Discussed in this Episode
- What you need to know about visiting on market day
- Do not buy nougat at the Provençal market
- Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum where Van Gogh was hospitalized
ST REMY DE PROVENCE AND GLANUM
St Remy in the Provence region is a lovely old Provençal town that sits in a valley that leads to the Alpilles mountains. Centrally located: not far from Arles, Avignon, Cavaillon and just below the ancient village of Baux de Provence, it is the perfect place to stop and feel what life is like in a small Provençal town.
Glanum: A Greek/Roman City Rediscovered!
One of the reasons to go to St Remy de Provence is to have a chance to visit a remarkable antique site: the ancient city of Glanum.
Located just 1 mile (2 km) south of the center of St Rémy, going there is a voyage back in time. The site, now a National Historic Monument, was ‘rediscovered” in 1920 by three architects/archeologists. Although two of its structures that are at the entrance to the ancient city; a cenotaph and a triumphal arch have always been visible and were considered valuable enough to be preserved through the centuries, the rest of this huge site was buried . Not only was it buried, but under 8 meters of earth!!
At the moment, in 1920, that a real archeological dig was begun, the area of Glanum, over several hectares (well over 10 acres) was covered with olive trees and old stone houses. Since 1920 when these first serious explorations began, archeological work has continued.
The site of Glanum, now open to the public, covers a part of what was the ancient city. There are over 5 acres (2.2 hectares) of ruins to visit and explore.
Why is Glanum so Special?
Glanum is the only Roman site to still have pre-Roman structures, both Celtic (Gallois) and Greek, as part of its heritage.
And it is a complete city not just one or two monuments.
Glanum was begun , probably as early as 600 bc, as a Celtic oppidum (a protected site) because of the spring that surges out of the cliffs of the mountains just there. This is a chain of limestone cliffs and small mountains called the Alpilles, situated just south of what is now St Remy de Provence. The Celtic tribes that lived in the area attributed magic power to this ‘endless’ source of water and dedicated it to their god of ‘Glan’ the god of the depths where the water was pure. There were several Celtic settlements in the area but Glan as it was called then was the most important.
The Greeks: Prosperity and Urban development
Centuries later, in about 200 bc, the Greeks, who has settled and thrived in Marseille and its nearby areas, came and Hellenized the site of Glan which became known as Glanon. The peoples who lived there thrived doing commerce with the Greeks and even used the greek alphabet to write their language. For over a century Glanon was a “Celtic-Greek” settlement.
The Greek style of building, with huge blocks of stone piled without mortar and their construction of public space with statuary, is still there to be seen ,making Glanum one of the very few places in France where ancient Greek vestiges share space with Roman construction.
The Romans: conquerors and a great civitas
In 125 bc, the Romans invaded Gaule, and took over this region. The Greek cité of Glanon was almost completely dismantled, and rebuilt in the Roman fashion with living quarters, forum, basilicas, baths, fountains. Like other strategically placed sites that the Romans conquered, it was turned into a small Rome.
Latinized (after being Hellenized) the local population adhered to Roman law and administration, the leaders became Roman citizens, fought with the Roman legions, and developed a Gallo-Roman aristocracy. It was this time that the Arc de Triomphe and the huge cenotaphe in memory of the Gallo-Roman family, the Julii, were built at the gateway to the cité.
The ancient sacred water spring was used by the Romans who kept the celtic god and made it one of their own. The cité became Glanum: the name it has kept ever since then. Prosperous and important as part of the route going north towards Lyon, Glanum had no real problems until the middle of the 3rd century, when the hordes of Germanic tribes starting invading this part of the Roman empire.
Destruction, Disappearance and Re-appearance
In 270 ad, Glanum was invaded and destroyed by one of these germanic tribes. The local population fled, going north. The buildings were destroyed and left in ruin, all except the arc de Triumph and the huge cenotaphe.
Much of the population settled just a few miles away, in what was probably the first settlement of St Remy. The rest of rich and famous Glanum disappeared Buried under meters of earth for centuries, planted with trees and used as farm land, the entire site of Glanum was not revealed again until 1920, over 1600 years later!!
Since 1920, Glanum is one of the most important antique sites being explored in France. More than just one structure like a colisseum, or an arena, it is an entire city that has slowly come to the surface. And it is very precious and rare, because there are remnants of its Greek and Celtic past as well. The investigations continue, as the archeologists and researchers go further south towards the hills.
One of the most remarkable things to see there is the entrance to the famous spring of water, which has never run dry. Surrounded by what remain of its Roman entranceway and sculptures, you can still see the water that began it all !
PRACTICAL INFORMATION ABOUT GLANUM:
A Historic Monument, it is open every day in the season from April through 31 of August, and every day except Monday for the rest of the year.
There is a small café and a shop with a small museum at the entrance, and then you are free to roam the entire site as you wish. There are signs and information posted along the way, and a map of the site is available (in 10 languages). There is also an audioguide available for 3 euros with the ticket (8 euros per adult) in several languages.
ST REMY DE PROVENCE
The town of St Remy is part of the National Regional Park of the Alpilles. As part of its territory and its history, it includes the incredible antique site, now National Monument, of Glanum. With its cafés with parasols, its little squares with quaint shops, its old medieval streets, and the remarkable vestiges at Glanum, it is well worth at least a day’s visit.
Where is St Remy?
St Remy is in the Bouche du Rhône department, just 20 km from Avignon and the TGV, 25 km from Arles, and 19 from Cavaillon. Near major autoroutes, it is easy to get to by car. It is at the northern edge of the Alpilles, a small range of limestone mountains and cliffs 10 km away.
A Brief History of St Remy
We could say that the town of St Remy would not exist probably, if the antique site of Glanum wasn’t already there, but its “real” history begins with the early MIddle Ages.
Strangely enough its name comes from the bishop of Reims, who became Saint Remi. In the 6th century an Abbey was built there that was under the auspices and control of St Remi of Reims.
Later on St Remy became part of the property of the Counts of Provence, and it became prosperous as a “Comptal” city: with an official residence by the powerful Counts. In 1481 Provence was annexed to the kingdom of France because there was no direct descendant of the last Count of Provence.
In the later Middle Ages St Remy became known as a cultural and intellectual city. St Remy was the birthplace of Nostradamus, a very famous and controversial doctor and astrologist born there in 1503. There was a center of poetry in St Remy where the language of provençal was still spoken. The provençal poet Fréderic Mistral (1830-1914) brought many intellectuals are writers to St Remy in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Because of its relatively good climate and rich land, the area around St Remy has stayed prosperous through the centuries. Rich from its production of olives, olive oil, and wine, it attracted, and still attracts, artists and writers.
In 1889 the painter Van Gogh spent some time in a clinic in St Remy. It is there that he painted some of his most famous paintings.
What to do and see in St Remy?
St Remy is a very popular stop for people visiting the Provençal area. Because it is at the gateway to the Alpilles, to Glanum and to some ancient villages such as Les Baux de Provence, St Remy has a well developed infrastructure with many hotels, restaurants, cafés and shops. Its market, especially on Wednesdays, is famous for having all the typical provençal products, food and crafts, made in the region. St Remy is famous for its olive oil production and for the provençal wines, with an AOC label: Les Coteaux des Baux en Provence: reds and rosés, that are produced in the vineyards surrounding the town.
There are many mansions from the 1600’s and 1700’s in town. One has been turned into a museum to show some of the smaller pieces that have come out of the digs at Glanum. There are old medieval streets to wander on and tiny squares with benches under the plane trees to sit on. The shops have colorful, provençal wares and more than in many other towns, here you really feel like you are in Provence!
Activities and Festivals
There are many festivals and activities too: The Transhumance, when the sheep are taken up to the mountains is a big event on the Monday of the Pentecote. The Feria when the young bulls are released to run through the center of the town is a popular event as well. The Carnival is at the time of the Equinox, and the Festival of Wine and Crafts is the last weekend of July. There is a famous Festival of Jazz at the site of Glanum in September and several other music festivals, mostly in the fabulous site of Glanum (at night, under the stars).
All summer long there is a night market on Tuesdays, that is mostly crafts and local products (the Marché des Créateurs)
There is a one day Rock festival in Glanum every July.
St Remy is also known for having some very good provençal restaurants
Hiking and biking into the Alpilles mountains is also a very popular activity. There are many camp grounds in the area as well.
All together there are many reasons to make a stop here. Between the historical sites, the history, the food, the markets and the wonderful outdoors, St Remy and Glanum should be on your list of places to visit!
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