St.Rémy de Provence (Population: 9,429), situated on the Northern slopes of the Alpilles, is one of the "must-sees" in the Provence. The main reason is without a doubt Vincent Van Gogh, who produced more than 150 paintings of the countryside surrounding Saint Rémy, including the "Vase avec Iris" (Vase with Iris). Many of the places painted by the artist can be rediscovered, the wild flowers, olive trees, cypruses, the Alpilles - and, sadly enough, the room in the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum where Van Gogh stayed from May 1889 to June 1890. Were it not for Vincent van Gogh and his paintings St.Rémy de Provence would be just another historic town in France. Wonderfully restored town houses, the main church, the shops and the weekly market. Pleasant and from a local historian's point view even remarkable but not extraordinary. But because of Vincent van Gogh a whole aura has been created around St.Rémy de Provence.
So let's view some of the sights in town, than move a bit to the outskirts and visit the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum and, practically next to it, one of the most important Ligurian-Greco-Roman excavations in France, the ruins of Glanum.
Start by parking the car in front of the tourist office and walk into the old town. You will pass by Chapelle Notre-Dame de Pitié, a beautiful 16th century church now housing the works of the painter Mario Prassinos. In town you find many shops, art galleries and restaurants. View église Saint-Martin, built 1122 and subsequently enlarged various times until it collapsed in 1818. Today's structure is Greek-Revival dating from 1821, except the 14th century bell tower. The remarkable organ and a wonderful acoustic of the church is the foundation for the "Festival Organa" each year, where the best organ players in the world perform. Concerts take place every Saturday in July, August and September at 5:30 PM and they are free.
Next we visit the Hôtel de Sade, a nicley restored town house, where the Musée Archéologique is housed with many pieces found at Glanum. By the way, the infamous Marquis de Sade was only a very distant relative of the de Sade family in St.Rémy. In the Hôtel Mistral de Montdragon we find the Musée des Alpilles with its interesting collection of Provence heritage and folk art. The Hôtel Estrine, a beautifully restored 18th century town house, houses the Centre d'Art Présence van Gogh, which holds periodic exhibitions of Vincent van Gogh's reproductions and contemporary art. To view the van Gogh originals you need to visit many museums around the world, especially the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
In Rue Hoche you find the house where Nostradamus was born in 1503. Michel de Nostredame was a Jewish-French physician (specialised in the plague), mathematician, astrologer and later in life a writer. Apart from a highly popular cookbook, the "Treatise on Cosmetics and Conserves", he wrote about astrology and prophecy. The latter brought him fame, influence and money, quite like todays Gospel and Wealth preachers in the US. Nostradamus lived most of his life in nearby Salon de Provence, where he died in 1566.
About 1.5 km from St.Rémy's town center towards the Roman excavations of Glanum we come to the 12th century priory of Saint Paul de Mausole, which means St.Paul near the Mausoleum - the mausoleum of Sextus in Glanum. Originally a Franciscan convent, the monastic buildings were converted in the 19th century to a mental asylum, where Vincent van Gogh incarcerated himself in May 1889 until June 1990, just before his death. This is the reason it is famous - van Gogh. The hospital is still in use today - the 'Clinique Van Gogh'. It is a serene place with an eerie air about it. Visit the beautiful cloister and upstairs van Gogh's bedroom and bath.
Further up the hill, quite close to Saint Paul de Mausole is Glanum, originally a Celto-Ligurian sacred site, one of the most important Roman excavations in France. Walk up the road, the Via Domitia, which lead in Roman times from Italy to Spain. You find the Arc de Triomphe and the Mausolée des Jules, known collectively as "Les Antiques" on the right side and the excavations on the left side. The mausoleum is a particularly well-preserved funerary monument dating from 30-20 BC. It was raised by the Julii family (an important Roman clan in the area) in honor of their ancestors. Its structure is quite unique in Roman architecture known today: a rectangular base with four magnificently sculptured sides, crowned by a double-entry triumphal arch on top and a small round temple with columns and a pyramidal roof sheltering the two Julii ancestors. The triumphal arch dates from around 20 AD. Its upper part, which had been destroyed, was restored in the 18th century when flat stone tiles were used to cover the top of it. The reliefs illustrating Caesar’s conquest of Gaul are reasonably well preserved. Crossing the road you find the excavations of Glanum, most are from Roman times 30 - 10 years BC. Buy one of the guidebooks at the entrance and walk through this extensive site, which is still being unearthed (since 1921). Archeologists think that the remains of Glanum probably represent a surface 6 or 7 times the size of the area that is uncovered at present. There are ruins of bath-houses, a sacred spring, temples and ordinary dwellings. Most of the smaller finds have been transferred to the Musée Archéologique in St.Rémy. From the top of the valley, near the ancient Gallic shrine, you have a wonderful view over Glanum, St. Rémy with the spire of St. Martin church and in the very far distance the outlines of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon.