Vaucluse (84550) Population: 2,334 Altitude: 38 m
Mornas is a picturesque medieval village, stretched and narrow at the foot of a high cliff. In front is the N7 highway, fields and the autoroute. Behind, on top of the cliffs, is the fortress of Mornas. The fortress ruins are visible for a long distance to the west, and to passing motorists on the autoroute. The front of the village along the highway is only moderately inviting at first glance, but there's more inside.
The village is in two parts. The walled old town is long and very narrow, with a single street, the rue Grande, through from end to end. The northern end is walled, with its old "Porte Saint Pierre". The southern-end wall with the 14th-century porte Saint NIcolas opens onto an open square with a tall fountain. We found another ancient stone fountain in the village by the Mairie. Typical of Rhône valley villages, Mornas was inundated by at least one flood. The plaque on the Mairie wall (to the left of the fountain in the photo) marks the flood level for 31 May 1856 at nearly 2 meters high.
This square is at the end of the short Cours des Platanes dividing the two ends of the village is (surprise) lined with beautiful and enormous old platane trees. Cafés and the post office are here. The newer part of the village, still not much more modern than medieval, continues around the base of the cliff to the south.
A steep narrow road goes up the narrow valley past the cemetery to lovely old stone church, the 11th-12th-c romanesque Notre-Dame-du-Val-Romigier. There's a limited parking area just above the church, but it's only a short (and steep) walk from the village. From the church, a very steep road leads up to the fortress.
The fortress of Mornas is interesting to visit for history, rocky beauty and the magnificent view (as far as Marseille on a clear day). The "Amis de Mornas" have been restoring the fortress, slowly but steadily, since 1978. On some days, they have "animated" visits, with costumed monks, knights and damsels acting out medieval roles, and interacting and chatting with the visitors.
The huge feudal fortress, with stone walls, towers, chateau and chapels was built on top of the cliffs in the 12th-century by the Earl of Toulouse, and was one of the largest in France. The site of the fortress had been occupied since Roman times, and probably had a wooden tower and walls in the Middle Ages. From the 10th century, the Earl of Toulouse owned Mornas, but was in constant conflict with the King of France and the Archbishop of Arles until the 13th-century.
The walk up to the Fortress is about 15 minutes, with the 11th-century chapel and cemetery about half way. The walk to the chapel is steep; the walk from the chapel to the Fortress is very steep, with a wide, flat cement roadway and no shade. There are toilets and water near the chapel, and some picnic benches beside the path further up.
Mornas Medieval Festival
Mornas village has a great Medieval Festival every summer. Day-long events in the center of the village and at the jousting and tournament grounds of the old chapel up towards the Fortress include games for kiddies, minstrels and music and Knights fighting afoot and horseback.
In the 10th century the Earl of Toulouse owned Mornas, and only a small garrison of soldiers were stationed there, to maintain the Earl's authority over the land. The ownership of the area was disputed by the Earl, the Archbishop of Arles and the King of France from then until the 13th century.
The Papacy, in the form of the Avignon Popes took possession of Mornas at the beginning of the 14th century. The Fortress was restored and improved, and an outer wall was built around the top of the hill, to protect it from the bands that were looting and devistating the lands at that time.
During the Wars of Religion in the 16th century the Fortress was hotly contested by Catholics and Protestants, perceiving its location as a strategic need. The age of fortresses was beginning to pass, and by the time of the French Revolution the Mornas Fortress had already been abandoned.
History of Mornas
First record, 818 Morenatus; 1037 Mornaz
The Popes of Avignon took control of Mornas at the beginning of the 13th century, and Pope Gregory XI had the fortress restored to protect it from roaming vagrants who looted and devastated everything in their path.
During the Wars of Religion in the 16th century there was vicious fighting for control of the fortress. In 1562, The Calvinistes of the Marquis de Montbrun captured it, massacred the women and children, and threw the garrison over the cliff onto the spikes below; they allowed only a single person to escape. In 1568, Mornas was retaken by François de La Baume, and the same fate was inflicted on the Protestant garrison.
The strategic importance of the site diminished over the years, and the fortress was already abandoned by the time of the French Revolution.
Medieval: Mornas was the domain of the Archbishop of Arles until 1274, and then owned by Saint-Siège who feudalized the lands to various lords, including Raymond V of Toulouse and Hugues de Mondragon.
• GPS: 44.203367, 4.727018
IGN (1/25,000) #3042 OT "Tarascon, St-Rémy-de-Provence, Alpilles"
One hiking trail, the Tour du Massif d'Uchaux, circles the area, passing by Mornas, Mondragon, Rochegude, Sérignan-le-Comtat and back to Mornas.
The GR4 hiking trail passes east-west through the center of the area.
• East, the GR4 continues on to Lagarde-Paréol, Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes and Cairanne.
• West, the GR4 goes past Mondragon to Pont-Saint-Esprit and beyond.
Department 84, Vaucluse Buses
- See Beyond's Bus Schedules Page 2: Vaucluse Department for downloading Vaucluse bus-lines map [Plan global des lignes] and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).
• Avignon has train or bus connections to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nîmes, Saint Remy-de-Provence, Paris.
• Cavaillon has bus connections to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Saint Remy-de-Provence.
• Pertuis has bus connections to Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.