The walled city was originally a hamlet inhabited only by fishers and salters amid salt pits. In the eighteenth century, the Matafère tower was built presumably to alert the Magne tower in Nîmes, in case of a fleet invasion. A few centuries later, in the Middle Ages, Louis IX wanted to establish access to the Mediterranean Sea for the French Crown to use it as departure point for the crusades. Consequently, with the aid of his architect Eudes de Montreuil, he designed from 1244 the plans of the port and the city. Thereafter, the king moved in a huge residence, made available by the Knights Templar. The medieval city and the port of Aigues-Mortes were born. Today the city counts more than 8,000 inhabitants and receives around 1,200,000 visitors per year!
The name of Aigues-Mortes, Eaux-Mortes or dead waters, is coming from the salt pits that are surrounding the city. Strangely, I grew up in a village, 22 kilometres from there, that is called Aigues-Vives, Eaux-Vives or living waters! On the contrary, this second village abounds with springs.
Last time I went to Aigues-Mortes to show my native region to my partner, I saw a completely different city, opening its doors to another era, during Les Fêtes de la Saint Louis or Saint-Louis’ Festival. All weekend, the past of Aigues-Mortes was revived and plunged its visitors into the thirteenth century in a reconstruction of the departure of Saint-Louis and his court for the seventh crusade.
The Saturday, the medieval market opens its doors with local artisans. You will find clothes from the Middle Ages, such as long cloaks and mail coats, swords and bows, hand-made jewellery and a mix of local and traditional food and drinks. By night, a medieval dance is organised!
During the weekend, you can assist to several reconstructions, such as the keys of the city given to the king or the salt to the knights, the solemn church service and the final parade with the troops, the street acrobats and the fire-eaters. And all along you can see furtive swords fights, free-for-all and fanfares. Numerous activities are also proposed inside the ramparts, such as a medieval cooking course, coin minting and archery.
A veritable tavern is reconstructed and serves typical Middle-Ages food. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to taste it, because I wanted to bring my family and friend to a fabulous restaurant: le café de bouzigues, in the heart of the city. Don’t forget to book in ahead if you want to find a table there!
The festival ends with an extraordinary fireworks show! Here is the 2011 version! But forgive the amateurishness, as it has been filmed from inside a car using a mobile phone.
You can also take the occasion to visit the Constance tower and the thirteenth-century ramparts as well as the church of Notre Dame des Sablons and the chapels des pénitents gris and des pénitents blancs. Around Aigues-Mortes, the Salins du Midi proposes two different travels; one on board of a touristic train and one with a SUV and numerous excursions to Camargue are also organized through the canals or hiking.
Finally, do not forget to taste the famous Fougasse d’Aigues-Mortes, a sweet brioche, and drink a glass of vin des sables, most of the time grey or rosé.
If you want more information, do not hesitate to visit the website of Aigues-Mortes tourism office translated to several languages and if you need help finding and booking a hotel in the region, the best option would be the Escargot Holiday website!