Aigues Mortes Travel Guide
Aigues Mortes is unapologetically a tourist town, almost specifically geared to vacationers. It offers a colorful alternative for visitors to the Camargue nature parks, for campers and boating people who want an excuse to dress up and have a night (or day) on the town. Shops along the Rue Jean Jaurès and Rue de la République stay open late and offer a very good choice of traditional Provençal and Camarguaise goods – printed fabrics, santons (little painted statuettes of Nativity figures) sweets, leather goods, ceramics. Place St. Louis, which features a 19th-century statue of the crusader king, is lined with outdoor cafés and restaurants. On summer nights, live music and an animated international ambiance prevail.
Historically, Aigues Mortes, a walled town in the Petite Camargue, owes its existence to the whim of a king. In the early 13th century, King Louis IX (Saint Louis) wanted a Mediterranean port of his own so that he could launch his Crusades without going through the ports of his vassals, the Counts of Provence. Before it received this royal attention, Aigues Mortes was little more than an occasional settlement for salt workers, amid the salt marshes and malarial swamps (”Aigues Mortes” means dead waters). The town, built in a strict grid pattern, was finished in less than 50 years and prospered briefly as a port of departure for North Africa and the Holy Land. It was also the main port for the large salt-producing area, Les Salins du Midi. Eventually, its access to the Mediterranean silted up and its role as a port was surpassed by other coastal towns.
Despite Crusades, the Hundred Years War and various wars of religion, most of Aigues Mortes’ impressive fortifications, and much of the atmosphere of the Middle Ages, remain intact. In a part of France that is characterized by Roman antiquities, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, Aigues Mortes is distinctively medieval. The town’s thick ramparts are dotted with 20 towers. The Constance Tower, a massive medieval keep and dungeon, was used as a prison by the Knights Templar and later, during the persecution of the Huguenots, as a prison for Protestant women. The Carbonnière Tower, north of the town, guarded the approach to the main gates and offers outstanding views.
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