The Highlight of our Languedoc Tour.
I don’t think our new tour of the Languedoc is on our website yet (it might be, check it out, it will be any-day), but I am thrilled with it, and I want to share the highlight with you. The best thing on our Languedoc tour. And that, of course, is Aigues Mortes. So good that we spend two nights there.
Apart from anything else, it’s just beautiful (click on any image to enlarge), a medieval throwback stuck miles out in the middle of a salt marsh. But of course, there are reasons why it got like that.
There is evidence of Roman origins, although there is also evidence of neolithic activity, recovering salt from the salt lagoons that surround Aigues Mortes.
The town began to be developed into a defensive position by Charlemagne The Great in the 8th century, but the key development was when Louis IX took an interest (to save you looking it up, Spurs Peter, yes that’s Saint Louis).
How can it be that France didn’t have a port on the med?
It seems odd to reflect now, but France didn’t have a Mediterranean port. Marseille belonged to the King of Sicily (Louis’ brother, but still not French), everywhere East belonged to Savoy, and everywhere West of the Rhone belonged to the Counts of Toulouse. And Louis wanted a Mediterranean port.
His beef was with the Italian navy who had developed a monopoly for transporting soldiers and equipment to the crusades. Even then, Aigues Mortes wasn’t by the sea (Aigues Mortes derives from ‘dead water’ in the occitan language, there’s your clue), and was connected to the Mediterranean by canal. Having completed the port and the canal, the 7th and 8th crusades departed from Aigues Mortes.
The port was developed successively by Kings Philip the Fair and Philip the Bold in the 13th century to the way we see it today.
Aigues Mortes is situated on the Rhone delta, just outside the Camargue regional park, and was always vulnerable to silting. They fought a mostly losing battle for navigation over several centuries, trying to maintain the canals for the growing salt industry.
Finally, Aiges Mortes was connected to the Rhone-Setes canal, and that’s the way we see it today. Accessible by canal, by train and by road, an oasis of a fortified medieval village stuck miles out in the middle of flat salt marshes, built as a port, but miles away from the sea, and yet surrounded by boats.
I haven’t mentioned the huge mountains of salt that lie just beyond the town walls. But I will, in a future post.
We arrive in Aigues Mortes at the end of our second day of cycling on our new Languedoc tour. We spend our 3rd day cycling to the Mediterranean (and having a swim), visiting a vineyard planted in sand and the huge, fascinating salt works. I mean huge!
So we get to spend a 2nd night in Aiges Mortes – lucky us, it is a very special place. Probably the highlight of our whole week.