According to the tourist office brochure, as you approach the town of Uzès your first impression will be of “the three towers of power: ducal (Bermonde tower), royal (King’s tower) and religious (Bishop’s tower)”. Since there’s no train, we were taking the 45-minute regional bus from Nîmes and although that dropped us off at the edge of town, we were still only an 8-minute walk from the furthest point on our map. That gave us plenty of time to see all of the sites, have lunch with one of our blog readers, and even discover a fourth tower, the only one like it in France. This officially-designated “City of Art and History” (Ville d’Art et d’Histoire) was indeed impressive from a distance and up close.
We had downloaded a walking map of the city (link below) that showed that we would be dropped off at what had been a thriving silk mill that opened in the early 1800s and employed 2000 people for over 100 years. Not far from there is one of only two surviving churches from the numerous ones that were destroyed during the War of Religion in the 16th century. Even most of the current Eglise St. Étienne had to be rebuilt in 1767 but retains an original door of the old church and the 13th century bell tower that was left standing to act as a watchtower.
The next building we saw, L’Hôpital Général, had a similar history of being destroyed and rebuilt with construction first beginning in 1214. By 1720 when the plague overfilled the hospital with patients the current building, still in use even today as a social center, was planned and then eventually finished in 1769.
A Jardin Médiéval has been constructed in the middle of town (entrance at intersection of rue Port Royal and rue Dr. Blanchard) to show how medicinal plants and vegetables would have been grown in the Middle Ages. Casting shadows on all of the greenery below are two of those towers we had seen upon our arrival: Tour de l’Evêque (12th century Bishop’s Tower) and Tour du Roi (13th century King’s Tower). Both of these tall structures served initially as residences for the Lords of Uzès before being sold to the people for whom they are now named.
Across the street from there is a third and older tower, Bermonde from the 11th century, that was also part of the Lords’ properties but has remained in the family since it was built. In fact, descendants of this ducal dynasty that can trace its roots back to Charlemagne still live in the compound (featured photo at the top of this post). Guided tours are available to view one of the apartments, the wine cellar, and the chapel plus, on-your-own, to climb the 100+ steps up the tower. The Duke’s coat-of-arms is displayed in multi-colored tiles on the roof of the chapel that reminded us of similar roofs we had seen in Burgundy.
To see an example of ironwork specific to Uzès we next went to the monumental gateway of the Hôtel du Diocèse Civil built in 1779 in the traditional French style of “between courtyard and garden”. We could not access the garden behind this private mansion but by peering through the gate onto the front courtyard we better understood the meaning of the term. Around the corner from there the walking map said that we would find rue Saint Théodorit, a street that is “one of the most picturesque in town” and possibly where Uzès started. That’s based on the existence of an ancient fountain and Greek fortifications that pre-date the Romans in the first century BC.
We were now at the Cathedral complex with a suggestion of 4 historical sites to explore: the domed Pavillion Racine from 1687, the 12th century bell tower La Tour Fénestrelle, the Cathedral itself, and the Bishop’s Palace built in 1663. We couldn’t go up inside the bell tower but we were happy at ground level to admire this Italian-style structure, the only one of its kind in France (photo in first paragraph). The Cathédrale Saint Théodorit, like so many other buildings in town got an early start, this one in 1090, but were destroyed and rebuilt more than once. The basic structure of the building we were in was completed in 1652 but even it needed a new façade by 1873.
On our walk back into the center of town for lunch at restaurant TEN we passed by several beautiful buildings including the Hôtel du Baron de Castille, Ancien Hôtel des Monnaies (the Mint from the Middle Ages), and L’Hôtel Chambon de la Tour, photos of which will be in the gallery below.
The one historic site that was off our map (about a 30-minute walk) was the bubbling spring source of the river that still provides water to Uzès today and 2000 years ago to the city where we were staying for this trip, Nîmes, 50 kilometers (31 miles) away via the UNESCO World Heritage site Pont du Gard aqueduct. Never mind, that huge structure was our destination for the following day and that will be on the blog next week.
A special thanks to Paula and Toby for sharing your beautiful city with us!
If you go: We took bus 152 from the Gare Routière bus station behind the main downtown Nîmes train station to the Uzès Esplanade bus stop for 1.50 € per person each way.