10 little stories about southern France

woman in white tank top and white skirt sitting on purple flower field

Discover all the historical and cultural wealth of southern France thanks to the 10 anecdotes of guide-lecturers to know absolutely and to share with family and friends. Well-kept historical secrets that only professional guides know how to tell and pass on during their guided tours.

But who is the Man in the Iron Mask?

L'Homme au Masque de Fer

Died in 1703, he would have lived the last 34 years of his life in prison, including 11 at the Fort de l’île Sainte-Marguerite in Cannes. He is the most famous prisoner in the world, and the mystery of his identity has never ceased to fuel the imaginations, including that of Voltaire: “We were ordered to kill him if he uncovered the mask, the chin bar of which had steel springs which gave him the freedom to eat with the mask on his face”. Since the 17th century, more than fifty identities have been lent to him, such as the twin brother of Louis XIV, his illegitimate son Louis de Bourbon or the superintendent Nicolas Fouquet.

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The Rhinoceros of the Château d´If

Le Château d'If

A long time ago, a rhinoceros stayed on the island of If in Marseille. This is the starting point for the construction of the famous Château d’If. In 1516, King Francis I, on pilgrimage to Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, learns that a rhino sent to the Pope by the King of Portugal is making a stopover in Marseille. Not knowing what to do with such an animal that had never been seen in Europe, the Marseille authorities installed him on the island of If. This is how François 1er, going to the island of If to hunt, discover the place and at the same time, the rhino that stays there, and, decides to build a fort in order to improve Marseille’s defenses: the Castle of If.

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When Van Gogh cuts off his ear

Van Gogh Provence

In 1888, in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh has launched his painting school which he wishes to develop with his friend Paul Gauguin. The two artists start to work together but do not share the same vision of art. Tensions turn into crisis and during a heated argument Van Gogh threatens Gauguin with a razor before turning the gun on him. He cuts his left ear off then goes to give it to a young employee (not a prostitute) from the neighboring brothel. Neat and restored, Van Gogh alternates crises and periods of respite. He finally decided to be hospitalized in the insane asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in May 1889..

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An exotic menagerie at the bottom of the secret gardens

Le Palais des Papes

Like other prestigious gardens of the time, that of the Palace of the Popes included a menagerie with exotic animals: lions, gorillas, ours, ostriches, peacocks…

It was to impress passing visitors and to illustrate the papacy’s ability to acclimate and domesticate, in short to rule the world. Beyond, these landscaped and cultivated gardens had a more concrete and utilitarian vocation. Contribute to the supply of kitchens (in effect, the peacock was a particularly popular bird at banquets)  and offer the Sovereign Pontiffs a healthy and pleasant space conducive to“body recreation” (body relaxation), conceived as a necessity by the papacy of the fourteenth century.

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The Angels of Nice

Visiter Nice

Nice is the number 1 destination on the French Riviera with its famous Baie des Anges. The name “Baie des Anges” is neither a tourist name such as the “Côte d’Azur”, nor a religious name as one might think in the first place. The angels of the bay of Nice are actually a species of sharks called angel sharks or angel sharks. (pei Angé and Nissart!). These harmless sharks living on the seabed had the bad habit of destroying fishermen’s nets. They were therefore easily exterminated. Today, thanks to the courage and foresight of man, the angel shark is one of thousands of critically endangered species.

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How was the plague?

Histoire de la Peste

Between 1347 and 1352, the black plague kills around 25 million europeans, including 7 million French, or about 40% of the population. Its exponential propagation is to be blamed on the rats that arrived from Asia on the merchant ships. The epidemic affected Marseille in 1347 then Avignon. Then City of the Popes, Avignon receives worshipers from all over Europe which contributes to the spread of the disease. The plague causes massacres of Jews throughout Provence believed to be responsible for the epidemic.

In 1720 the “Great Plague” spread from Marseille by a ship which did not respect the quarantine.. Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin decided to confine themselves by building a wall guarded night and day between the Durance and Mont Ventoux.

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When Monaco shrinks

Tourisme Monaco

In 1847, the Principality of Monaco was a territory of 24,5 km². Today, its area is 2,02 km², i.e. a loss of more than 90% of its territory. Indeed, the communes of Roquebrune and Menton formerly belonged to the Principality. The increase in taxes on agricultural exports from Menton (oils and lemons) is at the origin of the revolt of the two communes which are then attached to France in 1861 against the payment of 4 million gold francs. Having lost his farm income, Monaco is investing this money to transform itself into a luxury seaside resort by authorizing gambling which was then banned in France and Italy.

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When Caesar takes Marseille

Marseille Antique

In 50 BC, Pompey, then at the head of the Senate of Rome, accuses Caesar of treachery. Caesar then goes to war against the armies of Pompey in order to become the sole leader of the Empire.. Marseille, one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean already at the time, is faithful to Pompey. César, outraged by the Marseille position, organizes the siege of the city in 49 BC. C. The people of Marseilles, hungry, go, after two failed attempts to break the blockade, and, 6 months of siege. Caesar destroys the walls, burn the city, and withdraws his fishing rights. Marseille will then be saved by its neighbors, its colonies, and especially Greece, which sends him provisions, construction wood, workers and residents to replace losses.

Retrace the great adventure of the Greeks and Romans in Marseille with our visit to the Panier



But who is Fanny really??

Marseille Pétanque

The most famous ritual of pétanque is certainly that of the kiss on Fanny’s buttocks.. This ritual takes place when a team loses without scoring a point.: 13 – 0. The expression “kiss the old woman’s ass” dates back to the Middle Ages when a lord lost several battles. It is transposed to the game of billiards in the 18th century. The character of Fanny appears at the end of the 19th century at the Clos Jouve club in Lyon. A young Fanny Dubriand (called a little simplet, sale, frumpy and sleeping in the street) consoled the loser by showing him his buttocks against a coin, but did not accept kisses.

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The cave of Sainte Baume

Visiter Grotte Marie Madeleine

In the heart of the Sainte Baume mountain is the cave where Saint Mary Magdalene is said to have lived for the last 33 years of her life.. It is the most mystical place in Provence, protected by the monks who live in this mountain. Legend has it that Marie-Madeleine would have come to Marseille after arriving at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. She would have stayed there two years before following the Huveaune river to its source and living a hermit life alone in the cave.. When he died, Marie-Madeleine would have been buried in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. The tomb of Mary Magdalene is the third most important tomb in Christendom after those of Mary in Ephesus and Peter in Rome.

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