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Impressions of the Provence and Le Gard, France

HOMfra to HOMfra_pro

When Vincent Van Gogh came to the Provence in February 1888, he hoped to improve his health, undermined by years of alcohol abuse, smoking and inhalation of lead from the paint he used. Instead, also his mental state went down the drain, to the point that he ended up in an institution in Saint Rémy. But at the same time, the Provence opened a world of inspiration to Vincent, the olive trees, the iris flowers, the lavender fields in June, the clear starry summer nights. Here, in Arles, in Saint Rémy, on the banks of the River Rhône, among the stone sarcophagi lined up in the Roman Alyscamps necropolis, Vincent lived the most prolific period of his entire painter career. And as I travel the country roads across the flatlands covered in vineyards, with the oblong ridge of the Mont Ventoux at a hazy distance, as I walk the narrow alleys of Arles or Nîmes or the small rustic villages of Vaison-la-Romaine or Les Baux, as I find my way among the broken remnants of an ancient Roman arch or a millennium old Romanesque church, it is as if the things which inspired Vincent somehow take hold of me too. Not that I can paint, but I instinctively feel the vibrant magic of the things I observe around me. A world apart, which Vincent has so masterly brought to life in the 350-odd paintings he produced in and around Arles in a matter of two years. Did he actually ever look up from his canvas? He must have, to absorb the inspiration from the world of things around him. A world apart, which I cannot paint, which I can only humbly project into memory by my pictures and their comments: the cities of Orange, Avignon, Nîmes and Arles, noisy but also gentle and relaxed in their day-to-day life, and in between these cities, plenty of rustic villages, unfortunately less quaint than they used to be years ago due to tourism pollution, remains from an ancient and medieval past, the silent testimonies of a history which is distinct from the one 'up North'. For, here, the ancient Greek city-States have intensely colonised, long before the Romans listily grabbed the region to link their Italian motherland with their provinces in Hispania; and in later times the Protestant Cathars and the Lords of Toulouse played at least as important a role in these lands as the mighty King of France, who was boiling over with frustration as he kept failing to subdue those stubborn people speaking Occitan, or 'Provençal', something between the French His Majesty understood and Catalan.

Before visiting the place of your choice:

The ‘Pont du Gard’ is actually a Roman Aqueduct which was constructed around 50 AD, carrying fresh water from the source of the River Eure to the then young settlement of Nemausus, Nîmes. Not only the well preserved aqueduct, but the entire structure of 50 kilometres long was an absolute masterpiece of civil engineering as the average gradient over the entire distance is less than 1 centimetre per 100 metres, just enough to keep the water flowing, so it seems. The 274 metre long aqueduct over the River Gardon is spanned in three tiers of superposed arches, reaching in total a height of 50 metres, while no mortar was used to keep the large limestone blocks in place. After the Roman Empire more or lost control over the area in the 4th century, the aqueduct was no longer maintained and fell into disuse. In medieval times the structure became a toll bridge and in 1620 Duke Henri of Rohan even tried to use it to transport artillery for his Huguenot fighters against the French Crown, severely damaging the edifice in the process. In the mid 18th century a road bridge was built next to the aqueduct, which was certainly a better option, both for the preservation of the aqueduct and for the effectiveness of transport across the River Gardon...

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