Pernes Les Fontaines

Michele Hanrath (April 2005)

If testing your physical endurance by cycling up the Mount Ventoux, one of the high points of the yearly Tour de France race, or just enjoying the scenery and history of the area, Pernes les Fontaines is a village to visit when in the Vaucluse.

Known for its 27 fountains, the village still has three of its original city gates standing and boasts of having 8 historical monuments. (I have since discovered that my booklet “Classe Monument Historique” only has a selected 100 items chosen for their variety of sites in the PACA area but there are many more!)

In Pernes les Fontaines, the site which drew my attention was the Tour Ferrande which houses a collection of well preserved frescos dating from the 13th century. The French websites call them the BD or bandes dessinees (comic strips) a popular term to describe the story telling attribute of these frescos. Two of the paintings’ subject matter is religious, St Christopher carrying the Christ child and the Virgin with Child. Then there is the mysterious scene which the historian Paul Deschamps was able to interpret when various inscriptions were found upon cleaning the frescos in 1960. The puzzling question being which was the battle and why was this particular battle portrayed on a wall in Provence. It was discovered that these tableaux depict a battle between Charles d’Anjou, the brother of St. Louis, against Manfred the son of Emperor Fredrick II who ruled over Sicily. In 1263 Pope Urbain IV offered the crown of Sicily to Charles d’Anjou. Thus the ensuing battle between the French troops and Manfred’s army, showing a specific fight between a French cavalryman against Manfred at the battle of Bénévent in 1266. Manfred’s body is then brought before the king. The grandson of Fredrick II, Conradin continues the fight and is captured and decapitated in Tagliacozzo in 1668.

Most likely these frescoes were commissioned by the Baux family to commemorate this battle fought by their ancestor Bertrand des Baux. The tower can be visited by contacting the tourist office of Pernes les Fontaines (04 90 61 31 04). They prefer to be notified a bit in advance. The cost is 2€ per person.

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