Orange

Founded in 35 BC as a Roman colony, the city of Arausio, or Orange as it is now known, was named after the local Celtic water god.

The Roman Theatre at Orange
The Roman Theatre at Orange

Ancient Orange was Rome in miniature, with a similar layout and the same public buildings, including a theatre, a temple complex an arch and a forum.

In the 4th century, Orange became a Bishopric, ruled by a Catholic Bishop and a small university was established here. In the 12th century the town was ruled by the Counts of Baux, then in 14th by  the Counts of Chalon.

When William the Silent, Count of Nassau, with estates in the Netherlands, inherited the title Prince of Orange in 1544, the Principality was incorporated into the House of Orange-Nassau. Under William Orange found itself embroiled in both the Wars of Religion and the Eighty Years War. William was assassinated in Delft in 1584 and in 1618, his son Maurice became Prince of Orange. Under Maurice the independent Dutch Republic, which later became the Netherlands, was born. It is still ruled by the House of Orange-Nassau, it still holds the princely title of Orange and of course, its national colour is orange.

The last great son of the Principality of Orange in France was the famous William III, who invaded England in 1688 to depose James II  and become King of England, Scotland and Ireland. He ruled jointly with his wife Mary until 1694 and is best known as William of Orange.

Orange remained part of scattered Nassau holdings until it was captured by the forces of Louis XIV in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch War and was finally ceded to France in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht.

Following the French Revolution of 1789, Orange was absorbed into the French département of Drôme, then Bouches du Rhône, then finally Vaucluse.

 

Le Pont du Gard, a gift from Rome

Built by the Romans in the first century AD, Le Pont du Gard is one of the world’s most remarkable bridges. It is also one of the great masterpieces of Roman architecture and engineering.

Le Pont du Gard
Le Pont du Gard

Le Pont Du Gard originally formed part of a 50 kilometres aqueduct which ran from Uzès, across the River Gardon, to Nimes. Until 9th century the aqueduct carried some 200 litres of water a day into the town, for the fountains, baths and sanitation systems that formed an essential part of contemporary Roman life. The bridge also served as thoroughfare across the river.

From a distance the bridge is an impressive sight. 50 metres high with two tiers of arches, its balance, symmetry and sheer might are awe inspiring. Up close, it is even more impressive. The bridge is made of massive stone blocks, hewn probably in off-site quarries and hauled into place. Each block is marked with the (now worn) Roman numerals that enabled those ancient engineers to fit them together, like pieces of a jigsaw, to make the marvel that is Le Pont Du Gard.

Le Pont Du Gard is no longer used as a bridge and its top tier is no longer accessible. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and is now one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.

The Musée du Pont Du Gard explains how the aqueduct functioned, the genius of Roman engineering, the importance of water in Roman culture and the Roman legacy, in terms of sanitation and water, to modern times. It is amazing!

Rousillon, the red centre of Provence

Once upon a time, so the story goes, Sir Raymond D’Avignon, Lord of Roussillon married a beautiful and spirited lady named Sirmonda. He took her back to his home in Provence and they settled down to live happily ever after.

The red houses of Roussillon
The red houses of Roussillon

Among Raymond’s vassals was a certain tall, dark, impossibly handsome and charming young man named Guillaume. He was enchanted by the beautiful Sirmonda and soon, she too, fell under his spell. Their love was doomed but irresistible.

Inevitably, Raymond learned of the affair. His fury was terrible and his revenge worse. He invited the unsuspecting Guillaume out hunting and in the depths of the forest, killed him. Not content with dispatching his rival he cut out his heart and took it back to his castle where commanded his chefs to cook and serve it to Sirmonda. When she had eaten it, he told her the shocking truth. The distraught Sirmonda ran to the high cliff nearby and threw herself onto the plain below. The blood seeped slowly into the Roussillon soil and stained it a deep red.

Since that day, it is said, Sirmonda’s blood has coloured the town – all of its buildings are tinged with shades of red, from brightest crimson to softest rose.

While Science attributes the red earth of Roussillon to the rich deposit of ochre (the richest in the world, in fact), it cannot explain how or it happens to be there.

Gordes, Le Village Perche

At the summit of a perilously steep cone of rock, surrounded by plains of rolling Luberon farmland, in the South of France, is the “village perché” (literally, the perched village) of Gordes.

Gordes
Gordes

Viewed from an equally perilous (and unfenced!!!) cliff top on the approaching road, Gordes is absolutely breathtaking. Its church and its 500-year-old castle dominate the skyline. Tiers of bleached stone dwellings spill down the hillsides below.

Gordes centres around a quiet, village square, shaded by the church. Steep, narrow streets lead away from it, always downwards. Views of the sunlit countryside below, come and go, framed between the dark buildings, like the glimpses of distant paradise often seen in the background of classical paintings.

The Lavender Museum at Coustelet

Along with sunshine, bright blue skies, terra cotta roofs, bleached stone and landscapes of faded green, lavender is a symbol of Provence.

Ancient machinery at the Lavender Museum
Ancient machinery at the Lavender Museum

The name lavender derives from the Latin verb lavare, and in turn from the French laver, to wash. Since Roman times it has been widely used as a perfume, a cleanser, a disinfectant and a cosmetic. The first aromatherapists, believing that bad smells attracted illness and evils, while good smells brought health and happiness, burned lavendar to scent and purify the air. When the Black Death ravaged Provence in the 18th century, it was used widely to cleanse homes and hospitals. Roman beauties used lavender water and oils to soften their skins and ward off wrinkles and later, their European sisters followed suit.

The production of lavender was an arduous business, especially as the best, fine lavender grew only at a high altitude, in steep and rugged territory. Handling the tough plants with course stalks and leaves required special protective clothing not to mention a naturally strong back for the constant stooping and lifting. Processing too, was an arduous business, in hot and dangerous conditions.

To highlight and celebrate the story of lavender in Provence, Georges Lincélé founded the Lavender Museum, in a traditional farmhouse, in Coustelet, in the heart of the Luberon National Park.

The lavender Museum tells the story of the people who have grown, picked and processed Lavender in the region. It also traces the development of processes of production. There are wonderful displays of clothing, machinery and photos.

The Museum shop offers an irresistible range of lavender products, including washes, soaps, oils, creams, teas and honeys.