Les Baux-de-Provence is one of the most famous French communes. Resting upon the majestic Alpilles mountain, this commune is set atop a rocky outcrop crowned with a ruined castle at the top overlooking the plains to the south. It is located in the Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence, in the south of France. It is but a few miles away from the Mediterranean, near Italy.
Experts have found signs that human beings had been settling communities in this area from as a far back as 6,000BC. Its history is long and colorful, having been used by the Celts as a hill fort or oppidum around 200BC and by the lords of Baux as a feudal seat of power from where control of 79 neighboring towns and villages during the Middle Ages.
The reign of these lords upon what is then known as Les Baux, for their family name, ended in the 12th century. Remnants of that time, though, remained. Foremost among the traces of its feudal past is the lords’ castle. This has been restored many times over the years, so much so that its majestic courts had been preserved up to this day. The castle, now known for its lavish decorations, records of culture, and signs of the medieval institution of knighthood and chivalry, is still a major attraction to tourists who visit this commune in the present.
The feudal lords’ line came to an end with the death of the last princess of Baux. The next rulers of the area were known as the Manville family. They joined Les Baux with Provence. During their time, Les Baux-de-Provence became a center of Protestantism. It was also used as the center of the Protestant’s revolt against the crown led by Cardinal Richelieu in 1632.
A decade later, the House of Grimaldi, connected to the Republic of Genoa and the Principality of Monaco, was given the commune of Les Baux-de-Provence as a French marquisiate. To this day, the heir to the throne of Monaco holds the hereditary rank of Marquis des Baux, although control of the commune is entirely under the French administration.
Gifted with a natural beauty, a reputation as one of the most picturesque tourist destinations in France. And good for the it, too, as its economy relies mostly on the revenue that tourism generates. Among its attractions, apart from the castle, are the St. Vincent Church, the Chateau des Baux, the Jean de Brion Hotel, the Hotel des Porcelet, the Hotel de Manville, the Musee des Santons and the Olive Museum. The Renaissance Window Post Tenebras Lux, mansions and chateaux scattered through the villages, the Louis Jou Foundation and the Town Hall are also must-sees.
Apart from its tourist-magnet treasures, Les Baux-de-Provence is also known for a mineral that was discovered in its lands in 1822. Bauxite, an ore now considered to be the main source of aluminum, was discovered near Les Baux-de-Provence by French geologist Pierre Berthier. Mining of the mineral in the area was extensive, and it ran out at the end of the 20th century.