the old village

January 7, 2015

cupressus 1

The terraces in Oppède-le-Vieux hold a decent collection of native plants – all labelled with correct nomenclature and explanation for herbal or culinary use if applicable –  but it’s difficult to concentrate on these when the panorama is so splendid – the Luberon valley, Mont Ventoux and part of the Vaucluse  – like tiers of old stage flats punctuated with pencil slim cypress. Clients often express the misguided notion that trees will block the view but there are ways of planting trees to emphasise the view as shown here . . .

wall.2 jpg

These terraces are dedicated to Sainte Cécile. Flat plates of Umbilicus rupestris – navelwort – are springing forth now in the crevices not only here but in many dry stone walls in the area. Below is the site of the old threshing floor – aire de battage – now an angular foot print but originally it would have been circular so more practical for the tethered animal to do his or her circuit.

threshing floor 3

From here, the old village is seen spread across the north facing side of the Petit Luberon. The winter sun starts casting its shadow by midday so houses beyond the medieval ramparts are dark, humid and tricky to maintain apparently. The domination of the restored church of Notre-Dame-D’Alidon and the ruins of the castle are felt from a distance as well as within the village streets. I found it a charming and quirky place and many others have enjoyed it and settled here. Following the armistice of June 1940, architect Bernard Zehrfuss founded a commune of artists in the old town, a project that attracted French sculptor  François Stahly and the writer and artist Consuelo de Saint Exupéry. The commune proved short-lived but, interestingly, it was the basis for Saint Exupéry’s fictionalized account, published in 1946, called  ‘Kingdom of the Rocks’.

view to chateau

town hall

Looking at close up details, the clock and bell tower on the town hall and then at even more smaller scale . . .

knocker

figurine stutuette

. . . a statuette, religious of course, as the Popes, based in Avignon, dabbled religiously and relentlessly here. The main route up to the church and castle was the village street; access points of the wash houses and modest homes are still evident . . .

blocked up 1

blocked up 2

blocked up 3

 

chapel of white penitants

. . . they retain a theatrical  feel (like a discarded film set) of the past – very beautiful and evocative. In the 19th century, the inhabitants had enough and started to move down in the valley, dismantling the roof of their houses to stop paying property taxes. By the beginning of the 20th century, Oppède-le-Vieux was a ghost village and a new community was officially established in the valley, with larger streets, cosier houses and farmers closer to their fields – the new village – Oppède-les-Poulivets (“nice view” in Provençal),

The Chapel of the White Penitents is set half way up the stepped ramp path, beautifully laid, and then, in the full light at the summit sits the church (12C) and the medieval fortress.

church steps

Spacious steps with integrated landings below cantilevered gargoyles lead to a rocky unmanicured area where temporary safety fencing protects the castle – an engineered structure integrated within the natural environment. Work due to start in 2015.

gargoyle

chateau 2

chateau 1

chateau

chateau detail

A line of Renaissance villas line the north facing rock face – a mix of superbe, mysterious and the fairytale. Glamorous and expensive.

renaissance villas

villa detail

Sitting in the cemetery, something I do in a regular fashion, and looking beyond the walls, the tiers of vegetation – ivy in flower, Viburnum tinus in berry, olive, oak and pine gave me goosebumps. And then the surface of the wall, encrusted with stonecrop. Marvellous.

vegetation layers

cementary wall

Despite the open window in the room of long absence, the odor of the rose is still linked with the breath that was there. Once again we are without previous experience, newcomers, in love. The rose! The field of its ways would dispel even the effrontery of death. No grating stands in the way. Desire is alive, an ache in our vaporous foreheads.

One who walks the earth in its rains has nothing to fear from the thorn in places either finished or unfriendly. But if he stops to commune with himself, woe! Pierced to the quick, he suddenly flies to ashes, an archer reclaimed by beauty. René Char.

2 Responses to “the old village”

  1. Sinclair 3168 Says:

    All wonderful

  2. julia fogg Says:

    to return – an interesting village – packed with undercurrents


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