The day we decided to visit the fortified city of Aigues-Mortes (meaning dead waters = marsh) was incredibly hot, and almost all the visit consisted of a long walk on the ancient town walls, but the view, the history we savoured and that blue sky (along with lots of water) made up for the discomfort….(sorry….lots of pics of hubby….)
The foundation of the city is said to have been by Gaius Marius, around 102BC but there is no documentary evidence to support this. A Roman by the name of Peccius fitted out the first salt marsh and gave his name to the Marsh of Peccais. Salt mining started from the Neolithic period and was continued in the Hellenistic period, but the ancient uses of saline have not resulted in any major archaeological discovery. It is likely that any remains were destroyed by modern saline facilities.
The purpose of this tower was part of the war plan and spiritual plan which Charlemagne granted at the Benedictine abbey, dedicated to Opus Dei (work of God) and whose incessant chanting, day and night, was to designate the convent as Psalmody or Psalmodi. This monastery still existed in 812, as confirmed by an act of endowment made by the Badila from Nîmes at the abbey.
At that time, the people lived in reed huts and made their living from fishing, hunting, and salt production from several small salt marshes along the sea shore. The region was then under the rule of the monks from the Abbey of Psalmody.
In 1240, Louis IX, who wanted to get rid of the influence of the Italian navy for transporting troops to the Crusades, focused on the strategic position of his kingdom. At that time, Marseille belonged to his brother Charles of Anjou, King of Naples, Agde, Count of Toulouse, and Montpellier, and King of Aragon. Louis IX wanted direct access to the Mediterranean Sea. He obtained the town and the surrounding lands by exchange of properties with the monks of the abbey. Residents were exempt from the salt tax which was previously levied so that they can now take the salt unconstrained.
He built a road between the marshes and built the Carbonnière Tower to serve as a watchtower and protect access to the city. Saint-Louis then built the Constance Tower on the site of the old Matafère Tower, to house the garrison. In 1272, his son and successor, Philip III the Bold, ordered the continuation of the construction of walls to completely encircle the small town. The work would not be completed for another 30 years. This was the city from which Louis IX twice departed for the Crusades: the Seventh Crusade in 1248 and again for the Eighth Crusade in 1270 for Tunis where he died of dysentery.
The year 1270 has been established, mistakenly for many historians, as the last step of a process initiated at the end of the 11th century. The judgment is hasty because the transfer of crusaders or mercenaries from the harbour of Aigues-Mortes continued after this year. The order given in 1275 to Sir Guillaume de Roussillon by Philip III the Bold and Pope Gregory X after the Council of Lyons in 1274 to reinforce Saint-Jean d’Acre in the East shows that maritime activity continued for a ninth crusade which never took place.
There is a popular belief that the sea reached Aigues-Mortes in 1270. In fact, as confirmed by studies of the engineer Charles Leon Dombre, the whole port of Aigues-Mortes, including the port itself, was in the Marette pond, the Canal-Viel and Grau Louis, the Canal Viel being the access channel to the sea. The Grau-Louis was approximately at the modern location of La Grande-Motte. At the beginning of the 14th century, Philip the Fair used the fortified site to incarcerate the Templars. Between 8 and 11 November 1307, forty-five of them were put to the question, found guilty, and held prisoner in the Tower of Constance.
Aigues-Mortes still retained its privileges granted by the kings. Curiously it was a great Protestant in the person of Jean d’Harambure who said that the one-eyed light horse commander of King Henry IV and former governor of Vendôme should be appointed governor of Aigues-Mortes and the Carbonnière Tower on 4 September 1607. To do this, he took an oath before the Constable of France Henri de Montmorency, Governor of Languedoc. But one Catholic, the Lord of Berichère, supported the rival Adrien de Chanmont. The conflict continued until 1612, and Harambure, supported by the pastors of Lower Languedoc and the inhabitants, finished it by a personal appeal to the Queen. He eventually resigned on 27 February 1615 in favour of his son Jean d’Harambure, but King Louis XIII restored him for six years. On 27 July 1616 he resigned again in favour of Gaspard III de Coligny, but not without obtaining a token of appreciation for the judges and consuls of the city. At the beginning of the 15th century, important works were being undertaken to facilitate access to Aigues-Mortes from the sea. The old Grau-Louis, dug for the Crusades, was replaced by the Grau-de-la-Croisette and a port was dug at the base of the Tower of Constance. It lost its importance from 1481 when Provence and Marseille were attached to the kingdom of France. Only the exploitation of the Peccais salt marshes encouraged François I, in 1532, to connect the salt industry of Aigues-Mortes to the sea. This channel, said Grau-Henry, silted up in turn. The opening, in 1752, of the Grau-du-Roi solved the problem for a while. A final solution was found in 1806 by connecting the Aigues-Mortes river port through the Canal du Rhône à Sète.
From the walls we had a great view of the salt pans, the water pink colored because of some shrimps (the same color they give to the flamingos there – plenty of them).
After lunch we had the chance to see the town from another point of view, by a little train, in and out of the city wall…..shaded this time!
It’s been really a nice day, so full of colors, smells and wind…such a sweet memory to cherish.