Sunday, January 19, 2014

Market day in Aigues-Mort

Wednesday was market day in Aigues-Mort. Since we can never resist a market we set off down the road passing through one of the gates, where we spotted the market set in a huge tree-lined promenade dividing the road. There we admired the French cheeses, local meats, and crepes that were being made on the spot. As usual there were lots of fruit and vegetable stalls with the beets already cooked and peeled. How sensible. Shoe and clothing stalls lined one side of the market. Vendors pointed out the "Made in France" labels, but as we know these items often come from Chinese sweatshops in Italy or Portugal. Some were quite stylish. The extent of our purchases was a pair of slipper socks each, something we had been looking for.

We crossed the road to admire the canal boats that take tourists around the Camargue. One was actually working while the rest were waiting for the tourist season. Some of the multicoloured boats were for day trips while some were for longer holidays.

You cannot ignore the history of the town as you wander about. Aigues-Mort was founded by Marius Caius in 102 BC. But it's not until 791 when, under the impetus of Charlemagne, the first tower, the Matafére Tower, was built in this little hamlet surrounded by marshes and where fishermen and salt miners lived hand to mouth. This building, with its eye to the Mid-east and its war aims, was soon handed over to the Benedictine Abbey.

In the 13th century King Louis IX began the construction of the city walls, an enclosure with a 1640-metre perimeter that still encircles Aigues-Mortes today. He used the town as a staging point for his crusades. At the end of the 16th century, the Wars of Religion raged in France, affecting this city as well. Between the introduction of Calvinism, which engendered many conflicts in this region, and the constant defense of the saltworks, the city battled against the tumults of history. The Constance Tower became a prison dreaded by the "preachers" and the "inspired" at the time of the abolition of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and up until 1767.

In the twentieth century Aigues-Mort became a tourist destination. Once again we entered through the main gate to the old city, where we went for our last walk. The sun was shining inviting more tourists and making the town quite lively. More shops and restaurants were open. We enjoyed our final coffee before checking out of our hotel. This has been a lovely break. Once again this is a spot we must come back to at a different time of year. We have only scratched the surface of this delightful area.

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