Bastille Day at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

14 July 2014

Monday


Feria du Cheval activities in the streets of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Feria du Cheval activities in the streets of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a charming beach town that, like Aigues-Mortes, is not spoiled by its touristic character. There are many restaurants and hotels, and a lively street life based around the tourist trade. There is also a lot of beach front here, which attracts a lot of families with children, who were taking the sun and playing in the surf. Without planning it, I happened to arrive at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer during the annual Feria du Cheval, with events from morning until late into the night associated with the horse culture of the region.

The pilgrimage church at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is Romaneque in spirit, but has a transitional vault of lancet arches.

The pilgrimage church at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is Romaneque in spirit, but has a transitional vault of lancet arches.

The Camargue is known for its white horses, which are very much in evidence wherever you drive in the region. There are numerous ranches and tourist businesses advertising horse riding. The Feria du Cheval puts the horses at center stage for several days, as well as the strongly Spanish-influenced culture of the region, which seems to go hand-in-hand with equestrian culture. Food, music, dance, and equestrian activities were all influenced by Spanish equestrian culture, though the language was always French.

The three saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe are the focus of devotions at the pilgrimage church.

The three saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe are the focus of devotions at the pilgrimage church.

In addition to the Feria du Cheval, it is also Bastille Day, symbolically recognized as the anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution, when on 14 July 1789 the Bastille, a prison and symbol of French royal authority, was taken over and occupied by the Bourgeois Militia of Paris (i.e., rioters), which had earlier the same day stormed Les Invalides for firearms, and now wanted the gunpowder stored at the Bastille.

Spectators gathered on the beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer waiting for Bastille Day fireworks.

Spectators gathered on the beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer waiting for Bastille Day fireworks.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer was packed and busy on Bastille Day, and as evening came people began to assemble on the beach. It seemed pretty obvious that a fireworks display was planned, as I had seen similar expectant crowds on the beach in my childhood at Seaside, Oregon, for the 4th of July fireworks displayed. Given that I began this journey the day after 4th of July, having seen some of the fireworks, I feel that I have come full circle in this particular voyage with the Bastille Day fireworks at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

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Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer fireworks display for Bastille Day.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer fireworks display for Bastille Day.

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