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Things to See in the Languedoc:   Historic Towns:   Aigues Mortes 

Aigues-Mortes is famous for the well-preserved city walls. The town is located in the Gard département, near the northern border of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France. It lies in the coastal marshland of the Petite Camargue. Its altitude is 0 – 3 m above sea level, and is liable to flooding.

Natives of Agues Mortes are called Aiguemortais.

The town was once on the coast, but the delta of the River Rhône constantly changes the landscape here and it is now several miles in-land, though not far from salt water.

The name Aigues-Mortes means "dead-waters" a reference to the semi-stagnant salt water marshes (marais and étangs) referred to as Eaux Mortes (Latin Aquae Mortuae, Occitan Ayga Mortas) which surround the town. (There are towns on fast flowing rivers in the Languedoc called Aigues-Vives - "Live Waters").

 

The foundation of a settlement on this site is attributed to the Roman Marius Caius, around 102 BC. The first document mentioning a place called "Ayga Mortas" (dead waters) dates from the 10th century. At that time, and for many centuries afterwards the area was Occitan speaking.

In medieval times this area belonged to the The Counts of Toulouse. These lands were annexed by France after the Wars against the people of the Languedoc known as the Albigensian Crusade, providing France with direct access to the Mediterranean Sea.

En 1240, the King of france Louis IX took an interest in developing the village as a Mediterranean port. He obtained it by exchanging lands with the monks of the local abbey (l'Abbaye de Psalmodie), so gaining rights to gabelle - a tax on local salt production. Aigues was rebuilt on the orders of Louis as France's first Mediterranean port. He built a road to the village and constructed the Carbonnière tower to serve as a lookout tower. He also built the Constance tower to house a garrison. This was the embarkation point of the Seventh Crusade (1248) and for the Eighth Crusade (1270). As Louis IX (now Saint Louis) left for his abortive Crusade to Egypt in 1270, Sea-water jousting (Joutes Nautiques) took place here. In 1272, Louis' son and successor as King of France, Philippe le Hardi, had the ramparts and rectangular enceinte (curtain wall) built around the town, an undertaking that took 30 years to complete As the photograph (upper left) and town plan (upper right) show, the thirteenth century city is contained within city walls which are approximately rectangular in plan. The town is now several miles inland, with a modern town outside the city walls.

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The town has led a relative tranquil time since its foundation, apart from an incident in 1893. In that year nine Italians were killed and hundreds injured in the course of a conflict between the French and the Italians who worked in the salt evaporation ponds of Peccais.

 
Trivia
The action in Ernest Hemingway's posthumous novel The Garden of Eden, takes place in Aigues-Mortes.

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Today the town is a major tourist attraction, smaller than but comparable to the walled city of Carcassonne. Distinctive Camargue bulls and Camargue horses are bred in the surrounding countryside. The local economy also depends on the production of sea salt, wine, and asparagus.

As the crow flies, Aigues-Mortes is 32.5 km (20.19 mi) from Nîmes and 26 km (16.16 mi) from Montpellier. By road, it is about 35 km (21.75 mi) from Nîmes, and 30 km (18.65 mi) from Montpellier. A rail branch line from Nîmes passes through Aigues-Mortes to its terminus on the coast at Grau-du-Roi.

Aigues-Mortes lies on the Canal Rhône-Sète, an extension to the Canal du Midi, built by Pierre-Paul Riquet a notable Languedoc resident. The Canal is popular for boating holidays and through France's extensive canal network provides a way to get to the Languedoc from the Atlantic Ocean, Northern France and Mediterranean Sea. The town lies next to a number of canals:

  • The the Canal Rhône-Sète (mentioned above) rom the River Rhône to Sète flowing from the north-east towards the west
  • The Canal de Bourgidou to the south-east, joining the Petit Rhône through other canals on the border between the departments of the Gard and the Bouches-du-Rhône
  • The Grau du Roi, dating from the middle ages, joining the Mediterranean Sea at a port also called the Grau-du-Roi.

 

Coordinates 43°34'03 N, 04°11'36 E
INSEE - 30003
Postal code - 30220
Population 6,000 

 

A nineteenth century painting by Frédéric Bazille.
Porte d'Aigues-Mortes, dite Porte de la Reine. 1867
Oil on Canvas 31.7 x 39.4 in. (80.5 x 100 cm).

Note the surrounding marshland
including the distinctive Camargue horse
A recent photograph of the same gate
The Queen's Gate

 

The present Languedoc and Provence, together represent the area covered by the ancient Roman's first province outside Italy. The Camargue, lying in the Rhone Delta, is positioned between the Languedoc and Provence. For more on Provence and the Provençal town of Aigues Mortes, click on the following link which will open a new window to Beyond the French Riviera www.beyond.fr

 

Louis IX Embarks for the Crusades at Aigues Mortes Sailing First to Cyprus
Louis IX Embarks for the Crusades at Aigues Mortes Sailing First to Cyprus Giclee Print
 
Aigues Mortes Ramparts, Languedoc, France
Aigues Mortes Ramparts, Languedoc, France Photographic Print
Wheeler, Nik

 

 

 

Photographs

    
     
 
     
   
     
     
St. Louis (1214-70) Leaving Aigues-Mortes, Illustration from "Histoire Des Croisades"
St. Louis (1214-70) Leaving Aigues-Mortes, Illustration from "Histoire Des Croisades" Giclee Print
Dore, Gustave
 
The City Walls of Aigues-Mortes, 1867
The City Walls of Aigues-Mortes, 1867 Giclee Print
Bazille, Frederic

 

 

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