Today we followed a fire trail along the foothills of the Luberon Mountains. It wasn’t exactly to suss out Peter Mayle’s old house but it we came across it, well . . .
About a kilometre from Menerbes I turned to look back. I was forcefully struck by how serious the fortress was. Not only was the old village on top of sheer cliffs on all sides, but the walls built on top of them were formidable. Other than some vague picture of marauding tribes it hadn’t occurred to me to find out what had actually happened here to warrant such security.
So I did some research.
Menerbes has been occupied since Neolithic times, and by the Gallo-romans from 200 to 100 BC. The religious hermit Castor, Menerbes’ Patron Saint, was believed to have founded a monastery on the site.
In the Middle Ages Menerbes’ story gets more interesting. The village by that time was accessed by two gates and thought to be impenetrable. At the beginning of the Wars of Religion, which started in 1562, Pope Pius V rewarded it for its loyalty to Catholicism.
But in 1573 the Protestants decided to intentionally antagonise the Pope by establishing a stronghold in Menerbes with 150 soldiers. Thus began the Siege of Menerbes.
For five years two months and eight days the Catholics bombarded the village. The citadel was hit with more than 900 cannonball, 14 tons of lead bullet and barraged by weapons that destroyed its towers.
The Protestants were wildly outnumbered. The Catholic force against them consisted of 1,200 horsemen, 800 sappers and 12 cannons. And if that wasn’t enough 12,000 soldiers later joined them. It was the longest siege in the Wars of Religion and cost the Pope a fortune.
On 9th December 1578 the Protestants came out of the citadel with flags flying, drums beating, and declared themselves undefeated. Don’t you love the attitude! It’s said they ran out of drinking water. The Catholics then reestablished themselves in Menerbes.
The longer we stay in Menerbes the more it reveals itself. All that history is still visible in the village. For the past week I’ve been walking around and although I’ve been looking hard I haven’t really seen it. I haven’t understood the meaning of what I’ve been looking at. The towers hadn’t just crumbled from age. Menerbes hadn’t always been Catholic.
The story is so much more layered than we can possibly see at first glance. Like writing. The more you explore, write and dream about a story the more you uncover. I’m certainly experiencing that first hand in my writing here.
But I still haven’t uncovered Peter Mayle’ house. I checked on google maps when we got home. We were on the wrong fire trail.