In the Luberon's picturesque towns and villages, I've been captivated by the towering structures that grace the skyline - the campaniles and clock towers and campaniles of Provence. These architectural marvels symbolise the heart of each community and serve as guardians of time and tradition.
Join me as we delve into the world of Provence's beloved campaniles and clock towers, discovering the history, significance, and fascinating anecdotes that surround these iconic landmarks.
The Campaniles of Provence
While exploring the Luberon region, we uncovered that Provence's iconic monuments go by several names. Let's delve into this fascinating linguistic journey:
un campanile (Campanile): This term has two distinct definitions:
- It refers to an isolated, often a bell tower, typically near a church. This usage is more prevalent in Italy.
- It also describes a lantern-like structure adorning the roof of a civic building, often housing a clock bell. This definition aligns more closely with the context found in Provence.
un beffroi (Belfry): A belfry is a municipal tower where sentinels kept watch during the Middle Ages.
une tour de l’horloge (or tour horloge, tour d’horloge - Clock Tower, Tower Clock): This term denotes a tower constructed with a clock on one or more faces, often all four sides. These towers are typically integrated into a church or a municipal building, such as a town hall.
This intriguing linguistic diversity showcases Provence's iconic monuments' rich heritage and history, making them even more fascinating to explore.
Sentinels of Symbolic Protection
Provence's campaniles and clock towers have long been regarded as more than mere structures; they are symbolic protectors of the villages they adorn. These belfries serve as watchful sentinels, offering physical and symbolic protection to the communities they oversee.
Keeping Time and Tradition
These towers are timekeepers at their core, their clocks faithfully ticking away the hours for generations. But their role extends far beyond timekeeping; they also act as the rhythmic heartbeat of the village. They announce not only the hours but also mark significant moments in the lives of residents, from religious ceremonies like weddings and funerals to natural events such as storms. In times of war or extraordinary circumstances, they have sounded the alarm, uniting the community in response to the call of duty.
A Tower for Every Purpose
These towers are as diverse as the communities they serve. You can see them atop Catholic parish churches, Protestant temples, town halls, former keep towers (as in Pertuis), or guarding city gates (as in Viens and Cucuron). Throughout history, they have adapted to their surroundings, taking on different forms and roles to suit the village's needs.
Clocks of Art and Elegance
Beginning in the 15th century, the clocks that adorn these towers became works of art in their own right. Adorned with ornate campaniles crafted from stone or wrought iron, they are practical and visually striking. Villages like Cucuron showcase stone campaniles atop their clocks. In contrast, others, like Saint-Michel-l'Observatoire, Manosque, and Ménerbes, boast graceful wrought iron designs that add a touch of elegance to their timekeeping.
The wrought iron campaniles crowning the village clock in Provence often draw inspiration from Italy. Their airy structure is designed to withstand the fierce Mistral winds without yielding. These intricately wrought iron cages resemble pieces of fine craftsmanship and house a bell within. Their metallic walls, shaped like bulbs or spheres and delicate as lace, are adorned with arabesques and scrolls, culminating in a weathervane or a simple cross rising above a metal pennant.
In Provence, four belfries are listed as Historic Monuments:
- Carpentras (Vaucluse)
- Caromb (Vaucluse)
- Courthézon (Vaucluse)
- Besse-sur-Issole (Var)
But of course, there are dozens of magnificent belfries to admire in Provence, and particularly in the Luberon: Ansouis, Ménerbes, Lacoste, Oppède-le-Vieux, Roussillon, Apt, Cucuron, etc.
My favourite bell tower with a wrought-iron campanile in the Luberon is the bulbous one at Lauris church.
A Name as Unique as Its Form
One of the most enchanting aspects of these towers is their names, which vary from one locality to another. Take, for example, Lourmarin's endearing nickname for its belfry, "la boîte à sel" or "the saltbox," a reference to its distinctive rectangular shape. These local monikers add character and personality to each tower, making them even more endearing to the communities they grace.
The clock towers and campaniles of Provence are not just architectural wonders but living testaments to the region's history, identity, and resilience. They remind us of Provence's enduring beauty and charm as they continue to stand tall. These guardians of time are more than guardians; they are the heartbeats of villages, marking the passage of time while connecting past, present, and future. So, the next time you encounter one of these majestic towers, take a moment to appreciate the rich history and vibrant culture they represent.
Plan Your Provencal Escape
Are you feeling inspired? It's time to plan your adventure in this captivating corner of Provence. Whether you're drawn to the lavender fields, the vineyards, or the charming villages, the countryside of Bonnieux and Lacoste promises a memorable escape. So, pack your bags and immerse yourself in this idyllic region's rustic allure and natural splendour – your Provencal adventure awaits!
Visit the tourist board website for the Vaucluse département.
All photos © French Moments