Les Baux de Provence

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Les Baux de Provence
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Les Baux de Provence

Les Baux de Provence is a small village and commune in the Bouches-du-Rhône département in southern France, in the former province of Provence. It has a spectacular position in the Alpilles mountains, set atop a rocky outcrop crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south. Its names refers to its site - in Provençal, a baou is a rocky spur.

History

The defensive possibilities of Les Baux led to the site being settled very early on. Traces of habitation have been found dating back as far as 6000 BC, and it was used by the Celts as a hill fort or oppidum around the 2nd century BC. During the Middle Ages it became the seat of a powerful feudal lordship, which controlled 79 towns and villages in the vicinity. The lords of Baux sought control of Provence for many years and gained a formidable reputation, which they certainly tried to live up to. They traced their ancestry (quite fictitiously) from the Magus king Balthazar and even placed the Star of Bethlehem on their coat of arms.

Despite these pretensions, the lords of Baux were forced to submit in the 12th century. The great castle at Les Baux became renowned for its court, which was famed for its high level of ornateness, culture and chivalry. The domain was finally extinguished in the 15th century with the death of the last princess of Baux, Louise of Clermont.

 at Château des Baux
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Trebuchet at Château des Baux

Les Baux was joined, along with Provence, to the French crown under the governance of the Manville family. It became a centre for Protestantism and unsuccessfully revolted against the crown, leading Cardinal Richelieu to order in 1632 that its castle and walls should be razed.

The town was granted in 1642 to the Grimaldi family, rulers of Monaco, as a marquisiate. The title of Marquis des Baux remains with the Grimaldis to this day, although administratively the town is entirely French. The title is traditionally given to the heir to the throne of Monaco. The present Marquise des Baux is Princess Caroline of Monaco, heir to her brother, Albert II of Monaco.

In 1822 the mineral bauxite was discovered near Les Baux by the geologist Pierre Berthier. It was subsequently mined extensively in the area, but by the end of the 20th century had been completely worked out; France now imports most of its bauxite from west Africa.

Les Baux today

Les Baux is now given over entirely to the tourist trade, relying on a deserved reputation as one of the prettiest villages in France. It is, however, still a shadow of its former self; its present population of around 500 is a fraction of its peak population of over 4,000, and many of its buildings (including the castle) are picturesque ruins.

External links

fr:Les Baux-de-Provence

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