Today was Saturday! We’d finished our five days of covid isolation, so by rights we’d be allowed to mingle with the masses. But we didn’t feel comfortable doing that so we kept ourselves to ourselves. The Catherine was moored at Tarascon, a small town not far from Arles, where Vincent van Gogh spent a prolific year toward the end of his life. And Arles is where our fellow passengers went. I assumed this trip would have been all about van Gogh. I suspect I was wrong.
I think I would have loved it – a Roman amphitheatre, biscuit-coloured buildings, laid back lifestyle. I found this article about a visit to Arles. Makes me want to go back.
Anyway, we didn’t go.
Tarascon has a castle built on the edge of the Rhone. It utterly dominates the village. I first saw it from the river. Peter rang me and told me in my room to tell me there was a castle coming up, have your camera ready and I always do as I’m told.
Once the hordes had departed we went ashore and made our way to the castle. It’s built on the rocks, like all the other constructions on the river, seeming to rise up from the unformed stone into a towering edifice. Construction of the present iteration of the castle started in 1400, but a fortification had been here for many centuries before that. After the fall of Rome, Muslim, Viking, and Greek pirates came up the Rhone to pillage and take slaves, and the local lord charged merchants taxes to sail past the castle.
From the castle we made our way to the old part of town, with its tiny, winding streets and shuttered windows. It used to be a walled town and the remains of the walls can be seen here and there.
We made a stop at the village church, St Martha. The story goes that Martha of Bethany, with her brother Lazarus and sister Mary, fled from Palestine to Tarascon in 48CE. There she defeated the river-monster, La Tarasque, by taming him with holy water and a cross. Although there are some earlier remains, the present Romanesque church is old enough – consecrated in 1197.
Like all the river towns, Tarascon has a fascinating history going back to Roman times and further. After the fall of the Rome politics and life in general became very dangerous for ordinary folk. This short history of the area is worth reading.
Like many towns with a bridge over the Rhone, Tarascon was bombed in 1944 but there’s little sign of damage. We loved the meandering little streets.
Since we would be heading home tomorrow we took the opportunity to find the local pharmacy to top off supplies before returning to the ship to pack our bags. For this one night we shared Peter’s cabin. We’d be off to Marseilles in the morning.
If you’re new to this journey and want to find other parts of the trip, go to France 2022. That page has all the posts.
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