Monday, 10 September 2018

Travel: Avignon


Avignon lies on the west bank of the River Rhone. The city is famous for two things: the bridge that does not span the river, and the Palace of the Popes. 
The bridge is older than the palace. It was constructed in the 12th century by Saint Benezet (the Provencal version of the name "Benedict"), a humble shepherd boy who, according to legend, heard angelic voices calling him to go to Avignon and build a bridge. Work began in 1177 and was completed eight years later.
   The picture below gives a misleading impression of the vast scale of the project. What appears to be the far bank is in fact a long, narrow island in the middle of the Rhone, which did not exist in the 12th century. In fact the bridge ran all the way to the white tower seen on the right: almost a thousand yards long, with 22 arches, running in an S-shaped curve so as to base the piers on avialable shoals of gravel in the river bed. 

   The tower is all that remains of a castle built by Philip IV of France (Philippe le Bel) in 1302, to control the river crossing. We will meet him again shortly.
   The bridge today provides a fine view of the provided there are not too many crowds of tourists!

On the left of this picture is the Jardin du Rocher des Doms, a delightful wooded hilltop, from which there are splendid views eastwards to the bridge (as in the first picture) and south over the Cathedral of Notre Dame des Doms and the Palace of the Popes.


  
The cathedral was first built around 1140. 



The gilded statue of the Virgin was placed on top of the tower in the 19th century. This is the west door



After a bitter conflict between the Papacy and  King Philip IV,  the Archbishop of  Bordeaux was elected as Pope Clement V in 1305. He never went to Rome, and for the next 68 years all the Popes were Frenchmen. They built in Avignon the Palace of the Popes, which grew to be the largest building of its kind in western Europe. They lived in great luxury, which appalled and disgusted Petrach when he visited Avignon. 



    In 1417 the Popes returned to Rome, but Avignon remained papal territory. Only with the French Revolution did the city become part of France, and the Palace of the Popes was then occupied and plundered and used as a barracks. No furniture survives, and of the lavsh decorations, only a couple of chapels 

and a few of the Pope's private rooms.





However, nowadays you can be taken on a "virtual reality" tour of the Palace, where the furniture and decoration of all the main rooms is recreated for you. This will take probably a couple of hours, but it is time well spent.

Facing the papal palace is the baroque Hotel des Monnaies


   The Petit Palais, nearby, was remodelled in Renaissance style by Cardinal della Rovere, who later became Pope Julius II.
   Nowadays it contains a splendid museum and gallery, featuring Italian religious art of Julius II's period: the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

There are several other museums, which I didn't have time to visit. The Musee Calvet on the Rue  Josef Vernet is said to be particularly good.


The old city of Avignon is surrounded by its mediaeval walls and gates, but a modern boulevard has been blasted through from the Place de l'Horloge, where stands the Hotel de Ville and the Second Empire theatre, 
and runs southwards to the railway station. At the northern end, where it is called the Rue de la Republique, it is lined with open-air restaurants of all kinds; and further on, when it become the Cours Jean Jaures, you will find the main shops. To the west of the boulevard there is still a maze of narrow streets, where there are a great many small restaurants, shops, churches and museums.



Interestingly, an attempt is being made to revive the local Provencal tongue, with dual-language street names.


There is also a splendid modern building, les Halles (the market), with a green ecological exterior.


It contains excellent stalls selling food and drink, and in this case spices

A good way of seeing Avignon is to board the little street-train for tourists, which departs from near the papal palace. The trip round the streets takes about 45 minutes, with a multilingual commentary, and I thought it was good value.  


Sunday, 2 September 2018

The Corbets of Moreton Corbet

      Origins of the Corbet family.

The name Corbet is derived from the French “corbeau”: a raven, or crow (Old Scots: “corbie”). The family originated in Normandy, where they were followers of Roger de Montgomery, a great nobleman.
   Roger de Montgomery had not accompanied William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, but when in 1069 Shrewsbury was attacked by the Welsh, with the help of Saxon rebels, he was created Earl of Shrewsbury and put in charge there. He summoned “brave and loyal men” from his own lands in Normandy to help him. One of these was a man probably known as Hugo le Corbet, and his two sons Roger and Robert FitzCorbet. They were granted large numbers of manors in Shropshire.
   By the time the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, Hugh was dead, but Roger and Robert FitzCorbet were recorded as between them holding more than 40 manors in Shropshire under Earl Roger. The village that became Moreton Corbet was not one of these, however (see later).
An examination of a map shows how strategically important the FitzCorbets were, because Roger held a great swathe of manors immediately west of Shrewsbury and south of the Severn, with Roger’s manors further south.
In 1102 the FitzCorbets supported Robert de Belleme, the son of Earl Roger, when he rose in rebellion against King Henry I, but they were able to make their peace with the King and kept their lands; and the two brothers were still alive as late as 1121. Robert’s branch of the family soon died out in the male line; though his daughter Sibyl became one of Henry I’s numerous mistresses, and bore the king several children. But Roger’s family produced a great many descendants, of whom the principal male line became Barons of Caus, a castle in the thinly-inhabited hill country south-west of Shrewsbury, near the modern border with Wales. (The first reference to the castle was in the 1130s. It can be found on a map west of the B4386 road from Westbury to Worthen. It was destroyed by Parliamentary forces in 1645, though there are still some impressive earthworks. The site is not open to the public)




 Under Henry II, the Marcher Lordships were organised, which included Caus. The nobles who held these had special powers and privileges to deal with the danger of raids from Wales. Many of their castles, such as Ludlow, became very strong. Although Caus was only a minor lordship, with a relatively small castle, we know that Roger Corbet, Lord of Caus, refused to pay a special tax in 1159, and again in 1165, on the grounds that his predecessors had never had to pay such a tax in the past! 
In 1298 Sir Peter Corbet, Baron of Caus, serving the King at the Battle of Falkirk, is recorded as bearing the distinctive Corbet coat of arms: a black ravens on a gold shield (In heraldic terminology, “Or, a corbyn sable”). Because no two men could bear identical coats of arms at the same time, other branches of the family had coats with two, three or even six ravens.
Sir Peter’s son, Sir John Corbet, died without male issue in 1347, and the Barony of Caus became extinct.


           Moreton Corbet

The village which is now Moreton Corbet appears in the Domesday Book as part of the vast territories granted to Roger of Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury. His tenant in Moreton was a Saxon called Thorold, who held several local manors, and under him the manor was held by two Saxon brothers, Hunning and Ulviet, who had been there since before the Battle of Hastings.
The Domesday Book records:-
“They were free men. 1 hide pays tax. There is land for 2 ploughs. There are 5 slaves and 1 smallholder. In the reign of King Edward it was worth 10 shillings; now 16 shillings” (A hide would have been between 60 and 120 acres, depending on the quality of the soil)
By the start of the 13the century Moreton was held by the family of FitzToret (or Turet) and was commonly known as Moreton Turet. In 1215 Bartholomew FitzToret joined the rebellion which forced King John to sign Magna Carta. When John died the next year, leaving only his 9-year-old son to become Henry III, many of the barons thought that Louis, the younger son of the King of France, would make a much better King; but England’s greatest warrior, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, stayed loyal to Henry, and defeated and drove out the French at the Battle of Lincoln. Bartholomew had supported the rebellion, and forfeited Moreton as a result, but it was soon returned to him.
   About this time, Sir Richard Corbet held the manor of Wattlesborough as a fief of the barony of Caus. He married Joanna, daughter and heiress of Bartholomew, thus acquiring Moreton, which eventually became known as Moreton Corbet. But for a long time it was not the family’s principal residence in Shropshire, and they also owned land in many other counties. By 1289 their grandson, Sir Robert Corbet, was important enough to be appointed Sherriff of Shropshire, and then Member of Parliament in 1290 and 1295.


             Moreton Corbet Castle

   Western Shropshire was a dangerous place in the Middle Ages, with constant raids backwards and forwards across the Welsh border, as well as occasional major campaigns. The area thus contains a large number of castles; some large, but most just small motte-and-bailey affairs. Moreton Corbet castle was probably built in the 12th or early 13th century. It was most likely to have been a fortified manor-house rather than a real castle, though it may have had a moat. Certainly it was never under serious attack at this time. (A very splendid example of a fortified manor-house on the Welsh borders can be seen at Stokesay). There would also have been huts for the villagers, though no trace of these remain. A chapel was consecrated at Moreton around 1140, by Bishop Clinton, who also founded Buildwas Abbey on the Severn.


              The later castle

The Corbets of Moreton Corbet managed to comethrough the Wars of the Roses unscathed. They were Yorkists, and Sir Roger Corbet was made a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Edward IV’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, in 1465. His son, Sir Richard, fought for King Edward at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 and was knighted on the field. He attended the coronation of Richard III in 1483, but when Henry Tudor landed in Wales to claim the throne two years later, he followed his relative Sir William Stanley in changing sides. He paid homage to henry at Shrewsbury, and led 800 Shropshire men at the battle of Bosworth. Later, he helped to put down a rebellion in the north in 1489, and died three years later. His son, Sir Robert, then managed to avoid entanglement in the rebellion of Perkin Warbeck in 1495, which led to Sir William Stanley being executed for high treason.
By the dawn on the 16th century, the family were rich and influential gentry. As was expected of people of their class, they played their part in governing Shropshire as Justices of the Peace, sheriffs, officers of the county militia and Members of Parliament. The Welsh border country became peaceful: Wales was incorporated into the English system of government by an Act of Union, and the powers of the Marcher lords were abolished. There was now no need for fortifications in Shropshire. Instead the Corbets decided to display their wealth and importance by building themselves a home in the latest style.
The castle today owes its current appearance to Sir Andrew Corbet (died 1578) and his successors. Sir Andrew enlarged the gatehouse, 




improved the east range and built a Great Hall. The inspiration may have been his son, Robert; a traveller who had been to Italy and probably brought back news of the new fashions in design. But sadly, Robert died of the plague in London in 1583, and his brother Richard succeeded to the property. He then pulled down part of the Great Hall for new modifications, including on the upper floor a Great Chamber, Parlour and Gallery. 
   It appears that the work was never completed. William Camden, writing at the start of the 17th century, tells us:-
“Upon the same river Roden appears Moreton Corbet, a castle of the Corbets, where, within the memory of man,  Robert Corbet, to justify his curiosity in architecture, began a noble building, much more large and splendid than the former (viz: the castle); but death countermanded his designs, took him off, so his project was left unfinished.”

Disaster overtook Moreton Corbet in the Civil War. Most of Shropshire was held by gentry and nobles loyal to the King, including Sir Vincent Corbet, and the only town supporting the Parliamentary cause was Wem.  But in 1644 Prince Rupert took many of the Shropshire royalist troops to Yorkshire. Few returned from the disaster at the battle of Marston Moor, and the Parliamentary forces at Wem were able to strike out. A contemporary source, “Jehovah Jireh, or England’s Parliamentary Chronicle”, tells us that:-
“In September 1644, Major Bridgeman, Captain Maurice and their brave force, captured Moreton Corbet castle with resolute and desperate service: one man lost and some few wounded”. The castle was badly damaged, there was a fire, and a royalist counterattack was beaten off.




Sir Vincent had not been present at the fight, but as a committed royalist who had raised local forces for the crown, he was fined the very large sum of £1588, with additional penalties of £80 per year. This put him to such financial straits that he was obliged to sell of much of his land. He and his descendants ceased to live at Moreton Corbet, (though they could still be buried there); the family home in Shropshire now being at Acton Reynald, a short distance away. Sir Vincent died in 1656.
His son, another Sir Vincent, benefited from the restoration of the monarchy to the extent of being elected M.P. for Shropshire in 1679. Moreton Corbet castle it was left in the hands of a steward and allowed to decay further. In 1690 it was conveyed to John Kynaston, whose wife is buried there. Their son, Corbet Kynaston, was a notorious Jacobite, who was suspected of the 1715 rising; though of course the rebels never got anywhere near Shropshire. More seriously, he piled up enormous debts, which greatly exceeded his assets when he died in 1740. The situation had still not been sorted out six years later, and eventually an Act of Parliament had to be passed to allow his estates to be auctioned off.
   It was this which enabled Moreton Corbet to be bought in 1748 by a relative, Andrew Corbet of Shawbury Park. When his great-nephew, another Sir Andrew, inherited the estate in 1796 he drew up plans to restore the castle, but never put them into effect: instead an artist, Thomas Girtin, was commissioned to depict the buildings.



 In 1897 the castle was described as “a noble pile of ruins”. Today it is under the care of English Heritage..

...............................................................................................................

                           Timeline
.
1066   Battle of Hastings
1070   Roger de Montgomery made Earl of Shrewsbury, and brings members of the Corbet family to Shropshire
1086   the Domesday Book has Roger and Robert FitzCorbet holding manors in Shropshire under Earl Roger. Moreton is held, under Earl Roger, by Thorold, a Saxon
13th Century    The Corbet family inherit Moreton through marriage
1298   Sir Peter Corbet is recorded bearing the distinctive Corbet coat of arms.
1512   Robert Corbet of Moreton Corbet, a rich and well-connected gentleman, dies and is given a magnificent tomb
1529   Roger Corbet a Member of Parliament (again, 1536)
1547   Andrew Corbet knighted. He begins the lavish rebuilding of Moreton Corbet castle
1624   Andrew Corbet M.P. for Shropshire (again, 1628)
1644   Moreton Corbet stormed and badly damaged in Civil War. Sir Vincent Corbet is fined a huge sum and is forced to sell off much of his lands. The family cease to live at Moreton Corbet.
1748   Moreton Corbet bought by Andrew Corbet of Shawbury

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Origins of the Second World War, part 1: Mussolini Upsets the Applecart!

Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, but it took him 18 months to establish a single-party dictatorship. Meanwhile the leaders of Europe looked on tensely. Anyone who had read "Mein Kampf" or listened to his speeches knew that Hitler was a man given to violent words; but what foreign policy actions would he attempt now that he was in charge?
   Mussolini for one was not overimpressed. He had seized power in Italy a decade earlier and considered himself to be very much the senior figure in the Fascist hierarchy: indeed at the time of his Beer Hall putsch in 1924 Hitler had been little more than a carbon-copy Mussolini, and an unsuccessful one to boot. When the two dictators met for the first time at Venice in June 1934, Mussolini told his friends, "This fellow Hitler's wrong in the head!", and instructed his soldiers to parade before the German fuhrer unshaven and in unpressed uniforms, to indicate his contempt.
   Between Germany and Italy lay the small state of Austria. In February 1934 Chancellor Dollfuss, guided by Mussolini, had destroyed the Socialist party and established a dictatorship. Then on July 25th Dolluss was murdered by a group of Viennese Nazis. It is most unlikely that the murder had been ordered by Berlin, but the intention of the killers was certainly an Anschluss: union between Austria and Germany. But Mussolini far preferred a small buffer-state between himself and Germany, and furthermore he had his own fears for Italy about such talk; for at Versailles Italy had been given the Trento, between Lake Garda and the Brenner pass, which was inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans. So he moved his troops up to the Austrian frontier, and Hitler was obliged to stand by passively while in Vienna Schuschnigg, Dollfuss's successor, restored order. 
  So after two years in power, Hitler's only international success was an entirely legal and peaceful one, when in January 1935 the Saar held a referendum on its future (as was decreed by the Treaty of Versailles) and voted overwhelmingly to return to Germany.

   The Western leaders,especially the French, deduced from this that Mussolini could be a useful check to Hitler's ambitions. And although Hitler made no aggressive moves in foreign policy, his words continued to be unsettling, he continued to rearm Germany, and in March 1935 he announced the start of military conscription; a clear breach of the terms of the Versailles Treaty. In consequence a great international conference was held at Stresa in April, hosted by Mussolini and attended by the leading statesmen of France and Britain. The document which emerged, the "Stresa Front", committed the three powers to resist any attempt to change European frontiers by force. At the same time, France signed a pact with the Soviet Union. Hitler appeared encircled and, with luck, tamed. But Mussolini decided to have a war.

Mussolini had no economic reason for starting a war. Italy already had an empire, in Libya, which was run at great cost and at no economic gain (oil had been discovered there, but Mussolini made no attempt to exploit it). Any rational calculation would have shown that Italy was simply not strong or rich enough to be a Great Power: she could follow Germany, or the Anglo-French entente, but could not stand on its own. In the First World War, she had chosen the latter option. But Mussolini, who had the soul of a tabloid journalist, was annoyed at Hitler increasingly supplanting him in the headlines, and wanted to grab some of the attention. Also, he approved of violence per se;  he regretted that the Italian people showed little enthusiasm for war, and was determined to remedy it. At the Stresa meeting he was given the impression that France, and perhaps Britain as well, might turn a blind eye to any adventures he undertook in East Africa. 

 Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) was Mussolini's target. The country was the only independent state in Africa. It was ruled by its Emperor, Haile Selassie, and was a member of the League of Nations. Before the First World War the Italians had gained two adjactent coastal territories, Eritrea and Somaliland, but an attempt to conquer the country had been disastrously defeated at the battle of Adowa in 1896. There was thus a national humiliation to be avenged. 



Well before Mussolini embarked on his invasion of Abyssinia, it must have been obvious to all that something aggressive was being planned. Preparations had begun as early as 1932, and the buildup in armaments passing through the Suez canal could not be concealed. In December 1934 a clash over a disputed frontier at Wal Wal, an oasis in the middle of nowhere, provided a pretext for war. In June 1935 Anthony Eden, then a junior Foreign Office minister, went to Rome to try and sort out the looming problem. In order to keep Italy onside against Hitler, Britain offered to support territorial concessions in Abyssinia, but there must be no invasion. Mussolini rejected the offer: he wanted a victorious war, not mere adjustment of frontiers. The British position was complicated at this stage by a government reshuffle that introduced Sir Samuel Hoare as Foreign Secretary. Then in October the Italian invasion began. 
   This was a test for the League of Nations. A few years earlier, the League had failed to act when the Japanese invaded Manchuria. Hoare now demanded action, and the League duly imposed sanctions on Italy. But these were unlikely to be effective, at least in the short term. Two of the world's strongest economic powers, the United States and Germany, were not members of the League. The U.S.A. refused to get involved at all, and Hitler was of course delighted to see a breach in the Stresa Front. British Foreign Office expertise was divided between those who wanted a strong response and those who feared driving Mussolini into the arms of Hitler. Many old Conservatives had always admired Mussolini; Churchill himself being one of their number. There were also strategic considerations: in the First World War, both Italy and Japan had supported theAnglo-French entente; but what if both these powers were hostile in a future conflict with Germany? As it was, the sanctions imposed did not include oil, nor was the Suez Canal closed to Italian shipping. 
   Probably the hope was that Mussolini would get bogged down in an Abyssinian war which dragged on for years. But, with the use of aerial bombing and poison gas against weakly-armed native forces, the Italian armies swept deep into the country. The British Foreign Office devised a plan to end the war: part of Abyssinia would be given to Italy, with Haile Selasse left ruling a rump state with access to the sea through British Somaliland. Hoare took the plan to Paris in December 1935, where the French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval welcomed it, and Mussolini seemed prepared to accept it. 
   But then something unexpected happened. Somehow the plan was leaked to the press, and provoked a chorus of popular outrage in Britain. The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin,was forced to repudiate it, Hoare resigned and was replaced by Eden. But the British government was not prepared to risk any tightening of sanctins or military action. The invasion continued, and in May 1936 Haile Selassie fled and Mussolini proclaimed his sovereign, King Victor Emmanuel III, Emperor of Abyssinia.  Haile Selassie gave a dignified address to the League of Nations at Geneva, where the Italian delegates attempted to howl him down.
   Mussolini's propaganda argued that he was bringing civilization to a primitive country where slavery was still practised; being supported in this by the likes of Evelyn Waugh. He also pointed out, with justice, that Britain and France had conquered huge empires in Africa less than a century earlier, so their criticism was sheer hypocrisy. It could be argued that Mussolini was guilty of no more than anachronism; but anachronism is a serious offence. The age of empre-building had passed.


   The result of the debacle was, for Britain and France, the worst of all possible worlds. The League of Nations was now entirely discredited as a force for peace, and was henceforth an irrelevance. The big winner was, of course, Hitler. He was delighted at the rift between Italy and the Anglo-French entente, and was convinced of the weakness of his enemies. In March 1936 he took the enormous gamble of reoccupying the Rhineland with his army, a clear and threatening breach of the Treaty of Versailles, in the expectation that he would face no military response. His generals were very nervous, but he was proved right. As Mussolini increasingly fell into his pocket, he was emboldened to take greater and greater risks. The countdown to the Second World War had begun.  

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Osborne House; the Isle of Wight,

When Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, were looking for a private country home for their growing family, they found Osborne house on the Isle of Wight. The Queen already knew the island, and the growing railway network meant that it could be easily reached from London. 
Osborne is situated near the north-east coast of the island, between Cowes and Ryde. It was then a three-storied brick and stone house, built in the late 18th century. Victoria and Albert visited the house in 1844 were delighted with its setting. Victoria bought the estate from her Privy Purse for £28,000, and Albert threw himself into rebuilding the house in Italian style and extending the estate by purchasing neighbouring farms. Every year the family spent as much time as possible.
   The result of Albert's labours is a magnificent spectacle.


The terrace is laid out in formal Italian style. 


It looks out north-east, down a broad walk to the sea, with Portsmouth visible on the far side of the Solent.

Inside, the house has been restored and repainted much as it was. The widowed Queen preserved Albert's dressing and writing room absolutely unchanged; even to the extent of having hot water brought there every morning! But Albert's collection of Italian Renaissance art is now in the National Gallery and other museums, and most of the paintings on display are of the 19th century. I was particularly amused by this vast allegorical fresco on the main staircase: "Neptune Resigning the Empire of the Seas to Britannia"

Facing it is a near-lifesize statue of Albert as a classical warrior: a birthday present from the Queen.


Some distance away in the grounds is the Swiss Cottage, which Albert built for the royal children in 1854.
 Here they were given garden-plots to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables with their own hands. There are also miniature fortifications, where Bertie (the future King Edward VII) could play at soldiers. Nowadays the house is a museum, housing the family's collections of natural history and of fascinating folk-art from all over the Empire.


After Albert's premature death in 1861 Victoria and her children continued to spend much of their time at Osborne. The Queen spent many years in virtual seclusion, where her closest confidant appeared to be her Scottish ghillie, John Brown. Towards the end of her life she became fascinated with all things Indian: she retained two Indian personal servants, and the Durbar wing was built in the 1890s.
   The Durbar Room has a ceiling of moulded plaster, cast from moulds constructed by an Indian craftsman, Bhai Ram Singh, under the direction of Lockwood Kipling, the father of Rudyard. Ram Singh also designed the doorknobs and the chairs.


The corridor to the Durbar Room features portraits of Indian princes and ladies in full regalia.


Queen Victoria died at Osborne in January 1901. In anticipation of her death, many of her family had assembled there, including her grandson, the Kaiser William II of Germany. But the new King, Edward VII, had no use for the house, and it was used as a convalescent home for army officers. In 1954 it was opened to the public, and in 1986 was taken over and run by English Heritage (from whose excellent guidebook most of this information has been taken).

Monday, 23 July 2018

Travel: Arles and the Camargue



Almost fifty years ago I drove down to the south of France with a friend, in his little Morris Minor convertible, painted bright orange (this was the 1960s, after all!). We ended up in a youth hostel in a village called Salin-de-Giraud, very near the coast in the Camargue.  Some days we spent in the sea, but we also went on a trek with the famous white horses, we visited Arles and Nimes and the Pont du Gard aqueduct, and the village of Les Baux-en-Provence. Salin-de-Giraud had its own little arena for bullfights, but they couldn’t afford to kill the bull; instead they merely provoked it to charge and vaulted to safety over a wooden barrier. Occasionally the bull leapt over the barrier after them, causing confusion.
I liked Arles so much that I booked it for our honeymoon. The Ballet Rambert were performing in the Roman theatre, and were staying at our hotel. In the afternoon all these fit young men with bulging thigh muscles would appear at the swimming pool. We walked round the town and took a bus through the Camargue and down to the coast at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. This summer I returned to Arles after a long break.

Arles is an ancient city, dating back to Roman times, when it was named Arlete Sextanorum. It retains a well-preserved Roman theatre and arena.


 But I found this summer that, unlike on previous visits, we now had to pay to look at the theatre. It was expensive to visit the arena, and I’m sure you are no longer allowed to walk round the top. From the late Roman period comes the Alyscamps; a Christian burial site which is now reduced to a tree-lined lane of tombs.

 The most famous relic from the early Middle Ages, Saint Trophime church, where Frederick Barbarossa was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1178, was just as I remembered. There is a splendid west front, featuring a Last Judgement,
 but what I like best are the cloisters, which contain wonderful carvings on the capitals.

Nowadays, Arles makes much of its links with Van Gogh. His room has been recreated, and also the gardens of the asylum where he stayed. One can see what he meant about the wonderful light in the region.


South of Arles is the Camargue; a roughly triangular area of swampy land, some of which has been drained for farming (including some rice paddies), while the rest remains a wilderness of marshes.
 Here you can see the famous white horses,
 flamingos if you are lucky,
 and the black cattle whose bulls fight in the arenas.

 On the coast is the little town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where Van Gogh painted the fishing-boats on the beach;
 and which is now a seaside resort. The name is plural, because a whole boatload of saints are said to have landed here. The church has a collection of charmingly na├»ve paintings of residents who have been helped by the saints.

A new site for me was Aigues-Mortes, the port from where Louis IX (Saint Louis) set sail on his ill-fated crusade in 1248. The sea has now retreated, and what is left is a time-warp: a charming little mediaeval walled city, whose sole remaining function is tourism.



 Nimes, on the western edge of the Camargue, is famous for its massive amphitheatre 
and a well-preserved Roman temple, the Maison Carree. 


It also now has a marvellous new museum, which currently houses a superb display related to gladiators. Sadly, not a single booklet or postcard was offered for sale!

Finally we visited the Pont du Gard; the enormous Roman aqueduct across the river north of Nimes. I would have to say it was a touch disappointing. Half a century ago we visited it for free, and walked along the top. Now we found an elaborate visitor centre, fifteen coaches full of tourists, expensive tickets, and certainly no access onto the aqueduct itself. One can only say: that’s progress!