In October 2012, the SCA travelled to Menton - an area known as The Pearl of the Riviera - for a fabulous tour organised by SCA member Annick McGarrigle whose family live in this stunning region.
Originally Genoese, Menton was purchased by the Grimaldis in the 14th century and held until 1848 when it seceded to form an independent city state. In 1860 it voted to join France and apart from a brief annexation by Mussolini it has so remained.
Menton was a walled town with eight gates and a 13th century castle. The castle was demolished in the 19th century to create a graveyard for the the visitors who had flocked to the town. It consisted of an oval donjon whose base survives encased in a 17th century bastion. It is to this period that the harbour fort belongs.
Behind the town is the highest coastal castle in Europe, the 12th century Castle St Agnés together with Fort St Agnés, part of the Maginot Line. Access to the castle is by an extremely steep track but we were rewarded by a superb view from its donjon.
Monte Carlo has some of the most expensive real estate in the world but we had come to view the artillery fortifications of the Palace of Monaco. Extremely popular, we found it more tiring than Saint Agnés!
Roquebrune Castle, high on a rock, overlooks Monaco. Built in the 11th century it was always a fortress and garrisoned by Genoese crossbow men for tax collecting. The Grimaldis punched holes through its walls to provide gun fire. The view from its walls is nothing short of amazing - one of the highlights of the trip.
La Turbie is in sight of Roquebrune. The ‘Trophy of Augustus’ was erected to mark his victory over the Alpine tribes. The Genoese converted it into a castle and it survived intact until it was blown apart by the engineers of Louis XIV who had fallen out with the Count of Nice. When the French subsequently acquired Nice they ‘restored’ the monument by removing the castle. The corbelling of the latter, however, survives on its upper parts.
A day visit to Antibes commenced with the bastioned fort and then on foot to the walled town with its twin towered Roman gate. The castle dates from the 12th century and now hosts a Picasso museum. The cathedral has a defensive tower.
Eze Castle, high on its mountain eyrie, shared the same fate as that of La Turbie.
A day to Cannes commenced with a visit to the castle. It has a 12th century tower, similar to that of Antibes. It hosts a splendid museum.
That afternoon we took the boat to Isle Saint Honorat and the fortified Abbey of Lérins. Due to incessant Saracen attacks the monks quit their monastery and retired into a fortified one. Here are found all the elements of a monastery but arranged on a vertical plan. The monks have since returned to the original abbey and are noted for their excellent wine of which we took good advantage.
Lastly, all was not work - there was plenty of time for play!
Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle
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