Lounging in France 1: the Castle of Aigues-Mortes

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:

Aigues-Mortes1

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.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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Lounging in France 1: the Castle of Aigues-Mortes — 6 Comments

  1. The song goes, “We built this city on rock and roll.” No we didn’t. You want a city, you build it on a clean water supply and decent sewer systems. No city of size is possible without them, and if you don’t believe me, look into London in 1859, the year of the Great Stink when the Thames was almost solidly toilet product. This fortress I am suspicious of — if it’s built on a barrier island, where’s the reliable source of fresh water for a garrison of this size? Louis, what were you thinking?

  2. I love Aigues-Mortes. I keep sneaking it into my fiction.

    Louis desperately needed a port in that region and the major port towns that are now French weren’t so just then. It also gave France brilliant saltmining. And pirates. What more could you want?

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