A water filled moat surrounded the castle, and as I walked across its bridge, through the large gate and into the courtyard, I was suddenly and irrevocably, for the time being, sucked back to the fifteenth century. That sensation comes over me often, in places like this, where history and mystery meet. But once inside the high ramparts, it felt as if time stood still in the quiet of the massive stone. Alone, as I like to be. I was alone in this place where kings once walked. Royals, in the South of France. At a time when borders were not where they are today, when Naples was attached (politically) to Marseilles, when the river Rhône raged unchecked outside the castle walls, where history was made, plagues were weathered, and where the ghosts des Anjous, les Aragons, et les Plantagenets roam.
On this day the chateau was devoid of life, of any kind of life that I could see. No servants scurrying across the courtyard, no animals, no smell of cookpots on the fire, or music in the air, or anything but silence. Maybe it was all happening in another dimension, but not the one I was in. Not even the colors of the famous Anjou drapeau flew over the walls. Everything was left to my vivid imagination.
Coming into the courtyard, I found a place that seemed like it should be teeming with life, working as a crossroads within the high chateau walls. There were stairs in the tower to climb and floors of rooms to discover, places to hide, places to wander around in.
I climbed the tower on stone stairs that drooped in the middle, worn from centuries of people climbing them, and stopped on each floor. The rooms were all ones in which I could imagine living life. I could imagine having a painting studio in this one, a dining hall in another, and oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up in the morning in this one – to call downstairs for my café et croissant to be delivered to my bed! The sheer romance of it all.
From the roof I could see across the river to the town of Beaucaire, and its wall, and its castle remnants. Were these two towns friends? Built in tandem to defend this part of the world? Or were they enemies, bent on each protecting their side of the river? It seems that in my search for information it was the latter. Two castles built in defense, one against the other, for an attack that never came.
I hung out over the parapet of the castle wall and watched as the Rhône flowed sleepily below, coming down from Avignon on its way to Arles and then on out to the sea. The river had that earthy smell of mud – the water was green when looked at from above. It was peaceful and quiet that day and I could just imagine floating downstream, laying on my back on the water’s surface. Nevermind that this spot had a grisly history – many of Robespierre’s partisans were tossed to their deaths into the raging river from this very spot in May and June of 1795, during the Revolution. Since the river was not tamed until 1872, I imagine it was a very rough death.
But things are much more pleasant now. Calmer. And it is the creative and interesting times of Good King René for which I want to remember the chateau. Winding my way down a set of tower stairs on the opposite side of the castle, I come upon more and more rooms to explore as well as an apothecary and a garden outside. As I walked back over the bridge, leaving the fifteenth century behind me, I stopped for a moment to look back at the massive walls.
From French to English and a Little Bit of History
Des Anjous: The family of Anjou reigned in two parts, The First House 1245-1382 and The Second House 1382-1481. The Anjou family held lands from the west of France, with their family seat in the city of Anger (pronounced with a soft ‘g’ like ‘juh’, not like the English word) all the way to Jeruselum in the south.
les Aragons: Yolande of Aragon was Good King René’s mother.
les Plantagenets: This one is tricky to explain in a thousand words or less, but let’s just say that the Plantagenet family is derived from the Anjou family.
from Wikipedia: “The name Plantagenet is derived from the broom flower (planta genesta). It originated with Geoffrey of Anjou, father of King Henry II of England, because he adopted the flower as his emblem, often wearing a sprig of it. The surname Plantagenet has been retrospectively applied to the descendants of Geoffrey of Anjou as they had or used no surname. The first descendant of Geoffrey to use the surname was Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, father of both Edward IV and Richard III, who apparently assumed it about 1448. That said, it has been traditional when referring to the Plantagenets to call all descendants of Geoffrey by this surname.”
chateau: house, actually a very large house, and a castle such as this one in Tarascon can be called a chateau. In modern English we would think of a chateau as a mansion.
The castle at Tarascon was built between 1401 and 1449 and was begun by Louis II d’Anjou, continued by his first son, Louis III d’Anjou, and then finally completed in 1449 by his second son, René I of Naples. The chateau is commonly referred to as Le Château du Roi René because he was seen as the creative mind behind the parts of the castle that are renaissance in construction and also because of all of the Anjous, he was the one to live in it for the longest amount of time.
Le Château du Roi René: The Castle of King René
drapeau: flag. The flag of the Anjou family consisted of a blue field with three fleur-des-lys and bordered in red, comme-ça:
fleur-des-lys: literally, lily flower. The stylized version of this flower has been used in heraldic illustration for centuries, but is commonly associated with France, Spain, and England.
comme-ça: ‘like this’
café et croissant: coffee and croissant, a light, fluffy bread pastry baked in the shape of a crescent. The coffee is usually served in a bowl, rather than a cup. A common breakfast in this neck of the woods.
tarasque: was the dragon monster that terrified the people of this region until the arrival of Saint-Marthe, who tamed the creature enough so the townspeople could kill it! The town of Tarascon is named after this creature and Saint-Marthe is celebrated every July 29th.
Important Dates in the Town of Tarascon
April 14, 1474: the day on which the famous Good King René founded the order of the Knights of Tarasque.
Last Sunday in June: The tarasque is paraded through town
July 29: Feast of Saint Marthe