A Little Known Medieval Gem of the Piedmont  — Saluzzo

A Little Known Medieval Gem of the Piedmont — Saluzzo

In the Piedmont, the northwestern corner of Italy, the ancient hillside city of Saluzzo takes visitors along a maze of charming cobble streets, all the way back to the Middle Ages when it was the seat of the independent Marquisate of the same name. For centuries, specifically from 1125 to 1548, its dynasty of fourteen Marqueses were able to keep at bay the aggressive attentions of their much more powerful neighbors: the House of Savoy, the French monarchy and the Holy Roman Empire.

La Castiglia

La Castiglia di Saluzzo.

A military stronghold was required to support such a feat. Built between 1271 and 1286 behind the original city wall and dominating the entire town, the Castiglia di Saluzzo was originally equipped with four bastions, a moat and a drawbridge. However, in 1492,  Marquis Ludovico II (1438-1504) radically renovated the fortress upon the arrival of his French second wife, Marguerite de Foix-Candale (1473-1536). It’s not clear how much  the addition of a garden and the massive round tower rising above its ancient walls improved upon it. Suffice it to say that centuries later, the still foreboding castle served as a prison from 1825 to 1992. 

Today La Castiglia is home to the Museum of Chivalry and the Museum of Prison Memory, which commemorates the two main functions carried out by the building.

The Church of San Giovani

The Flamboyant Gothic interior of the Church of San Giovani.

Until the construction of the cathedral in the early 16th century, la Chiesa di San Giovani was the most important place of worship in the city. Built by the Dominicans in 1330 on the site of a chapel dedicated to Saint John since 1281, it was finally completed in 1504. Its sober exterior, including the square bell tower with five rows of mullioned windows and octagonal spire added in 1376, harmoniously integrates into the mediaeval context of the ancient city. Meanwhile the interior is a fine example of Flamboyant Gothic architecture. Among its most notable elements are the burial chapel of the Marquises, and especially the white marble monument of the Marquis Ludovico II (circa 1508) by French master Antoine Le Mortorier, and the monumental gilded wood tabernacle at the high altar (circa 1610).

The cloister of the Church of San Giovani.

In the adjoining cloister, commissioned in 1466 by Marquis Ludovico I, a terracotta stonework representing the Visitation is placed on the wall next to the entrance. The capitals of the gallery’s pillars feature the coates of arms of the most prominent families in Saluzzo. The cloister also houses the Cavassa Chapel, with the funeral monument of the General Administrator of the Marquisate, Galeazzo Cavassa (1483) and some well preserved frescoes.

Casa Cavassa

The Renaissance loggia of features Grisaille frescoes.

For all the medieval charm of Saluzzo, the city’s undisputed gem is Casa Cavassa, the Renaissance-style mansion that was the residence of Caleazzo Cavassa and his son Francesco, both General Administrators of the Marqueses of Saluzzo. While traces of a medieval building can be found in the basements and in three ogive windows of the facade, Francesco completely redesigned the property in the early 16th century, in the early Renaissance-style that was becoming prevalent in Northern Italy.

View of the city from the rear of Casa Cavassa.

The new construction took advantage of the sloping terrain to extend over six floors, three underground, including cellars, kitchens and servants quarters, while the reception   rooms and private apartments were on the three upper floors. Here the richly decorated rooms feature ornately painted wooden ceilings, frescoed walls and loggias.


Magnificent painted coffered ceilings grace the reception rooms.

The building fell into serious disrepair throughout the following centuries, until it was purchased by Marquis Emanuele Tapparelli d’Azeglio (1816-1890), an Italian diplomat and politician born in Turin. He set out to restore the mansion following the 19th century principle known as “completion according to style”: everything that didn’t date back to the Renaissance was removed and replaced by works of art and antiques dating back to the 15th  and 16th centuries. According to d’Azeglio’s will, the mansion became a museum upon his death, and the property of the town of Saluzzo.

“Our Lady of Mercy” (Hans Clemer. Altarpiece, 1499-1500).

Even today the white marble portal and the sculpted front door (circa 1520’s), attributed to the sculptor Matteo Sanmicheli from Lombardi, bear witness to the splendor of the mansion at the beginning of the 16th century. The walls of the internal loggia still boast Grisaille frescoes by Hans Clemer, a famous Flemish painter who worked in the Marquisate from 1496 to 1511. The paintings (1506-1511) depict seven of the famous Labors of Hercules. Underneath the balcony, above the mullioned windows, a frescoed decorative band portrays the signs of the zodiac. The itinerary of the visit consists of 15 rooms full of  remarkable frescoes, period furnitures and art collections, including the altarpiece “Our Lady of Mercy”, an incandescent masterpiece also by Hans Clemer, painted in 1499-1500.

Good to Know

  • Getting there—By Road: Saluzzo is about 60 kilometers (40 miles) or a 75 minute drive from the center of Turin via regional road SP 139 or SP 663. It is also accessible by bus from the Torino Esposizioni bus terminal with one connection in Villa Franca Piedmonte. There are several daily busses and the route takes approximately two and a half hours.
  • Getting around—Saluzzo is definitely best visited on foot. Comfortable footwear recommended.
  • Visiting—Museo Civico Casa Cavassa, Via San Giovani 5, Saluzzo is open Tuesday through Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm, and Friday 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Closed on Monday. Contact: Tel. + 39 0175 41455. E-mail. Confirming opening hours recommended. Note: published website was inoperational at the time of this writing.

Location, location, location!


The Other Face of Provence — The Camargue Delta

The Other Face of Provence — The Camargue Delta

Just upstream of the historic Roman city of Arles, the Rhône River forks into two branches to form the largest river delta in Western Europe before reaching the Mediterranean shore.

In Arles, the gateway to the Camargue, the Roman Amphitheater still hosts traditional local bullfights.

This is the Camargue, a 1500 square kilometer (575 square mile), windswept, fan-shaped mosaic of grass-filled marshes, rice paddies, lagoons and sand beaches. Teaming with wildlife, it is the oldest and one of the largest nature reserves in mainland France, first classified as the National Camargue Reserve in 1927. Then in 1977, a vast expanse of its central wetland was designated by UNESCO as the Camargue Biosphere Reserve.




A Unique Nature Sanctuary

Within this exceptional environment, three vivid icons stand out: white horses, black bulls, and pink flamingos

Greater Flamingos are permanent residents of the lagoons.

The Birds — The Camargue is a bird-watcher’s paradise, with over 250 species of resident birds recorded here, including its most recognizable symbol: the Greater Flamingo. The delta is one of its main breeding and nesting grounds in Europe, and thousands can be seen here year-round. However, the best times to visit are the spring and fall, when the area becomes a spectacular gathering point for hundreds of thousands of varied migrating birds.

The Camargue horse is thought to be one of the oldest breeds in the world.

The Horses — The Camargue is also known for its ancient breed of small horses characterized by their striking white manes and molted grey-white coats.They have lived in the marches and saline wetlands for thousands of years, where they developed the stamina and agility for which they are known. They are the traditional mount of the gardians, the local cowboys who herd the area’s distinctive black bulls, giving the region a wild-west atmosphere.

The bulls are thought after for their combative tendencies,.

The Bulls — The Camargue bulls are stocky, never much higher than 1.5 meter (5 feet), with Lyra-shaped horns that point to the sky. They roam relatively free over great swaths of the delta, with the most combative among them selected for fighting in the many of arenas throughout the region. The remainder of the herd is raised for meat. 

But there is more to the delta than its unique variety of wetlands and their hoofed and winged denizens.



The medieval fortified city of Aigues-Mortes has retained its mighty defensive walls.

On the western edge of the Camargue, the walled city of Aigues-Mortes (from the latin Aquae Mortuae or “stagnant water”) rises largely intact from the edge of the marshes. An exceptional jewel of medieval military architecture, its construction was started the 1240’s by King of France Louis IX (later known as Saint Louis) as the staging area and departure point for the Seventh Crusade to the Holy Land in 1248, and the  Eighth — and last — Crusade in 1270.

Sea salt harvesting has been active since Roman times.

Located some five kilometers (three miles) inland, it was at the time linked by a natural channel to the Mediterranean. The city, which had been a center of sea salt production since Roman times, remained an active port until the 16th century. Then the channel gradually silted up, and Aigues-Mortes declined into oblivion until its tourism renaissance in the 20th century. 



Inside the fortified city, stairs provide access to the ramparts.

Within its high crenelated walls, flanked by ten fortified gates and twenty defensive towers, the small city (800 by 400 meters or 2600 by 1300 feet) has retained the checkerboard layout of the bastides (new towns) of the Middle Ages. While its narrow streets are now lined with shops selling typical souvenir items of the region, and an array of restaurants touting local dishes, it has held on to its most striking historic features.



The Tower of Constance

The Tower of Constance is the oldest structure of the city.

Built from 1240 to 1249, the Tower of Constance is a powerful circular keep, 22 meters (70 feet) in diameter, rises to a height of 33 meters (110 feet) at the edge of the ramparts. Access from a fortified courtyard leads to the ground-floor guard room with its soaring rib-vaulted ceiling. Then it’s a short ride up, by  the recently installed elevator, to the roof terrace. From the top, the infinite panoramic view of the region, including the famed salt flats and the sandy shores of the Mediterranean coast is a sight to behold. 

The upper knights’ room features a soaring rib-vaulted ceiling.

Then it’s 136 steps down the tight spiral staircase, first to the upper or knights’ room, also with an impressive rib-vaulted domed ceiling, then down to a mid-level defensive passageway overlooking the lower level guard room, then down again to ground level.





Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Today Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is best knows as a popular summer resort.

It’s an unhurried 30 minute drive east along a narrow road that meander around shimmering marshes and salt flats from Aigues-Mortes to the small coastal city of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (the Saintes Maries of the Sea). Best known today as a popular summer seaside resort, it takes its name from the early christian Provençal lore that three women closely linked to Jesus (in French Marie Madeleine, Marie-Cléophas and Marie-Salomé  — The Three Maries) came ashore and settled here after escaping persecution in Judaea around 40 CE. 

The Church

In the Middle Ages, the churches’ roof  served as watchtowrer.

The origins of the city itself seem to trace back to a village established on the site in the 4th century CE. Its early Romanesque fortified church was built in 9th century. Intended as a shelter for the villagers, in case of Vikings and later Saracen raids, as much as a place of worship, it featured — and still does — a fresh water well. The stone roof, which can be reached by a tight spiral staircase (53 steps) offers the sweeping view of the land and sea, clearly intended to alert the inhabitants of approaching foes.

The columns of the apse are topped with carved capitals..

Besides its foreboding fortress appearance and the Romanesque simplicity of its interior, l’Eglise des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is remarkable for its apse. Built in the shape of a semi-dome, it consists of seven arches  supported by eight marble columns topped with intricately carved capitals. Two of them, representing respectively the Incarnation of Christ and the Passion of Christ, are considered major masterpieces of the Romanesques architecture of Provence.

The Museum

The museum showcases interesting artefacts salvaged from ancient shipwrecks.

The seabed off Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is one of the richest shipwreck sites in the northern Mediterranean shores. With the development of underwater archeology over the past half century, dozens of ancient wrecks, from Etruscans, Greeks and Romans to Normans and  Saracens have been uncovered and excavated in the area. Recently inaugurated on the waterfront, the small Musee des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer traces the maritime past of the region. Displays of some of the most interesting finds shed light on the commercial exchanges among ancient Mediterranean cultures and their influence on the region.

The fortifications of Aigues-Mortes have stood guard over the marshes since medieval times.

Good to Know

  • Getting there — The Camargue can best be reached by car, starting in Arles, which is located 90 kilometers (55 miles) west from Marseille, or 80 kilometers (50 miles)  east of Montpellier, via Highway A54.  
  • Visiting —  Aigues-Mortes is a pedestrian town, whether you chose to walk its cobbled streets or circumvent it from the top of its 1,65 kilometer (1 mile) long ramparts. The ramparts and the Tower of Constance are open to visitors from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, September 1 to April 30, and  from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, May 2 to August 31. Closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25. Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer Museum, 6, avenue Theodore Aubanel, is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm,  June 1 to September 30, and  from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday,  October 1 to May 31 from. Closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25. The Church of the Saint Maries of the Sea, 19 Rue Jean Aicard, is open daily from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm. Closed to visitors during religious services.
  • Note — In a Camargue bullfight, known as Course Camarguaise, the bulls aren’t killed or injured. The goal of the raseteur (matador), is to pluck a ribbon from between the bull’s horns, a dangerous exercise for the men. A dozen or so raseteurs, all dressed in white, crisscross the arena, calling out to attract the beast. They constantly have to leap up into the bleachers to escape the charging bull.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!


Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

A Stroll Around Dublin Medieval History

A Stroll Around Dublin Medieval History

Although archeological evidence shows the Dublin area was previously inhabited by the Gaels, it was the Vikings that put the city on the map of Ireland in 841 when they established their first stronghold at the mouth of the River Liffey. As the Kingdom of Dublin grew, it became Ireland’s principal Norse settlement — until  the 12th century Anglo-Norman invasion of the island.  This watershed marked the beginning of more than 800 years of direct English involvement in the country’s history, and left an indelible stamp on what is today the vibrant, cosmopolitan capital of Ireland.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

The nave of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is a fine example of gothic architecture.

My exploration of Dublin’s historical sites begins with the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which from everything I have heard of its origins and evolution, seems a striking metaphor for the city’s past.  First, a small wooden sanctuary, was constructed on the site in the 5th century AD, near the well where Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is believed to have baptized Irish converts. The church as it stands now was built as a Roman Catholic cathedral between 1191 and 1270. In 1311, the College of Dublin was founded here and the cathedral became a place of higher education as well as a place of worship.

The banners of the Knights of Saint Patrick hang in the Catherdral’s choir.

In 1537 however, following the English Reformation, when the Church of England broke from the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Patrick became designated as an Anglican Church of Ireland and has remained a part of the Church of Ireland to this day. It is also considered one of the best examples of medieval architecture still standing in the Irish capital — Although it is fair to note that the structure went through massive reconstructions and alterations over time, including the addition of the tallest spire in the country in 1749, and a major rebuilding in the 1860’s.

The church accumulated a wealth of statues of historical figures.

Throughout its convoluted history, Saint Patrick’s accumulated a wealth of artefacts of artistic and historical significance, from marble statues, steles and relief portraits to stained glass. The best known are the tomb of Anglo-Irish writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, who was dean of the cathedral from 1713 to 1745, and the 17th century tomb of the Boyle family. The later, by far the most impressive, is a multi-tiered statuary family tree erected in 1632 at the west end of the Cathedral by Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, for himself, his wife and family. Smaller mementos are dedicated to Turlough O’Carolan (famous 18th century blind harpist and composer) and Douglas Hyde (first President of Ireland, 1938 to 1945).

Trinity College

The Long Room holds 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.

Founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592, the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth’s, or Trinity College for short, is the only college of the University of Dublin. It is to this day widely regarded as the finest university in the country. While its prestigious history makes it an impressive place to wander around and visit, its most popular attractions by far is the Old Library, also known as the Long Room. 

Marble busts of famous philosophers and writers line the central walkway.

Built between 1712 and 1732, the Long Room holds 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. Its stunning barrel ceiling was added in 1860 to allow space for more works when the existing shelves became full. Marble busts of famous philosophers and writers, created by sculptor Peter Schemakers beginning in 1743, line the central walkway of the nearly 200-foot-long room. Taking pride of place in the center aisle it the 15th century wooden harp which is the model for the emblem of Ireland. 



The Book of Kells

Detail of the Book of Kells.

By far the most famous holding of the library, however, is an extraordinary illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells. Decorated with lavish Celtic and Christian iconography, its distinctive designs have become rooted in Irish identity. It is considered one of Ireland’s greatest cultural treasures, Thought to have been created around 800 AD by Christian monks on the Isle of Iona in Scotland, it is composed of the four gospels, hand-transcribed on vellum. It is named for the monastery at Kells, County Meath, where the monks took refuge after a Viking raid and which became the manuscript’s home for centuries before coming to Trinity College in 1661, for safekeeping after the Cromwellian raids on religious institutions. It has been on display here since the 19th century.

Dublin Castle

The Gunner’s Tower is the last medieval remain of the castle.

Dublin Castle is one of the most important buildings in Irish history. First founded by King John of England in 1204 to defend the city and administer the new territories in Ireland, it was completed by 1230.The fortress was of typical Norman design, with a central courtyard protected on all sides by tall defensive walls and a circular tower at each corner. It remained the seat of English rule in Ireland until 1922, serving as the residence of the British monarch’s representative, the Viceroy (a.k.a. Lord Lieutenant) of Ireland, and as a ceremonial and administrative center. 

Bedford Hall is a 18th century addition to the castle.

The castle  evolved considerably throughout the centuries, and although parts of the original fortress still exist, most of the current complex dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, including the State Rooms, which are still used for official state engagements. In 1922, following Ireland’s independence, Dublin Castle was handed over to the new Irish government. It is now a major government complex and a key tourist attraction.


Powder Tower

Remains of original Viking defenses are integrated within the foundations of the Powder Tower.

Beneath the northeast corner of the lower castle yard, excavations have uncovered parts of the structure of the medieval castle. These include remains of original Viking defenses, a section of which was integrated within the massive circular walls of the 13th century Powder Tower.  Built around 1228 and used to store gun powder, the tower had an interior diameter of six meters (20 feet) surrounded by four meters (13 feet) thick limestone walls. Stone steps cut through the medieval stone wall to allow access to the Castle from the narrow moat that surrounded it, are also visible to visitors.

Chapel Royal

The coat of arms of the successive Lord Lieutenants are carved on the gallery,

Designed by Francis Johnston (1760–1829), the foremost architect working in Ireland in the early 19th century, the chapel contains one of the finest Gothic revival interiors in the country. It served as the official Church of Ireland chapel of the Household of the Lord Lieutenant from 1814 until the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, which terminated the office of Lord Lieutenant and ended British rule in most of Ireland. In 1943, the chapel was reconsecrated as a Catholic place of worship and rededicated as the Church of the Most Holy Trinity.

The 19th century organ case was was restored in 2008.

The stunning organ case was constructed in 1857 to house a new organ by William Telford of Dublin, which replaced an earlier instrument. Although the case was restored in 2008, the organ is no longer playable as the pipework and mechanisms have been removed.




State Apartments

Saint Patrick’s Hall.

The State Apartments were originally constructed as residential and public quarters for the Lord Lieutenant.  As such, these elegant Georgian rooms were at the heart of the Anglo-Irish social life in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today they are only used for major state occasions such as the inauguration of new Presidents, and during the Irish presidency of the European Union.

Saint Patrick’s Hall — One of the greatest ceremonial rooms in the country, it was created in the mid-18th century as the castle’s ballroom. Its exquisite ceilings painted in 1788 by Italian artist Vincenzo Waldré can still be admired today. The hall was for many years the meeting place of the Knights of St Patrick, Ireland’s chivalric order of knights whose flags still adorn its walls.

State Drawing Room.


State Drawing Room — Created in 1838, it was used mainly by the Vicereine (wife of the Viceroy) as a formal sitting room, and for holding audiences with Irish courtiers. Today the room houses one of the most significant paintings in the Dublin Castle collection, a portrait by leading 17th century European portraitist, Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The room is still used by the President of Ireland for the reception of visiting dignitaries.

The Portrait Gallery.

The Portrait Gallery —This room takes its name from the collection of portraits of Irish Viceroys that have hung on its walls since 1849. The room’s main function was as a dining room where State dinners were held. It continues to be used for State receptions by the Irish government today.





Good to Know

  • Getting There —Dublin is easy to reach by plane, via regularly scheduled flights from around the world into Dublin Airport. It can also be reached via ferries from England, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.  
  • Getting Around — Central Dublin is fairly compact and is best explored by a combination of walking and public transportation. The city has a good public transports network which includes buses, trams and rail services (for going outside the city center).
  • Visiting —  Saint Patrick’s Cathedral , St Patrick Close, Dublin 8, is open to visitors year-round, Monday through Saturday from 9:30 to 17:00 and Sundays from 9:00  to 10:30 and 13:00 to 14:30.   Trinity College Long Room and The Book of Kells, College Green, Dublin 2, is open April through September, Monday through Saturday from 8:30 to 17:00 and Sunday from, 9:30 to 17:00, and October through March, Monday through Saturday, 9:30 to 17:00 and Sunday from 12:00 to 16:30.  Dublin Castle, Dame Street 2, Dublin 2, is open every day year-round from 9:45 to 17:45.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Saint Patrick's Cathedral

The Maeght Foundation — An oasis of Modern Art in the Hills of Provence

The Maeght Foundation — An oasis of Modern Art in the Hills of Provence

Perched on a rocky outcrop some seven kilometers (4.5 miles) inland from the Mediterranean coast, Saint-Paul de Vence, the most charming of the hilltop villages of Provence, has long been a favorite day trip for visitors to the French Riviera.

Saint-Paul de Vence is the oldest of the medieval hilltops villages of Provence.

Any time of year, its winding cobbled alleyways, arch gateways and tiny shaded squares are teeming with tourists eager to experience this medieval wonder enclosed within its mighty 16th century fortifications. They browse the art galleries now housed behind the ancient stone facades that line its narrow central street, or settle at a cafe terrace at the edge of the ramparts to enjoy the exceptional views of the hillsides sloping down to the sea. But few realize that a mere 10 minutes away, secluded in a lush forest of umbrella pines, the Maeght Foundation Is home to one of the most important collections of modern and contemporary art in Europe.

The Maeght Foundation

The gardens feature several fountains.

Inaugurated in 1964, the Foundation is the brainchild of a visionary couple of publishers and art dealers, Aimé Maeght (1906-1981) and his wife Marguerite (1909-1977). They represented and were friends with some of the most prominent artists of the 20th century, including George Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, Wassily Kandinsky, Barbara Hepworth, Fernand Leger, Joan Mirò and Germaine Richier. The Foundation, entirely conceived and financed by the Maeght, was intended to create a space to present Modern and Contemporary Art in all its forms, and provide a retreat where artists could visit, exchange ideas and create, as well as exhibit their work.

The Foundation is a masterpiece of Modernist Architecture

The Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert, who was charged with the project, designed a masterpiece of Modernist architecture where diverse forms of art harmoniously coexist within the natural landscape typical of Provence. He maximized the use of indirect, natural light for viewing artworks, and created a spacial layout conducive to contemplation. 

Joan Mirò ceramic mural.

Painters and sculptors collaborated closely with the architect by creating monumental works integrated into the building and gardens. With only 850 square meters (9,150 square feet) of enclosed spaces, the Foundation offers a unique, flexible arrangement of volumes and spaces, interiors and exteriors. The result is a spectacular environment that integrates natural light with archetypal forms, colors and geometries to create endless possibilities for visitors and artists alike to enjoy this unique oasis of creativity.




The Ultimate Sculpture Garden

The Giacometti Courtyard.

The sculpture garden was conceived to present modern and contemporary art in all its forms. Particularly striking is the Giacometti Court, the Foundation’s inner courtyard overlooking the French Riviera, which features an exceptional ensemble of works by the artist. A sculpted head and several walking figures, including L’Homme qui marche (Man walking -1960), project their silhouettes on the tiled ground, almost like sundials marking the passing of time in this Surrealist haven.

Les Renforts is a monumental free-standing sculpture by Alexander Calder.

The Catalan artist Miró created a playful labyrinth, where visitors can wander among the numerous sculptural pieces. Additionally, monumental mural mosaics by Chagall and Tal Coat can be found in the exteriors, together with a pool designed by Braque. The garden also features a rotating selection of works by Calder, Takis and Arp, which seamlessly interact with the surrounding environment. 



The Interior Exhibition Space

La Vie (Marc Chagall – 1964) is a centerpiece of the permanent exhibition.

With over 13,000 works in its catalog, the Foundation holds one of the largest collection of paintings, sculptures and works on paper of Modern and Contemporary Art in Europe. Other than a limited number of monumental pieces, such as La partie de campagne (The picnic – Fernand Leger – 1954. Oil on Canvas  254 cm x 301 cm), L’été (Summertime. Pierre Bonnard – 1917. Oil on Canvas 260 cm x 340 cm) and La Vie (Life. Marc Chagall – 1964. Oil on Canvas 296 x 406,) the curated selection of works exhibited in the indoor galleries show the collection in rotation. And it is enhanced by a rich program of temporary exhibitions.

Le Chien (Alberto Giacometti) takes pride of place in the Family of Creators exhibition.

At the time of my recent visit, “The Giacometti: a family of creators” held sway. The exhibition highlighted the famous dynasty of artists from the Swiss village of Stampa, starting with Alberto Giacometti, the most famous member of the family, known for his emblematic threadlike sculptures. But it also showcased the talent and originality of his father, Giovanni, and his cousin, Augusto, both painters, as well as his two brothers: Diego, the middle brother, sculptor and designer, and Bruno, the youngest, architect. 

Based on several dozens of major sculptures, drawings and paintings from the collection, rounded out by archived photographs and objects, this exhibit brought to light the unique story of five artists from the same family who left their mark on 20th century art. 

Good to Know

  • Getting there — Saint-Paul de Vence is located inland from the Mediterranean, approximately 20 kilometer from the coastal towns of Nice to the East and Antibes to the West respectively. By road: it is easily accessible via the coastal highway nº A8 to Cagnes-sur-Mer (Exit 48), then follow local road nº D436, direction La Colle-du-Loup/Vence Saint-Paul de Vence. Parking: Motor vehicles are not allowed in the village. Several metered  parking areas with are available for visitors before reaching the village. By public transportation: frequent regional express trains (TERs) offer fast services between all of the main towns along the French Riviera from Cannes to Ventimiglia. Stop: Cagnes-sur-Mer, then take Bus nº 400 in front of the train station (Direction Saint-Paul de Vence). Stop: Aix Village.  
  • Reaching The Maeght Foundation By Road: the well-indicated turn-off to the Foundation is located shortly before the entrance to the village. Parking is free, subject to availability. By bus: Bus nº 400. Stop Fondation Maeght, then a 10-minute uphill walk to the Foundation entrance gate.
  • Visiting — The Maeght Foundation , 623, Chemin des Gardettes, 06570 Saint-Paul de Vence, France, is open every day from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm in July and August and 10:00 am to 6:00 pm the remainder of the year. Contact; tel: +33 (0)4 93 32 81 63, email: info@fondation-maeght.com .   

Location, location, location!

Fondation Aimé et Marguerite Maeght

A Languedoc Road Trip – Béziers to Adge

A Languedoc Road Trip – Béziers to Adge

A majestic Romanesque cathedral perched on a bluff, high above the long stretch of arches of a medieval bridge spanning a tranquil river – this is what most visitors to southwestern France are likely to remember of Beziers. This low-keyed town of 75,000, located just a few kilometers inland from the Mediterranean shore rarely rates more than a passing glance from tourists. Yet, founded in 36 BC as a Roman colony, Beziers quickly developed into an important staging post and trading center along the Via Domitia, the major trade route which traversed the coastal plain of Languedoc on its way from Rome to southern Spain.

From Roman Colony to Cathar Stronghold

Little remains of the original Roman amphitheater.

Unfortunately, with most of the stones from its early amphitheater repurposed as early as the 3rd century AD to construct the city walls, architectural remains of the Roman era are scarce. Nonetheless, an extensive collection of Roman artefacts discovered locally, including statuary, inscribed stones, glassware and amphorae can be seen at the Musée du Bitterois. The museum also traces the history of the city from the middle ages to contemporary times. However, the best way to explore the history of Beziers is to take a couple of hours to wander the cobbled streets of the old town.

The St. Nazaire Cathedral has retained its Romanesque facade.

Perched high above the river Orb in the heart of the medieval town, the St. Nazaire Cathedral is the foremost site of Beziers, both for its panoramic view of the plain below and for the tragic history steeped within its ancient stones. The grand Romanesque cathedral built in the 10th century was badly damaged and its interior completely destroyed in 1209 during the infamous seizure of the city by Catholic crusaders at the behest of Pope Innocent III.

Bezier-Cathedral St Nazaire

The cathedral’s interior was rebuilt iin Gothic style.

At that time, Béziers was a major stronghold of Catharism, a breakaway movement that opposed the entire structure of the Roman Catholic Church and the corruption of the clergy. This alternative, more ascetic Christian religion had become widespread in southwestern France, then under the control of local princes. Unsurprisingly, the Pope called for a crusade to eliminate the Cathars – with the tacit understanding of the French King Phillipe II. On July 21, 1209, an army consisting of knights (mainly from northern France) with their retinue and mercenaries overran the fortified city where some twenty thousand men, women and children, local Catholics and Cathars alike, had taken refuge. The Crusaders indiscriminately slaughtered the population and ransacked the city before setting the cathedral set ablaze.

A Gothic rose window was added at the far end of the nave.

Although most of the exterior walls remained, the interior was entirely destroyed except for the chancel with its Romanesque carved capitals. Repairs began on the remains of the building in 1215 and continued until the 15th century, giving the interior a Gothic appearance, including a 10-meter (33 foot) rose window at the far end of the nave. A few notable frescoes of the same period remain, protected for posterity by having been whitewashed after the Wars of Religion in the late 16th century.

A Mural Chronicle

A mural memorializes the Vintners Revolt of 1907.

More recently, following the lead of Lyon and other French cities, Beziers has turned 14 of its blank walls into building-size murals that chronicle major milestones of its history. Most notable is the Vintners Revolt of 1907, ignited when government regulators allowed the import of low quality (and low-priced) wines from North Africa, driving local growers into penury. The National Assembly sent a military force to suppress the rebellion. But confronted by over 160 000 protesters, this time the solders refused to draw their weapons on the crowd. Thus prompting law-makers to reverse their import decision.  Another mural memorializes a local engineer, Jean Marie Cordier, who in 1827 developed a steam device to pump water from the River Orb to supply the residents of the old town.

A Masterpiece of 17th Century Engineering

The terraced concourse offers panoramic views of the countryside and the Fonseranes Locks.

At the side of the cathedral, a terraced concourse offers magnificent views that include the 13th century Pont-Vieux (Old Bridge), and the amazing 17th century engineering masterpiece of the Écluses de Fonseranes (Fonseranes Locks), a flight of 9 staircase locks marking the eastern end of the Canal du Midi. The 240 kilometer (150 mile) long canal connects the Garonne to the West – and from there city of Bordeaux and the Atlantic Ocean – to the Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean. Although many elements have since been updated, the canal as a whole is considered one of the greatest construction works of its era, and is still in use today.

Underwater Treasures

The late Hellenistic bronze Ephèbe is believe to be Alexander the Great.

It’s midday by the time we leave Beziers and its tumultuous past for Cap d’Adge, some 25 kilometers (15 miles) east on the Mediterranean shore.  Once a settlement at the mouth of the river Hérault, originally founded by the Phoenicians in the 6th century BC, the area is little more than an over-built resort destination today, with one striking exception: it is home to the only underwater archeological museum in France. Open in 1987, the museum consists of a series of modern galleries surrounding a traditional farm house overlooking the harbor. Its collection is a treasure-trove of pieces recovered from the millennia of shipwrecks that clutter the seabed, including a number of important antique bronzes statues.

Ultimately, the museum owes it very existence to one single piece now known as l’Ephèbe d’Adge, a late Hellenistic period bronze of a young man, believed to be Alexander the Great. Recovered in 1964 from in the alluvial sands at the mouth of the Herault, it is the only work of its kind ever found in French waters. It was joined in 2001 by two Early Imperial Roman bronzes, of a royal child and of Eros. From the details of his attire – royal mantle, scepter and jewelry, the child is thought to be one of Cleopatra’s sons, either Caesarion (son of Julius Ceasar) or Ptolemy (son of Mark Anthony).

The collection includes a number of remarkable bronze household objects, from the 1st and 2nd centuries BC.

In addition to other remarkable Hellenic and Roman bronzes objects, the museum also hosts antique marine transport amphorae and household goods, as well a number to cannons and other weapons of the French Royal Navy spanning several centuries. Overall, the rich underwater discoveries of the past 50 years reflect the commercial history of the area through the centuries, and make the Ephèbe Museum well worth a stop in Adge.

From here we continue 150 kilometers (90 miles)  down  the coastal branch of the Via Domitia to Collioure, another Phoenician settlement turned fishing village and 17th century military fortress. The town, however owes its contemporary fame to Fauvist painters Henri Matisse and André Derain. Although the small historic town and waterfront make are exceptionally picturesque, we found the mapped walk through the old town, punctuated by reproductions of the famous Fauvist works, right on the spot where they were painted to be a highpoint of our visit.

The museum hosts a large collection of marine transport amphorae recovered from ancient shipwrecks.


Good to Know

Visiting –Musee du Bitterois, Caserne Saint-Jacques – Rampe du 96° Régiment d’Infanterie, 34500 Béziers. Opening hours vary throughout the week/year. For latest informations, contact: e-mail, or tel: +33 (0) 4 67 36 81 61. Musée de l’Ephèbe, Mas de la Clape, 34300 Le Cap d’Adge. Open from January through June, Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm and weekends from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. July and August, open every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Contact:  e-mail, tel: +33 (0)4 67 94 69 60.


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