Var (83670) Population: 2,166 Altitude: 250 m
With a population of around 2200, Barjols is a small town, about 20 km northeast of Saint Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (on the A8 Aix-Nice autoroute) and about 40 km south of the lavender fields of Riez and Sainte Croix lake.
The center of Barjols has the appearance of a larger town, so we are a bit disappointed at the sparsity of shops and cafés. There are enough of the basics, though, so nothing is really missing. Our main visits to Barjols have been off-season (Nov and Feb), so we haven't seen the place with the life that summer brings to Provençal towns.
A key attraction of Barjols are the fountains, many from the 19th century (see below). While wandering through the streets looking for the fountains to photograph, we discovered that the town was rather interesting to explore. Even close to the center, the different areas are separated enough for a bit of isolation.
The Rouguière area at the west side is famous for the very long Place de la Rouguière, a long narrow square with a surface area of 14,000 square metres. We saw one reference calling it the "Tivoli of Provence", but find that a bit of an over-statement; especially as it's used mainly as a parking lot.
The center of town has a number of small squares. The Tuesday and Saturday market is in the center, at the Place Victor Hugo and Place Capitaine Vincens.
The most striking place for us is the Réal quarter, north off the main street (rue de la République) opposite the Place Emile Zola. The Rue du Chateau and Rue du Réal climb up past a series of terraced rock and waterfalls, with fountains and a nice waterwheel. The street continues up to the Rue de la Porte Rouge at the top, with a nice view back down onto the red-tiled roofs of the town. The top is the site of the chateau called "Reine Jeanne de Provence". As far as we could tell, there's no castle-type chateau remaining, other than the imposing walls.
Waterwheels and Tanneries
In the 19th century there were a lot more than the one waterwheel, and they were turning with a purpose, unlike the pretty but useless one we just mentioned. Barjols was a center of tanning, with 24 tanneries and 19 mills to drive them. Being at the confluence of several rivers and little streams, including Le Fauvéry, Les Paluds, La Rivière des Ecrevisses (river of crayfish) and La Source de Roubaud, provided the necessary power and the water required.
The narrow streets eventually lead down to Le Village area in the southeast corner. Here the old tanneries are converted to artists' ateliers, and called the "zone d'art".
Being a popular medieval town since the beginning of the 11th century, Barjols has lived through some times of troubles, not the least the Wars of Religion. To that end, many of the fortified walls and thick, arched, defensive doorways still remain.
The Collegial Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption began life in the year 1014 as the church of Ste-Marie and St-Jean, later renamed the Notre-Dame-de-l'Espine. In 1060, Rimbaud, the archbishop of Arles got Pope Alexandre II to raise its status to Collegial, attached to the dependence of the Pope. Well, the Collegial is still here, and in pretty fair shape after a thousand years. Constructed of stone, it has a mixture of Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothique styles, a common occurance after several centuries of maintenance. One of the more interesting items inside is a beautiful organ from 1656.
Saint Marcel and Beef
An interesting religious story from the 5th century is celebrated on this day, the Sunday closest to 17 January. Saint Marcel, who was born in Avignon and was eventually buried at Montmeyan (15km north of Barjols), was made a Saint as a reward for several miracles. In 1349 Saint Marcel appeared before the guardien of a ruined monastery and demanded that his body be transferred to a more suitable place. Barjols won the toss from Aups, and on 17 January 1350 he was transported to Barjols. Enroute, the transport party encountered some women washing the tripes of a beef butchered in commemoration of Saint Marcel having appeared one day to save Barjols from famine. The now enlarged party continued on, entering Barjols singing about Saint Marcel and tripes. From that day to this, the annual fête celebrates Saint Marcel with the dance of tripes and a butchered steer that's roasted on a giant spit in the Place de la Rouguière.
Doubly-shot Martin Ferdinand
Martin Ferdinand, called "Bidouré", an everyday hemp comber. During the coup d'état of 2 Dec 1851, Mr. Ferdinand decided to join the insurgents. Singly unlucky, "Bidouré" was caught, put against the wall between Aups and Tourtour, and shot in the head by the soldiers of the Empire and left for dead. He survived the rather serious punishment, saved, and put in a hospice in Aups. Doubly unlucky, "Bidouré" was denounced, put against another wall and shot again. This time successfully (for the shooters). Famous for the rather bizarre feat of being shot twice, Martin Ferdinand has a grand monument in his honor at the top end of the Place de la Rouguière.
Barjols is a town of fountains, and a fountain-finding tour is a great way to discover the town. There are at least a couple of dozen of them, of varying sizes and styles, and many incorporating lavoirs. The lavoirs are mostly small, and of rather varied and interesting shapes.
The Office de Tourisme has a small brochure listing 28 fountains, with numbered photos naming each and a map you can use to track them down. (You need to ask for the brochure.) The numbers on the brochure don't match the numbers on the fountains themselves, but that's no problem at all since each fountain in town is clearly marked with name and date.
History of Barjols
First record, 1014 Barjols, from Barjolium, Barjoulx, Joli Bar, Joli Rocher (pretty rock).
Celto-Ligurian: Vestiges of Ligurian occupation were found on the Fourches hill, to the west of the town.
Gallo-Roman: There was Gallo-Roman occupation at Rigoirs, Saint Etienne and Saint Jaume.
Medieval: This was a very troubled place during the Wars of Religion. Various groups from the Collegial were, at different times during the 16th century, massacred, burned, thrown in wells and other unpleasant things.
• GPS: 43.557461, 6.006468
IGN (1/25,000) #3344 OT "St-Maximim - Barjols"
IGN (1/25,000) #3443 OT "Aups Salernes"
There are no GR trails very close to the Barjols, and we don't have any other specific hikes for here. (The Office de Tourisme does have a list, but we weren't willing to pay for it.) There are a lot of forested hills surrounding the town, so a bit of exploring should turn up some nice walks.
We took a couple of hours hike out to the southeast, to see the view from the observation table and to visit the Vallée des Carmes. Both are quite nice, but the route is not very well marked.
Department 83, Var Buses
- See Beyond's Var Department Bus Schedules for downloading the Var bus-lines map [Plan du Reseau] and bus-line schedules [Horaires] (link for PDF files).
- Schedules for the Var bus lines are on the VarLib Horaires-Ligne page (http://www.varlib.fr/horaires_ligne/?rub_code=6") - type the line number in the Numéro ... ligne box to access the bus schedule PDF link. (Type a couple of digits in the box to get a list of route numbers.)