Bouches-du-Rhône (13250) Population: 5,396 Altitude: 37 m
This residential town has a jewel of a heart sitting at the edge of the Etang de Berre (Berre Lagoon). The apartments and modern little villas surrounding the town are unnoticable, and even forgotten, once you're in the old center of the village. The village center is pretty, interesting and different.
Saint-Chamas is an ancient fortified town and a fishing village. The town is divided by a very high narrow cliff, still with its troglodyte habitation [photo 5], protecting the landward side from the sea. The main street passes through the wide gap in the cliff wall, beneath a high arched passage crossing from one side to the other on tall stone pillars.
Many of the houses look as ancient as they are, but many are well painted in Provencal pastels with contrasting trim and shutters.
The seaward side of the cliff was once all water, but gradual landfill provided space for housing, especially for the fishermen. The small fishing port is still active [photo 6]. You can see the little blue boats tied along the low quais and the nets spread out to dry.
This seaward side of town was designed as a "comb", with a long street down the center and smaller side streets going off at regular intervals to make a geometric set of rectangular blocks [photo 7]. A school was built out here as well, but the still partially-liquid foundations caused it to shift enough that it was abandoned.
Black Powder Factory
From the time of Louis-XIV in the 17th century (see Kings) until the 1980s, this was the first black-powder mill in France, installed by Colbert in 1690. A plaque was put up for its 300th birthday in 1990, although the factory was actually dismantled and the installations dispersed to other sites in 1977.
The single-arch first-century-BC Roman bridge at the south edge of town still has the two arches at either end [photo 1]. The two sides of the arch now protrude up into the worn stone roadway crossing the bridge [photo 3]. Four ancient lions on the arches still guard the bridge; only one is Roman, the other 3 replaced in the 18th century.
History of Saint Chamas
First record, 10th century Sanctus Amantius (from the town's protector Saint Amantius); from the 5th-16th centuries the name evolved from Sancto-Chamation to Sanct-Chamas to Saint-Chamas.
Up on top of the cliff wall in the center of town
Tel : 04 90 44 52 00; Fax: 04 90 44 52 30
Open: Mon-Tue, Thu-Fri; 14h-17h
Market day: Sat. Very picturesque Sat market
Sep (1st Sun) - Fête St-Léger
• GPS: 43.550712, 5.038872
IGN (1/25,000) #3144 ouest "Martigues, Etang de Berre"
IGN Verte (1/100,000) #66 "Avignon, Montpellier"; #67 Marseille, Carpentras
Although this isn't real hiking country, there are some forestry roads and trails in the hills east of town, from below Cornillon-Confoux and past Lançon-Provence to the autoroute.
Museum - Musée Municipal
The building was the town's first Hotel de Ville (city hall) in the 17th century. It became a museum in 1959 and restored in 1983. It contains paintings, but specializes in local history and archeology.
Located by the Office de Tourisme on the cliff top.
Open: Mon-Tue, Thu-Fri; 14h-17h
Transportation Saint Chamas
The train doesn't stop here anymore. When we asked 'since when', an old man told us, "on ne compte plus" (it's too long to remember). There is bus service to Miramas, 7 km northwest, where the main Marseilles-Avignon train stops.
Department 13, Bouches-du-Rhône Buses
- See Beyond's Bouches-du-Rhone (13) Bus Schedules for downloading Bouches-du-Rhone bus-lines map and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).