Gordes, Provence

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The village of Gordes is perched on a rock at 635 metres high, on the south flank of the Vaucluse plateau, above the plain of the Calavon River and in front of the Luberon. It is the most visited locality in the Luberon and enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year.


The Village of Gordes

The village of Gordes © Olivier Risnes

The village of Gordes © Olivier Risnes

Housing two abbeys (Saint Chaffret and Sénanque), the Saint Firmin palace, ancient paved streets, mills, chapels and washhouses, Gordes truly deserves the title of one of the most beautiful village of France. One can guess at the Celtic past of the village due to the presence of oppida at the top of the rock on which the village is now situated.

copyright-olivier-risnes-gordes-5

Gordes © Olivier Risnes

Many vultures and predatory birds can be seen and typical Mediterranean forests (with many oaks with truffles growing beneath) around Gordes will delight walkers and nature lovers. An interesting fact about Gordes is the average age of its population: it is above the French average because the youth often leave the village as soon as they are old enough to work. Gordes also used to have an important silkworm breeding industry as well as the usual Luberon activities around olive trees and leather. Finally, Gordes was one of the numerous headquarters of the ‘Resistance’ during the Second World War.


The Abbey of Sénanque

There are three renowned Cistercian abbeys in Provence: Sénanque, Silvacane and Thoronet. The Cistercians are a Roman Catholic order with very strict rules of obedience.

The abbey of Sénanque © Olivier Risnes

The abbey of Sénanque © Olivier Risnes

The abbey of Sénanque (Abbaye de Sénanque) in Gordes, was founded in 1148 and is still occupied by monks. It became prosperous so fast that in 1152 a second abbey was built in the Languedoc. This prosperity was mainly due to donations from the Simiane dynasty and from the Lords from Venasque. In the 14th century, the abbey went into a period of decadence during which the riches accumulated over the years were hardly compatible with the vow of poverty taken by the monks. In 1544, monks were hanged during the wars of religion with the monastery burnt down and the lay building completely destroyed. By the end of the 17th century, only two religious people remained in the abbey. During the French Revolution, it was sold as a national possession to a purchaser who not only preserved but consolidated the edifices. In 1854 the domain was bought by a clergyman and its original vocation restored: new buildings were built and 72 monks settled back there.

Sénanque Abbey © Jean-Marc Rosier – Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Nowadays several parts are open for the public to visit, such as the cloisters and the capitulary room (where the religious community gathers). A souvenir shop was opened at garden level to sell books.

The Cistercian monks came back to Sénanque in 1988. The Cistercian order is inspired by Saint Bernard de Cîteaux and strictly follows the Rule of Saint Benedict: isolation, poverty, simplicity, which is believed to be the only path to bliss. These values are translated into rough living conditions for the monks: service, prayer, pious reading and manual work. Rest periods are never over 7 hours, meals are frugal and to be taken in silence and the monks sleep fully dressed in common dormitories. The business of the abbey’s inhabitants is the cultivation of lavender from which they make extracts and honey; the monks also sell religious books as well as products from other abbeys, and of course the visits to the abbey are another source of revenue. Their main source of food is the vegetables they plant and they also offer hospitality to people wishing to share the prayer life of the community. Quite interestingly, there have only been two baptisms in the last century and only one wedding in the whole history of the abbey.


The Village des Bories

The village des Bories is 3 km away from Gordes and is composed of approximately 20 dry rock cabins for pastoral and agricultural seasonal use.

Gordes Village des Bories by Wolf Meusel, wikipedia commons

Bought and restored from 1969 to 1976 upon the initiative of Pierre Viala, the Village des Bories was classified an historical monument on 17 October, 1977. They were called “cabanes” in the Napoleonic era and only got the name “Borie” during the second half of the 20th century. The huts date back to the 17th and 18th centuries when the land on which they stand was cleared and a lot of rocks were discovered. Different types of remains were found: ceramics, money, bronze objects and flint. The Bories are made from flat limestone rocks between 10 and 15 cm thick called “lauses” or “clapes” in the local vernacular. Most of them were either seasonal or permanent homes or stables, barns, sheepfolds, henhouses, sheds, silkworm nurseries, etc. Their roles were essentially agricultural; this is indicated by their location on ancient olive and almond plantations and vineyards. They could have belonged to people that were not inhabitants of Gordes but who had land in the area nonetheless. The site is open for visitors.


Tourist Information Board of Gordes: http://www.gordes-village.com/html/index.html

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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