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Route n°1 : Around Château Royal de Provence
► Château royal de Provence
Louis II of Anjou (1377-1417), count of Provence, ordered the construction of the present-day château in 1400. Having spent his childhood in Italy, he had a palace fortress combining elements of a medieval castle and the sophisticated architecture of a prince’s residence. His eldest son, Louis III (1403-1434), inherited the château upon his death in 1417. When Louis III died, his younger brother René I “The Good” (1409-1480) began to decorate his father’s fortress. During his long stay in Tarascon, he had the Cour d’Honneur decorated in a Gothic revival style. Building work was completed in 1449. Afterwards, King René was happy to begin refurbishing inside the château with paintings and furniture. When he died in 1480, he left Anjou and Provence to his nephew Charles of Maine, who left the château of Tarascon to the King of France, Louis XI. Provence was thus reattached to the kingdom of France in 1481, Rhône’s border was abolished and the beautiful fortress served as a residence for the kings of France and lords passing through the area.
From the 17th century, the château became a prison and, depending on the wars, saw Spanish and English prisoners captured on merchant ships as well as pirates running wild on the Mediterranean and the Rhône: some of these prisoners have left several engraved inscriptions or graffiti on the walls which we can still see today.
The château then became an official prison in 1816 until 1926.
It was listed in 1840 in the first published list drawn up by the Commission des Monuments Historiques (Commission for Historic Monuments). The château owes its inclusion in this first French list of “listed monuments” to Prosper Mérimée, who found it to be very damaged but recognised its historical interest during his inspection visit in France in 1834. Despite its classification, the state only decided to start restoration work in 1894 and between then and 1897, the crenulated parapet which topped the towers and curtain walls was replaced.
There was a plan to destroy the building in 1926 when it was no longer used as a prison but fortunately the château was saved and the Bouches du Rhône gave it to the state in 1932. The state then undertook renovation work so that it could be opened to the public.
After the state’s decision to relinquish the château, the town of Tarascon acquired it and the monument has been the town’s property since January 1st 2008 with the aim to make it the spearhead of its cultural and tourist policy.
Château Royal de Provence
Boulevard du roi René
Contact: 04 90 91 01 93
Contact: Aldo Bastié. Curator - Tel/Fax : 04 90 91 02 76
November to February: Daily from 9:30 to 17:00 (last admission at 16:15)
March to May and October: Daily from 9:30 to 17:00 (last admission at 16:45
June to September: Daily from 9:30 to 18:30 (last admission at 17:45)
► Former nun’s Abbey of Saint Honorat
Boulevard du roi René (no admission to the interior)
Opposite the château’s entrance is an old monumental door built around 1660 and topped with a triangular pediment decorated with bucrania. It still marks the location of the former Benedictine nun’s abbey of Saint-Honorat, which ceased existing at the beginning of the Revolution. Most of the building was destroyed because several lots of buildings were sold during the Revolution and also bombed during the Second World War.
The abbey was founded in 1352 by Jean Gantelmi in recognition of the monks of Lérins’ help. It housed 30 nuns including 15 young girls from Tarascon. The latter had no dowry to pay provided that they were honest and knew how to read and write. The abbesses were sometimes elected or chosen by the king like the last abbess, Marie Sybille Gabrielle de Beauchamp, chosen by Louis XV in 1770, who died in Tarascon in 1812.
► The Rhône and the Tarascon-Beaucaire bridge
Thanks to its geographical location, Tarascon has always been seen as an important crossroads and a meeting point for the Roman roads linking the north to Italy and Spain. The towns of Beaucaire and Tarascon, located on either side of the river, have always fostered communication between one another. During the Middle Ages, man and beast crossed the river using a ferry system. A wooden bridge was built in the 13th century but it could not withstand flooding so a pontoon bridge replaced it in 1674. This bridge worked well until 1829 when it was replaced by a suspension bridge built by the engineers Jules Seguin and Joseph Chaley. In 1886, the bridge deck collapsed into the Rhône and the construction was reinforced by replacing the wooden beams with metal ones, giving it the name "the wire bridge". Left in a very poor state after being bombed in 1944, a road bridge was built in 1959 which was then replaced in 1989 by the bridge which we have now, called the "Beaucaire bridge" measuring just over 434 metres.
► The Panoramique – Tourism Office
The present Panoramique building is made up of the Tourism Office on the ground floor and a large room for meetings, exhibitions and functions on the first floor. Built as an events room in 1964-1965, the Panoramique was originally known as the Bâtiment civique (civic centre). Its location opens onto the Edouard Branly estate, at the top of the bridge of Beaucaire, built during reconstruction work carried out in the 1950s. Its external columns make it look like an ancient temple which has become a meeting spot and function room for the public.