Place aux Herbes, Uzes, France, 2015 - Psychogeographical Portrait

Uzès is a town where people live and work, where the market is for locals - not just for summer tourists. Yet 50 years ago, the town was dying. All the old buildings were dilapidated and deserted, and no one wanted to live in them. Then the French government designated Uzès a historic town and a ville d'art, and invested money in its revitalization. One Uzétien said: "Here, inland and on the unfashionable side of the Rhône, there's something more authentic than you'll find on the coast".

Today all of approximately 10.000 inhabitants are enjoying every corner of the city but the Place aux Herbes, with its central location, is its hearth.

It is a typical medieval square, masterfully restored to show all of its greatness. It is lined with arches all around, filled with shades of plane trees, and cafes and restaurants for all possible tastes. Our first contact with the city was on this square. After a drive from Marseille airport we parked on the boulevard surrounding old city and walked true Rue Froment, marked with #02 on the map bellow. We entered the square under the archway full of the people having good time in the caffè on this sunny day. We were lucky to have accommodation just a steps away in the number 10 Rue Du 4 Septembre, #01 on the map.

House we stayed was built in 10th century and rebuilt in 14th! Architect owner bought it decade ago and injected new life in it. [ ]. Better starting point for exploration of the Place and city of Uzès is impossible to imagine.

Every morning we would wake up with the street sounds but not those we are used to. You are guessing right, no car traffic. With some exceptions. On Wednesday and Saturday square is hosting a market. First one with bread, sausage, fish, hunting knives, garlicky olives and extra virgin olive oil, fragrant herbs, pots of thyme-flavoured honey, flowers, cheese, list is endless. Just check the photos bellow. The weekend one is occupying square and all surrounding streets, selling all of the above and much more. Few hours of traffic in the morning to set up, few hours of everybody on the square and by 2 p.m., square is empty and clean. When it is not happening in front of your eyes it sounds like miracle.

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sociability
10
ceremonial
x
uses & activities
10
religious
x
access & linkages
10
social
x
comfort
10
residential
x
image
10
court yard
tourist value
10
with park
total
69
street, shopping




Photo, that this map is based on, is taken from the tower in La Duche [castle] and we will talk about castle and the square surrounding it when we describe Place du Duches also in our collection.

Photos bellow are marked on a map as an entrance points to the square. Four of them, #02, #03, #05 and #08, are actually invisible from the square itself. They are under the arcades surrounding whole place.

The last one #08 is entrance true one of the building facing boulevard, replacing the city walls, demolished in 18th century. #07 is tine little passage almost invisible but other three entrances, #01, #03 and #06 are slowly preparing users for the rich content of the Place aux Herbes.

One more curiosity, Place du Sabotier, see map above, is having separate name and completely different atmosphere, it is disconnected from the main square.

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Impact on the visitor entering this magnificent space under one of the arches is remarkable. Space suddenly opens up, it almost looks oversized compared to the whole city. All of the arches are extremely well used for restaurant or cafes patios, some of them are with very interesting shops. Most of them are with local products only, one more surprising fact in todays interconnected world. Name Herbes, means herbs - plants, obviously refering to the main function of the square, market.

Next few photos are probably describing atmosphere on this magnificent square better than words.

Red lines on the map are paths we took for this psychogeographical walk.

Short history of Uzes, if you are interested, is bellow the photos with links to more information about city and this square.

I visited so many squares all over the world, many of them quite well preserved and well used. This one is probably one that left the most impact. Above all vitality of the space itself preserved with smart politics.

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Of course as any other serious square this one also have its fountain, this one erected in October 1851 on the occasion connected to the Charlemaigne de Maupas, not really well liked person.
Before you leave this space few historic photos bellow, will give you an idea how well used this space was in the past. It will show you how space kept its authentic atmosphere over time and its historic significance.

You can also visit square in our collection with the same name, and similar function, market that disappears in few minutes after 2pm, Piazza dele Erbe in Padova, Italy. If you are interested in more photos from Uzès, we have gallery in our photoblog.

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Short History of Uzes

Uzès became important when the Romans who had a military camp or “castrum” there, took the water from the Eure spring in order to provide drinkable water to Nîmes, the regional capital, 55 kilometers away. They managed to do this by building an aqueduct with a sloping gradient over this distance from the spring to the town’s public buildings and homes. The Romans named the town “Utecia” and the world heritage site Pont du Gard was part of this amazing aqueduct system which is still standing after more than 2000 years and is 15 minutes from the town centre by car.

Fast forward to 419 AD, when it had its first Roman Catholic bishop and in 800 AD the town became an earldom.

In 929 AD it was placed under the House of Toulouse. In the Middle Ages there were 4 groups vying for political power – the King of France, the Bishop, the Lord and the Consuls giving rise to a turbulent period.

From the 11th century, arts and crafts and in particular the textile industry became part of a surge in economic survival and Uzès made very high quality serge (later known as “denim” from “de Nîmes”). Grapes and cereal crops as well as sheep became part of the region and the first town walls were built in 1148 as well as the Bermonde tower of the Ducal castle in 1170. All this was destroyed in 1177 by the Albigensian crusade.

Many of the buildings were altered in the 17th century and remain today. In the 18th century the town wall and ramparts were replaced by a promenade and other buildings such as the town hall were built. During the French Revolution, the castle or duchy was sold to a real estate agent who proceeded to sell it and it became a school.

The 11th Duke of Uzès eventually managed to buy back the duchy once the school moved in 1835 having been forced into exile.

The duchy was in a terrible state and although repairs were begun, tough economic times saw it being let for various purposes in the 20th century and occupied by the German army during World War 2. It was finally sold to the present Duke’s grandfather – the then Marquis de Crussol in 1954. It was, however, his grandmother, the Grand Duchess who was responsible for gaining a listing for Uzès as a “protected site” and it was the first town to benefit from this new French law. The present Duke- Jacques de Crussol d’Uzès, divides his time in the ducal castle between Paris and Uzès with the royal standard flying proudly to signify when he and his young family are in residence. The Duchy of Uzès, often called the First Duchy of France, is France’s oldest ducal peerage.

The Viscounty of Uzes was elevated to Duchy in 1565, and to the Peerage in 1572 by Charles 1X. Ever since then, the Duke of Uzes, 1st Peer of France, Count of Crussol, Prince of Soyons, takes precedence over all other noble houses of France, both in Parliament and at Coronations.

At Court, after the extinction of the Duchy of Montmorency under Louis XIII in 1632, only the Duchy of Trémoille, created in 1563 had precedence, until it became extinct at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Jacques de Crussol d’Uzes is the 17th Duke. The duchy can be visited every day except Christmas day – open from 10am and closed between 12 and 2pm of course!

The Eure spring source is still going strong and can be visited in the tranquil park lands surrounding the town and there are also remains of the original aqueduct although it is not formally signposted.

• Official Uzes web site

• Uzes first duchy of France

• Uzes wikipedia

• Official website of the Duchy of Uzes

• The secret side of south of France

• Discover Uzes

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urban squares initiative by aleksandar janicijevic is licensed under a creative commons attribution-share alike 2.5 canada license.

Last time updated on Friday, October 16, 2015, 6:28 PM