•Gard (30220) • Population: 5,000 • Altitude: 1 m
Aigues-Mortes is a striking, walled Medieval town sitting on the flat marshes of the Camargue, and is considered the purest example of 13th-century military architecture. It looks today pretty much like it did in the Middle Ages. The town of neatly rectilinear streets is surrounded by a crenelated wall with four corner towers and a dozen fortified portes.
Inside the defensive ramparts, the town is tightly packed buildings and linear streets, roughly east-west and north-south.
The walls are protected by four corner towers, including the tall tour de Constance at the northwest corner, and a dozen wall towers, ten of which have portes where streets pass through the walls.
Many of the inner town streets of Aigues-Mortes have shops of all kinds. Many of them are tourist-oriented, but many also serve the residents of the town. Some of the streets can seem pretty long, especially those without shops, but this is a town you really need to explore.
The Office de Tourisme has a map that shows a route to explore the town, seeing most of it without having to walk every street. You can also follow the route pretty well just by following the arrows on the location signs posted around the town.
The main visitors entry is through the Port de la Gardette at the north side, at Place Anatole France, a rare open area that extends west to the Chateau, inside the northeast corner close to the Tour de Constance. The Grande Rue Jean Jaurès, with many cafés and shops along both sides, leads south into the center of the walled town.
Place Saint-Louis is the main square of Aigues-Mortes, located south down Rue Jean Jaurès from Port de la Gardette. This square has a fountain with four dolphins, and a tall statue of Saint-Louis his own self, decked out as a mailed Knight ready to sail off on the Crusades. The excellent Aigues-Mortes Office de Tourisme is located here, along with a variety of shops and several terrace café-restaurants.
Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Sablons, 13th-century, built before the walls were built.
The only other open area inside the walls of Aigues-Mortes is Place de la Viguerie, beside Bvd Gambetta in the northeastern part of town. This is a large, open square, with the post office in a building with arcades along the north side, a low fountain in the center, and the 17th-century Chapel des Penitents Gris at the end. Bvd Gambette, one of the few wide streets of Aigues-Mortes, passes beside crosses from Porte St Antoine at the north wall and crosses to Porte de la Marine at the south wall.
The Gothic Notre-Dame-des-Sablons church was built in the middle of the 13th century, even before the defensive walls were built around Aigues-Mortes. The church was sacked by the protestants in the 16th century. In 1634 the clock tower was rebuilt, but following the French Revolution it had numerous non-religious functions, including a grain warehouse (although not as a pyramid) and salt storage. Notre-Dame-des-Sablons was restored to the church in 1804, and restored in a neo-classical baroque style.
There are parking lots all along the outer wall at the north side of town, and in a lot at the northeast corner. It's all pay parking, where you get a ticket when you enter, and pay at a kiosk before leaving. The only vehicles allowed inside the walls are those of the residents with appropriate permits (and delivery vehicles).
History of Aigues-Mortes
First record, 10th century Ayga Mortas (dead waters, referring to the surrounding expanses of swamps and marshes).
Gallo-Roman: Marius Caius had a town here around 102 BC, and Gallo-Roman ruins have been discovered beneath the ancient Abbey.
Medieval: The Psalmody Abbey located here since the 5th century was obtained by Louis IX in the 13th century. Louis IX (Saint Louis) built the port here in 1240 so France would have a Mediterranean port for commerce and to launch his Crusades. Until this time, all the other towns along the southern coast were owned by the king of Aragon, the Germanic emperor and the Pope. The town, that had belonged to the monks, grew quickly with the Royal privileges, including unlimited salt and no taxes.
Crusades. Louis IX launched the Seventh Crusade from Aigues-Mortes in 1248. He launched the Eight Crusade in July 1270, and died near Tunis on 25 August.
The town's fortifications, that give it such character today, were built by the next two kings of France: Philip III (the Bold) and Philip IV (the Fair). Following a century of Royal privilege, the port area of Aigues-Mortes silted up and the town fell into neglect.
Place Saint-Louis, in the heart of the walled town.
Tel : 0466 537 300; Fax: 0466 536 594
Market day: Wed, Sun.
- Summer Sat mornings Flea Market
May - Medieval events - Les Gransd tournois d'Aigues-Morte (Jousting)
Aug - Fete de la Saint Louis, Fete, marché Médiévale - Medieval Festival, Market
Aug - Fetes de la Saint Louis - Medieval market, events
Oct (1st Sun) - Fête votive: feria, bulls
4x4 (Jeep) tours of the Camargue, departing from Arles, Aigues-Mortes, Le Grau-du-Roi, Port Camargue or La Grande Motte. All year, by reservation.
Location: 24, rue Porte de Laure; 13200 Arles
There are 7 or 8 trips a day between Nîmes and Aigues-Mortes - Le Grau-du-Roi, with mode of transportation alternating between bus (car) and train (TER). Departure-arrival for either is at the railway station.
The southbound route is: Nîmes, Vauvert, Aigues-Mortes, Le Grau-du-Roi, with some small-village stops along the way on some of the schedules. The trip time between Nîmes and Le Grau-du-Roi is about 45 minutes by the train or about an hour on the bus; Aigues-Mortes and Le Grau-du-Roi are only 10 minutes apart.