There are traces of habitation dating back 30,000 years (no, I didn’t get too many zeros in it), but modern occupation dates back to the 5th century, when a monk moved into the travertine caves to create a monastery (Moustiers meant monastery in the Middle Ages). The Chapel of Notre Dame de Beauvoir half-way up the mountain was built on the site of a previous temple. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Moorish invasions caused the residents to retreat into the caves. The fortifications and houses still seen today date back to the 12th-13th centuries…. hardly old at all. LOL.
The first thing you notice when you arrive at Moustiers is the giant star hanging on a chain between the two mountains between which the village perches. There are various legends to explain this…. my favourite is that a crusader, imprisoned by the Sarrasins, vowed to suspend a star to Mary if he was released and returned home. The star has been replaced over the years….. this one is plated with gold leaf and measures 1.25 meters
Aside from the picturesque setting of Moustiers, the houses and chapels, the aquaduct and fountains,its proximity to Lac St. Croix and the Gorge de Verdon (France’s answer to the Grand Canyon) , the mountains to climb, the lavender fields that dominate the plateau, the village is renowned for its ceramics. This art too began in the Middle ages, due to the abundance of clay. At first the objects were in natural colours only, but an Itinerant Italian monk visiting in 1668 passed on the secret of using white enamel. When King Louis XIV ordered all gold and silver tableware to be melted down to fill the royal coffers, Moustiers ceramics became very popular at the European courts. Two centuries later, the trend died out as china and English ceramics became fashionable.
In 1927, Marcel Provence started up in Moustiers and thus began the restoration of the village as a great ceramic centre worldwide.
History lesson over……. one morning, Corinne and I( headed off to Moustiers… only about 15 miles or so from Riez. I’d been there during my first trip to France, and she knew I’d loved it. Although it was early spring instead of late autumn, the village had just the same charm…. the tiled roofs, the enticing path up the mountain (262 steps, but I haven’t climbed there yet). We drove into town on the narrow, one-car street and waited while a truck made a delivery to a small shop. As it is still not tourist season, we had to hunt for a restaurant open for coffee. There was little open parking…. in tourist season, it must be crawling with people. We wandered along the streets, looking in windows at the wonderful ceramics, stopping to listen to the stream gurgling down a small waterfall on it’s way into the village.
We found one large ceramic shop/souvenir shop open, and I was able to buy a few postcards, and also some gifts. The colours of the designs on the white, white background were only blue at first, then green, but now lots of colours are used. The traditional nymphs, birds and flowers are now augmented with more modern and diverse designs as well. There is a Faience (Ceramic) Museum as well, but that wasn’t open either.
As we needed to get back home for lunch and then a quilt gathering, we didn’t stop in the church this time……. but took the time to look at the 12th century bell tower. The church is in the Roman style, built on the site of an 8th century sanctuary.
I can’t say just what my favourite place in Provence is……. but after two visits, Moustiers Sainte Marie is still very high on my list….. there is so much more to see there…. so many paths still to explore.