a many years before. The legend was perpetuated by Frédéric Mistral in his Poèmes du Rhône, where he tells of a hybrid monster, dwelling in the river and coming out from time to time to feed on human flesh: lavender-sellers, ferrymen or others who strayed to close to the water's edge. The invisible Drac would sometimes use a passage from the waters of the Rhône to a well in the marketplace in order to come out and walk among the townsfolk.

The name Drac is the Occitan and Catalan word for 'dragon', from the Latin DRACO, DRACONIS. The French for 'dragon' is simply dragon.

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