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PROVENCE - Chapter 3

Provence - cicada logo

Cities and Regions of Provence

Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence {eks-awn-proh-vawns'} is a city in the Bouches-du-Rhone department of Provence in southeastern France. It lies on the principal routes to Italy and the Alps. Aix has a population of 124,000 (1990) and is an agricultural center, producing almonds, olives, and wine. Mont Sainte-VictoireFounded by the Romans in 123 BC near mineral springs, it is the site of Marius's defeat of the Teutons (102 BC). In succession, Visigoths, Franks, Lombards, and Moors invaded and plundered the town. In the Middle Ages it was a center for the arts and Provençal literature, fostered by rulers such as René of Anjou. After René's death (1480), Aix was annexed (1486) by France.

The city has long been a favorite spot for artists, including Paul Cézanne, who was born here. In fact, you'll notice that much has been named for him, including streets, cafés, and even a health clinic -- though his major works are more likely to be viewed in Paris, London, or New York. Although the city's most famous son was not appreciated here during his life, he is now immortalized through many pictures, postcards and prints available at mercantile establishments throughout the city.

Avignon

Avignon is the capital of Vaucluse department, southeastern France, on the Rhône River. Located about 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Marseille, it is a commercial and industrial center that manufactures wine, oil, flour, and textiles. Tourism is also important. The population is 86,939 (1990). Several historic landmarks draw tourists to the city. They include the Palace of the Popes (14th century), which suffered heavy damage during the French raids (1791) on the city and later served (1822-1906) as a barracks for French troops. Also of interest is a remnant of the Pont d'Avignon (1177-85), a bridge built by St. Bénezet and made popular by the song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon."

Avignon was held successively by the Romans, Germanic tribes, and Burgundian kings until it was purchased by Pope Clement VI (1348) as the site of the papal see. Several popes resided here until 1377, when Pope GREGORY XI returned to Rome. Two antipopes resided in Avignon during the Great SCHISM (1378-1417). The city was annexed to France in 1791.

The Camargue

Provence - cicada logoBetween Montpellier and Marseille, from Arles to the Mediterranean, lies the haunting, desolate, marshy wilderness of the Camargue, with its vast pools, low flat plains, and innumerable species of migrating birds. It is an area extending over 330 square miles, formerly covered by the Mediterranean, which has since receded to reveal the sprawling delta between the Grand and petit Rhône rivers. The area's frail and important ecology is now protected by Camargue Regional Park.

Since World War II, rice production has flourished here, and salt extraction takes place in the southeastern corner. The farmers never had much success growing the red wild rice indigenous to this region (the stalk sheds its grains when ripe, making it difficult to harvest), until in 1980 René Griotto discovered a single stalk which was a cross between the native rice and a short grain variety he had been growing; since 1992, this Camargue red rice has become commercially successful, possessing a sweet, earthy flavor and a chewy texture popular as a base for pilafs and stuffing mixtures.

In October 1993 and January 1994, the swollen Rhône burst its banks and flooded large parts of the Camargue, disturbing the area's gradual change in salinity (from fresh to seawater) and endangering some of its unique flora.

The two animals for which the Camargue is perhaps best known are its flamingos and its horses. The sight of a flock of these graceful pink and white birds are a delight to visitors. Camargue horses are born brown, but gradually turn white; they tend to be smallish in stature. The area's most famous residents are the cowboys who herd these horses, as well as sheep and the bulls -- small, black and long-horned -- which are raised to fight in the cocardes at Nîmes, Arles and other places.

Marseille

Marseille (or Marseilles) is the principal port city of France, situated in the southeastern part of the country on the Mediterranean Sea near the mouth of the Rhone River. With 800,550 (1990) inhabitants in the city proper, it is the second most populous city in France. Its metropolitan area population is 1,225,000 (1990). One of the oldest cities in the country, Marseille was founded more than 2,500 years ago along the well-protected bay now called Vieux-Port (Old Harbor). The city grew from the harbor area to the limestone hills in the east, which reach about 760 m (2,500 ft) above sea level.

CONTEMPORARY CITY

The center of the city has grown up on either side of its main thoroughfare, La Canebiere and Boulevard de la Liberation, where cafes, restaurants, and hotels are located. The rocky coast is paralleled by the Promenade de la Corniche, which has a beautiful view of the harbor. Few buildings from Marseille's long history still stand. A 19th-century basilica and cathedral, the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church, and the University of Aix-Marseille are the best-known landmarks. The city has several museums, including the Archaeology and Fine Arts museums, and theaters.

Trade continues to be the economic mainstay of Marseille. The most important port on the Mediterranean, it handles millions of tons of freight annually. Major imports include petroleum, wine, fruits, olive oil, hides and skins, and tropical agricultural products. Exports are dominated by wines, liqueurs, processed foods, cement, and metal products. Petroleum refining and shipbuilding are the principal industries, but chemicals, soap, glass, sugar, building materials, plastics, textiles, olive oil, and processed foods are also important products. Marseille is connected with the Rhone via a canal and thus has access to the extensive waterway network of France. Petroleum is shipped northward to the Paris basin by pipeline.

HISTORY

About 600 BC, Greek mariners founded a settlement there called Massalia. It grew quickly and its residents colonized much of present-day southern France. In 49 BC it fell to Rome. From the 13th to the 15th century Marseille was a free republic, but became part of France in 1481. During the 18th and 19th centuries the city grew considerably as the major port serving the French colonies in the West Indies and North Africa. Marseille suffered severe damage during World War II, and much of the city has since been rebuilt. Since the war, Marseille's economy has expanded, and the city's significance in southern France has greatly increased.

(For details on Arles, Nîmes, and Orange, refer to Chapter 3 - Traces of Roman Civilization.)


Bibliography: 1997 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia v9.0.1. A Year In Provence, Peter Mayle, 1991, Vintage Books, division of Random House, Inc., New York. The Road from the Past - Traveling Through History In France, Ina Caro, 1994, Doubleday, division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., New York. The Riches of France (A Shopping and Touring Guide to the French Provinces), Maribeth Clemente, 1997, St. Martin's Griffin, New York. Fodor's 97 France, Fodor's Travel Publications, New York. Provence & Côte d'Azur Visitor's Guide, Richard Sale, 1996, Hunter Publishing Inc., Edison, NJ. Edible France - A Traveler's Guide, Glynn Christian, Jenni Muir, 1997, Interlink Publishing Group Inc., Brooklyn, NY.
Images: Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire, from Courtauld Institute, London/Syndication International.

Chapter 1:

Provençal History & Language

Chapter 2:

Provence Geography & Climate

Chapter 3:

Cities and Regions of Provence

Chapter 4:

Traces of Roman Civilization

Chapter 5:

Shopping, Cuisine, Provence Links

Nostradamus bust

Nostradamus
Physician, Astrologer, Prophet
~ and son of PROVENCE ~

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