Aigues-Mortes, La Grande Motte, and Maguelone
On day during our week in Montpellier
we drove eastward
along the Mediterranean coast to the medieval town of Aigues-Mortes,
the modern resort of La Grande Motte, and the island of Maguelone.
All are found in the marshy area at the mouth of the Rhone River,
called the Camargue. The western part of the Camargue that we visited
is also known as the Petite Camargue or Little Camargue.
Aigues-Mortes was built in the
1240s as a "planned" community, intended to create a port for France
on the Mediterranean.
(At that time, Montpellier was part of the Kingdom of Aragon and Marseilles was part of the Kingdom of Provence, so there
were no other French ports on the Mediterranean.) A beautiful town was laid out on a perfect grid plan of a half-dozen
streets, with a central square and massive walls all around. Unfortunately, the site chosen was less than ideal, and within
a century of its foundation, the marshes between it and the sea had silted up and it was useless as a port. The past's
misfortune is the present's good luck, since the town has been beautifully preserved as a medieval jewel.
At the center
of town stands a statue of King Louis IX of France
(better known as Saint Louis), who ordered the town to be built.
The streets are
now lined with restaurants and souvenir shops.
Still, we were there before the summer throngs, and it was fairly quiet.
At one corner of the town is the castle that guarded it.
It is possible to walk around the entire town atop the medieval walls, and we did!
From the top of
the walls, you can see out to the marshes that lead to the sea
--where sea salt is harvested (and piled high in the photo above on the left).
The walls also give great views over the town.
A modern canal has reopened the town's access to the sea.
We don't usually
take photos of our food, but these half-pizzas were particularly picturesque
--and we ate a lot of pizza on this trip, and it was often served with a fried egg on top!
Our next stop was the modern seaside resort, a few miles away, called La Grande Motte.
It was built in
the 1960s and has a definite "sixties" feel to it!
The buildings, mostly condos, were designed by the architect Jean Balladur.
Along the beach were some parasailers.
Our final stop
that day was on the tiny island of Maguelone, on the far side of a lagoon
across from Montpellier.
A cathedral church was built here in the eleventh century and enlarged in the twelfth century, and was once
attached to a monastery that was later destroyed during the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants.
Now the former cathedral is used for music concerts. Only a few pieces of medieval sculpture still survive.
Vinyards cover the rest of the island.
We had to park
our car and take a small tourist bus to the island.
Along the way, we spotted this graffiti that reads "Long live sex!"
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