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Building the ramparts

Photo en noir et blanc du rempart Est depuis l’intérieur des fortifications. La zone semble en travaux.

Initiated by Saint Louis in 1240, and continued by Philippe III le Hardi and then Philippe IV le Bel, Aigues-Mortes and its ramparts were a symbol of royal power, and the only trading port in the kingdom of France for almost two centuries.

A strategic location

Aigues-Mortes was founded by Louis IX in 1240. It opened up the kingdom to the Mediterranean, providing a port of embarkation to the Holy Land and a trading port. This bastide, the most easterly in the Capetian Languedoc region, was placed at the head of a complex port complex, and between 1270 and 1300, Philippe III le Hardi and Philippe IV le Bel built a monumental wall around it, in accordance with the wishes of the holy king.

The fortification, 1,640 meters long, gives the city an almost unreal character, and helps us to better understand thestrategic importance of this region in the Middle Ages, the Capetian policy of centralizing power and the mechanisms involved in building the French state. A symbol of this royal power, Aigues-Mortes was the sole trading port of the French kingdom for almost two centuries.

détail de la peinture «Saint-Louis rendant la justice » du quadriptyque «la vie de Saint Louis» de Alexandre Cabanel au Panthéon : Saint-Louis sur son trône
Saint Louis rendant la justice (détail) de Alexandre Cabanel au Panthéon

© Hervé Lewandowski / Centre des monuments nationaux

In 1240, Louis IX embarked on a vast development project on the sandy coast of Languedoc. His plan was to provide France with a suitable port on the Mediterranean, protected by a city that would be the gateway to the kingdom, the guardian of port activities and the symbol of growing Capetian power.

To carry out this project, the king obtained from theabbey of Psalmodi, holder of most of the land in the region, a small portion of territory that gave him a window on the sea, between the possessions of Emperor Frederick and those of James, King of Aragon, lord of Montpellier.

Aigues-Mortes' neighboring territories

  • The Petit Rhône flows into the Etang du Repausset to the south of the town. It marks the boundary between the lands of the kingdom of France and Provence, which then belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by the powerful Frederick II of Hohenstaufen;
  • Upstream, on this same branch of the Rhône, lies an ancient port, Saint-Gilles, which happens to be the family cradle of the Counts of Toulouse, against whom Philip Augustus launched the only western crusade, the Albigensian Crusade: the creation of Aigues-Mortes short-circuited the economy of the powerful prince Raymond ;
  • To the north, the barons of Nîmes took up the cause of their Toulousian ruler, and for this reason found themselves at odds with the Capetian, who set up the seneschal headquarters in Beaucaire rather than Nîmes;
  • Finally, the territory of Eaux-Mortes marks the limit of the territories of the lord of Montpellier, who since 1204 has been the king of Aragon...

The founding of Aigues-Mortes in this geopolitical context must be understood as an affirmation of Capetian power.

Costly work that lasts

The agreement with the monks had not yet been signed, and the king was still laying the foundations for the site's first monuments. Between 1240 and 1248, the royal buildings were built at great expense, with materials and labor imported, as the area was then empty of people and lacked the stone needed for construction.

To attract a large population, the king granted a particularly generous charter of privileges in 1246 , giving Aigues-Mortes a civic organization in the form of a consulate.

The first building completed by Louis IX was the dungeon-tower defending the castral complex. The castle, whose construction was undertaken at the same time, was destroyed in 1421, at the height of the struggle between Armagnacs and Burgundians. It was later rebuilt, before finally giving way in the 17th century to the logis du Gouverneur. Originally, the tower and château were defended by a moat, of which only part of the ring moat surrounding the tower remains, and by a wooden palisade.

Louis IX wanted to equip his city with ramparts to protect it both from potential enemies and from the winds that were piling up sand in the streets. To this end, in 1266 he obtained authorization from the Pope and neighboring lords to levy a tax on all goods passing through the city. This led to the creation of the "denier per livre" tax (0.004%).

Photo noir et blanc de la porte de la gardette et de la tour de Constance en arrière plan. des arbres sont nouvellement plantés, la zone est en travaux
Porte de la Gardette et tour de Constance

© Reproduction Benjamin Gavaudo / CMN

Louis IX, who died on crusade in Tunis in 1270, did not have time to see his project through. Work on the enceinte began two years after his death. Philippe III le Hardi entrusted the task to the Genoese Guillaume Boccanegra, who undertook the construction in return for the port tax. But Boccanegra died in 1274, when work had barely begun, and his heirs gave up on continuing their father's work.

In 1278, Philippe III added the construction of a stone quay along the channel he had cut through the town, now known as La Peyrade, in order to reduce the distance between the anchorage for ocean-going ships and the town. Work proceeded slowly, and Aigues-Mortes was still an open town whenCatalan admiral Roger de Lluria 's ships attacked the port in 1285 , seizing the ships at anchor and their merchandise. It was undoubtedly this painful episode that accelerated the project.

Aigues-Mortes reaches its maximum extension

The completion of the defensive complex was therefore at the very end of the 13th century, or at the very beginning of the 14th century. The duration of the undertaking is explained by the scale of the work: the aim was to enclose, in an almost perfect rectangle, not only the fledgling town, but also a portion of land left vacant, housing gardens, a cemetery and an arsenal.

The enclosure extends over a length of 1,640 meters. The curtain walls rise to around 11 meters and are almost 3 meters thick. The towers (five), large gates (five) and small gates (five) along the perimeter rise an average of 18 meters above ground level.

plan en 3 dimensions du rempart et des monuments de la ville d’Aigues-Mortes
Plan du monument

© Centre des monuments nationaux

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