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.
Karen, your potted history of Menerbes is fascinating to read and the accompanying photographs support the story beautifully. What an intriguing base to the tower/turret in the last pic and what an intriguing part of the world to set a work of historical fiction! I like the connection you’ve made to the layers in our writing. So true!
The history is in the details, Di, like the turret you mentioned. Much of the city before the siege exists in small sections. I’ve yet to find the 12th century church open. Just the research I’ll need to do for what I’m writing – and it’s mainly set today – is enormous. So I’m glad I’m not writing a work of historical fiction!
There is all that history you have told us about and all those lives lived and lost. The place fought over in the name of religion as many places are still today. But here today there is a lovely patisserie, and two people from the other side of the world who are able to stay and explore and buy delicious tarts and love the view without fear. And wonderfully write about the place so people all around the world can read about this small village. I wonder who will visit in another 200 years and what they will write about this place.
I love your thoughts on this post, Margaret! Who knows what the future of this village will be? It’s the lives of the people who have lived here that make it so interesting. I’m discovering this was and still is an artists’ village and was lived in by some very famous painters. Not to mention a chef!
Good on you doing all that research, now you have history to go with wonderful pick’s, I can sense a great tale emerging out of all of this.
I am enjoying the research, Sue. When I discover things about the history of this village amazingly they resonate with the present day story that is emerging from my writing. Either this place and I have merged on some deeper plane or the world hasn’t changed at all.
The idea of exploring a story, dreaming and uncovering more really resonated with me. Thanks for the tip, I’m going to use that in a story I’m developing at the moment. I love how the concrete world around us can be used to ignite creative ideas that can be used as metaphors in our writing.
The layers and metaphors are everywhere here, often in unexpected places. And writing continually, as I’m doing here, and having the space to think and dream, means they emerge almost effortlessly. It’s a very exciting way to write. The key is space: space to do nothing else but immerse yourself in it and the space to interpret and process what you discover.
What an incredible turret… I’d be scared to stand under it! It’s just mind-blowing how these buildings have been through so much and yet still they stand to tell their tale. I love Marg’s question about what visitors will think in 200 years time… Maybe they’ll spend their days seeking out the villa that Karen Whitelaw stayed in when she wrote her novel 🙂
The whole village is full of buildings with stories to tell, Jessie. You could spend your whole life here and still only scratch the surface. I loved Marg’s question that takes the village into the future, too. There’s a real sense here that the past and the future are in the present. Time isn’t linear. Thanks for reading!