Monday, August 1, 2016

Trip to Provence Region, France (July 2016)

Provence is a geographical region and a historical province of southeastern France. This region extends from the left bank of the lower Rhone River to the west and to the Italian border to the east. It reaches the Mediterranean Sea to the south. The Romans made this region the first Roman province beyond the Alps, which evolved into the present name.

Provence region was incorporated into France in 1486. Despite the region's connection to France for more than 500 years, this region has maintained its distinctiveness. After all, it is Provence.

Provence has become better known to the world thanks to Peter Malye who wrote a book, titled "A Year in Provence" in 1989.

Provence is part of PACA, one of 21 regions in France. PACA is one of the most important regions with a population of 4.7 million and one of top 20 regions in EU. The regional capital, Marseilles, is France's second largest city with 800,000 inhabitants and the most important port. The greater Marseilles has a 1.6 million inhabitants and houses many industries, such as telecommunications, microelectronics, oil and chemicals and of course tourism.

Provence attracts so many tourists from around the world for various reasons. It is one of the most favored regions for travelers seeking beauty, art, wine, culture, mild climate and food, along with the Italy's Tuscany region. The major cities of the Provence are Marseilles, Nice, Avignon, Lyon, Toulon and even Mont Blanc to be seen from Chamonix.

Kristin and I visited Nice, Avignon, Arles and Pont du Gard this summer.

Nice:   I have already posted a separate blog on Nice. Please click here to see this blog post.

Arles:  Arles is a UNESCO heritage site, famous for historic buildings and its tie to Van Gough. Van Gough lived here for a couple of years during which he produced 300-400 pieces of art. Impressive. Most of his nature themes were inspired here while he was living in Arles.

Arles has a Roman Amphitheater. It was designed after the Colosseum in Rome, but the size has been scaled back due to the limited size of the crowd from the area. It can accommodate 20,000 people. It was later converted to a fortress within which houses were built. The amphitheater has been remarkably well preserved and is still in active use for bull racing and other sporting events. The French also has their own version of bull fight, but the French version does not kill the bull but knock it down. Hmmm... I suppose it is a difference.

Arles used to be a kingdom: the Kingdom of Arles. It covered pretty much all the current PACA region. Obviously, Arles was the capital. Later in 1032, the Kingdom of Arles was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire. There was a rumor that Arles was the capital for the Holy Roman Empire for a brief period, but it has not been confirmed. Now Aarles has slightly more than 50,000 inhabitants, a small town.

There is another village nearby, called Nimes. Denim, blue jeans, was originated from this village as the name indicates: Denim means De Nimes. Did you know?

Pont du Gard:   Pont du Gard is famous for a Roman aqueduct that is 2,000 years of age, built in the first century A.D. This bridge structure in Pont-du-Gard has a length of 275 meters and a height of 48 meters. It is part of the Nimes Aqueduct that stretches 51 km from the Uzes Spring in Nimes to local townships. The structure looks quite impressive based on its size alone. Moreover, it was built without any mortar or adhesives. Amazing! It transported 44 million gallons of water a day to local townships in the area. That is a lot of water! It is another UNESCO world heritage site.

People were swimming and kayaking in the river that runs below the aqueduct that is no longer in use.

Avignon:   Avignon is another UNESCO heritage site. It is well known for the Papal Palace, a Gothic style palace that was also used as a castle.

In Roman Catholicism, the Pope is elected by the conclave, a body of cardinals. During 1309 - 1377,  there was a time when French pope was in office. The history goes like this.

There was an on-going strife between French King, notably Phillip IV, and Roman Popes. The conclave, the body of cardinals that elects the Pope, was deadlocked and ended up electing Clement V, a Frenchman, as Pope in 1305.

Clement V declined to move to Rome and remained in France. In 1309, he moved his court to the papal enclave at Avignon. The papacy remained in Avignon for the next 67 years. This period of the Avignon Papacy is called the "Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy." A total of seven popes, all French, reigned at Avignon.

The popes at Avignon increasingly fell under the influence of the French Crown. Finally, in 1376, Gregory VI abandoned Avignon and moved his court to Rome, arriving in 1377, thus officially ending the Avignon Papacy.

Even after the papacy's return to Rome, there were a few popes in Avignon against the Roman Papacy and they were called antipopes. This conflict was called the Western Schism. But this schism ended in 1417 when the Council of Constance ruled and confirmed that the Roman Papacy stands. Oh well... Popes are also humans.

The old town of Avignon is surrounded by the fortress walls and walking around it was also quite interesting. Noble people lived inside the fortress walls and common people (commoners) lived outside the fortress, most vulnerable to external attacks.

While we walked around we found a French crepe place where we ate French Crepe with Caramel and it was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!

We did not experience the Provence fully, but the taste of it alone was enough to steal my heart. Provence...

Despite all subtle differences among all towns and villages, there is one thing in common: Lavender. It is the color; it is the flower; it is the fragrance. All over the places. Fields. Paintings. Houses. Souvenirs. Soaps. All over. Provence in Lavender.

 Provence with Lavender... and Lavender in Provence...- Jeffrey

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