I’m spending some time in Europe, and propose to intermittently blog about interesting things. This first post is about castles, for which I have a profound weakness. France is stiff with them, but this one is, frankly, crazy. Imagine yourself, poking along the shore of the Mediterranean in a small boat or something, and suddenly you see this on the beach:
What was King Louis IX (also known as Saint Louis) thinking, to build the fortress of Aigues-Mortes? There is nothing to defend here and no population to dominate. There are barrier islands and marshes as far as the eye can see; in the 11th century there were fishermen and salt-gatherers and today there are beach houses and ice cream stands. The town’s name does not mean ‘Death by Malaria’ as I first thought (my grasp of French is weak) but ‘Dead Water’, because of the lagoon in front of this bastion. Louis’s idea was that this was the core of a port city, a Houston or New York City in southern France. But you can’t fight Mother Nature. Dredging didn’t help, and the channels into the lagoon silted up so that the entire fortress became useless in a generation.The king sailed from here to two separate Crusades, dying of dysentery in Tunis and thus earning canonization.
Nowadays the town is dedicated to tourism, yachts, and sunbathing. I took this photo standing on the sand. The water is about twenty yards behind me. The castle is a huge tourist draw, much like Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. And just as impractical! These costly white elephants are monuments to imperial ego. I’m sorry for the titanic waste of stonework and money, but am charmed that they’ve survived for us to scamper around.
This one has everything calculated to please. It has a dungeon. It has the original garderobes (toilets) that, if you climb up onto the ramparts, you can sit on. (But it would be unwise to poop, since the parking lot is directly under.) If you have the energy you can gallop right around the entire town wall. It has vast fireplaces that you could roast an ox on. It has turrets accessed by narrow stone spiral staircases, and a central tower that has an elevator for handicapped access. It has the remains of a moat, filled with greenish water. And, at least at this time of the year, there’s hardly anybody here. It’s almost, except for the satellite dishes in the town, like stepping back into the 13th century.