In addition to magnificent ancient ruins, abbeys and museums, Provence is home to many contemporary art foundations and captivating venues that collectively contribute to a buzzing cultural life.
Four UNESCO sites
Welcome to Provence
Provence is home to 4 of France’s 42 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Two of them date back to Roman times: the Théâtre Antique and Arc de Triomphe in Orange, and the Arènes d’Arles, bearing witness to the frenzy of building projects instigated by the Roman emperors in 1 AD. Avignon‘s historic quarter and the Palais des Papes – the residence of the Pontiffs in the 14th century – are also UNESCO sites. In 2008, the Cité Radieuse in Marseille, designed by Le Corbusier, was also added to the UNESCO list. Built from 1947 onwards, this housing complex comprising 337 apartments, nicknamed “The Madman’s House,” was not to everyone’s taste.
Must-see spots in Provence
Have you toured all of Provence’s Roman monuments? The Pont du Gard and archaeological sites of Vaison-la-Romaine and Glanum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, promise a fabulous voyage back in time. Skip forwards to current day by pushing open the doors to the Fondation Luma in Arles. Its tower, designed by architect Frank Gehry, is a truly visionary feat. Don’t miss Norman Foster‘s stainless steel canopy on the Old Port (Vieux-Port) of Marseille, or the Mucem – an iconic construction by Rudy Ricciotti bedecked with black steel lacework.
Intriguing Museums and tours
Discover the unexpected
The Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence exhibits a fabulous collection of works by Cézanne, who was born in the town in the first half of the 19th century. The must-do? A tour of his studio, set on the heights of Aix, for a full immersion in his world. Is contemporary art more your thing? Aix-en-Provence is also the cradle of the astonishing Fondation Vasarély, focusing on optical art. If you’re near the coast, head to the Villa Noailles in Hyères or the extraordinary Fondation Carmignac on Porquerolles island. There, tours of the Foundation are done barefoot!
The Sisters of Provence
An immersion in Cistercian times
The abbeys of Sénanque, Le Thoronet and Silvacane, nicknamed the Three Sisters of Provence, testify to the awakening of Christianity in the Middle Ages. Legacies of the Cistercian Order, they embody a spiritual and mystical face of Provence. Founded in the late 11th century and led by Bernard de Clairvaux, the Cistercian Order advocated an austere lifestyle, based around work and prayer – precepts that are clearly reflected in the uncluttered and even bare architecture of the Three Sisters of Provence.
Into the Age of Dinosaurs
From Haute-Provence to Aix
If you’re a dinosaur and prehistory fan, the Haute-Provence Geological Reserve in La Robine-sur-Galabre is home to the fossil of an ichthyosaurus – a shark-like marine reptile dating back 185 million years! While you’re there, stop off in Digne-les-Bains a few kilometres to the South, where you’ll find the Dalle aux Ammonites, a remarkable slab of rock containing over 1500 ammonite fossils over an area of 320m². What’s more, the world’s third-largest dinosaur egg repository, with around 300 specimens, is located near Aix-en-Provence. The eggs are around 72 million years old. The remains of eight Rhabdodons – herbivore dinosaurs – have also been unearthed nearby.
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