Var (83570) Population: 1,792 Altitude: 260 m
The village of Cotignac sits in the trees at the base of its famous cliffs. At the top of the cliffs, a pair of square, medieval towers (the "sentinelles") have been standing guard over the cliffs, the town and the surrounding countryside since the 12th and 13th centuries.
The long, central "square", Cours Gambetta, parallels the main street through the village. The Cours is shaded by plane trees and is filled mainly with outdoor tables from several cafés and restaurants lining one long side.
Fronting the square there are shops and restaurants along the far side of the main street, and then a grid of parallel streets to the east, with village houses.
The upper (north) end of the Cours has the Fontaine des Quatre Saisons, a beautiful old fountain, with a long and interesting history (it was taken from an Convent in Aix-en-Provence during the French Revolution).
A large white-marble "dolphin" fountain, tge Fontaine de la Cascade, is located at the lower end of the Cours. This fountain was restored in 2002. While much cleaner and neater looking now, we miss the old moss that had built up on it before the resoration.
Heading past the upper end of the Cours Gambetta, you'll find more small shops and the narrow Grand Rue that leads up to the Place de la Mairie, a large square with (of course) the Town Hall, a couple of restaurants and shops, a large sundial and an interesting stone fountain dated 1647, the Fontaine des Deux Places.
Standing in the lovely Town Hall Square, you can see the tops of the cliffs rising above the buildings.
At the upper-left corner of the Place de la Maire, steps lead toward the base of the cliffs and a wide, paved path passes in front of the large oil press.
Provence had olive oil production since the Middle Ages, but it peaked in the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century only 14 olive oil mills remained in Cotignac. This one, the Moulin du Piquet was the last one in operation.
Past the olive press, the path leads up to the old hospice de la Charité, and from there you can follow the narrow paths carved into the cliff face, protected by iron railings, to see what the cliffs and the cave look like up close, and have a view out over the village.
The cliffs dominate the village and provide the key to Cotignac's protection and its existence. The cliffs are formed of tufa, a porous, calcium rock that's full of holes and caves. The caves have been used as shelter and refuge since before recorded history (by troglodytes), through invasions and epidemics, and through political wars and religious wars. Houses are built into the cliffs, expanding on the caves as places of protection and dwelling, and a few lower ones are still in use today.
High on a building wall of the narrow Grand'Rue are three wall-sculpture, called cariatides, dating from 1623. The sculptures, created nearly 400 years ago to exhibit the owner's grand wealth and status, are so high on the building they wouldn't be noticed unless you were looking for them.
Technically the term cariatide refers to statues of young women of Caryes used as supporting columns, in place of standard Greek pillars. In the Louvre in Paris, cariatides were used as supporting columns for a musiciens platform, built in 1550 in the Swiss Guards' Room (now called the Cariatides). The famous Wallace Fountains of Paris (and other towns) are designed after the model of cariatides.
The Wikipedia tells us "In modern times, the practice of integrating caryatids into building facades was revived in the 16th century and, from the examples engraved for Sebastiano Serlio's treatise on architecture, became a fixture in the decorative vocabulary ...". This fits in with the idea of wealthy local bourgeois flaunting their success on the front of thier buildings.
The three cariatides of Cotignac are modeled more on the likeness of Golums than on lovely young ladies of Caryes.
A very fine open-air theater behind the church, at the base of the cliffs, has concerts during the summer.
- Favorite sons of Cotignac include:
- Guillaume de Cotignac (1180-1245);
- troubadour Arnaud de Cotignac (1260);
- botanist Louis Gérard (1733-1819);
- Admiral Louis Figanière (born 1780).
- Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame, has had a house here since 1971.
- troubadour Arnaud de Cotignac (1260);
History of Cotignac
First record, 1030 Cotinnacum
Gallo-Roman: There are a few Gallo-Roman remains at Nestuby, about 3 km south of the village.
Medieval: There was a large Jewish settlement here in the 6th century, indicated today by the "Quartier de la Synagogue" and the "rue de Jérusalem". In the 11th century, Cotignac was ruled first by the Lords of Castellane, then the Viscounts of Marseille and the Pontevès and Simiane families.
June (2nd Sun) - Brocante-Puces (June-Aug/Sept)
Sep - Fete votive, Village Festival
• GPS: 43.526631, 6.14956
IGN (1/25,000) #3443 OT "Aups Salernes"
IGN (1/25,000) #3444 OT "Brignoles Le Luc"
A very nice loop-hike from the village will take you past old chapels and through pretty woods. At the south edge of the village, cross the bridge just before the Office de Tourisme, and take the road angled up to the right. Following the road to the Nôtre-Dame de Grâce chapel. The trail curves around to the north to a second chapel and then northeast to an oratory at a small crossroads 1 km to the northwest. Take the northeast trail there out to the main road (less than a km), turn right and follow the trail to the waterfall. From the falls, a trail drops back down in to the west side of the village.
Again at the south edge of the village, cross the bridge just before the Office de Tourisme. This time turn right and follow the track up through the trees alongside the river toward the cascade. It's an easy hour's walk, round-trip, and very pleasant in the shade of the trees on a hot day. On a September day at the end of another very dry summer, the river was dry in many places (water going underground here and there?), and at the "falls", there wasn't much more than a trickle; still, the pool at the base was large and wet and the woods were thick and green.
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.)