Aigues-Mortes was originally intended to be the principal port in the South of France. It was founded in 1246 by Louis IX, who used the Port as his base for two expeditions from the South of France to Cyprus and Tunis (where he met with his death). His son, Philip, took over from his father and commissioned Genoan engineers to build up Aigues-Mortes' famous fortified walls and grid-pattern streets. For a time the town prospered from the nearby salt beds. By the end of the 14th century Aigues-Mortes had become a back-water town, with its port area being swallowed up with silt. The town seems to have ambled through history up until the 19th century when it was rediscovered as a place to visit. Aigues-Mortes is now a mandatory stopping off point on any tour of Languedoc and the South of France.
Aigues Mortes tourism
We have been to Aigues-Mortes a couple of times and it is very pleasant to walk round the streets of the town, totally encircled by the fortified walls. Whilst some of the shops are a bit 'touristy', it is nothing compared to Carcassonne. There are supposed to be some good restaurants and bars to be found in Aigues-Mortes although I have to say that we didn't try any of them. We just took a picnic and sat on the grass lawn in front of the ramparts (see Best Picnic Spots in Languedoc for more information about picnic spots in Languedoc). Our boys loved looking up at the walls and seeing all the slits used for pouring boiling oil on attackers.
You enter the town through the Tour de Constance, a large fortress which once housed Marie Durand, a famous Huguenot woman who was imprisoned in the town for over 40 years, during the height of the supression of Protestantism by the Catholics.
The Salt Tower
The other piece of history that greatly impressed our kids happened in 1418, during the Hundred Years War. The town was seized by Burgundian forces allied to the English. A party of royalist forces from Armagnac tried to retake the town, but they were initially foiled in their attempts. However one night, one of the local inhabitants (probably bribed) opened up one of the small doorways in the heavily fortified walls. Once inside they slaughtered all the sleeping Burgundian forces. The victorious forces then stuffed all the dead bodies into the now-famous "tower of the salted Bourguignons" and layered them with salt so that they would not putrefy, but instead simple pickle in the tower.
Fete de Saint-Louis
Perhaps the best time to visit Aigues Mortes is during the Fete de Saint-Louis. Aigues Mortes really comes alive during this festival (see Fete de Saint-Louis for more information). For more information about festivals in Languedoc please read our article Best Languedoc Festivals
Aigues Mortes is situated on the edge of the Petite Camargue. The Camargue is famous for its white horses, black bulls and pink flamingoes. Read our article Petite Camargue for more information about bird watching, horse riding, canal boats and the Camarguis way of life.
Aigues Mortes tourism
We like Aigues Mortes, in fact we have included it in our list of the 10 Best sites in Languedoc. There is not a great deal to do here, except to mooch about the streets or have a drink and a meal at one of the many restaurants. But when the Languedoc sun gets very hot, it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in the shade of the buildings.