Cycling along the brand-new stretch of EuroVelo 8 east of Barjols, look to the south and you can’t miss the impressive remnants of the castle at Pontevès. This village, perched atop a prominence yet still in the shadow of the Petit Bessillon, is one of many along the EV8 here in Provence with a long history. But just how long?
The 1,000 Year Village
Pontevès - Tracing the Village History
Fortunately for Pontevès, one inhabitant and former mayor is also a historian. Guillaume de Jerphanion took it upon himself to delve into the regional archives in search of the first mention of Pontevès. Initially, he focussed on a document dated 1080, identified by the 19th century historian Guérard in 1857. But it turned out that this was simply an edited copy of an original text. The latter, written in 1021, was carried from Barjols to the monastic archives of Saint-Victor in Marseille. There, it was later incorporated into a comprehensive text describing the wider region.
The excellent publication written by Flore Naudin, Pontevès – Terre des Bessillons 1920-1960 (Varages, 2013) explains:
Nobody knows the exact origin of the name Pontevès. The Historical Atlas of Provence classifies it as a name of pre-Gaulish origin, but its inhabitants like to say that it is a tribute to the three bridges over the Fauvery – Garbelle, the Pont de la gare and the Pont des Abréguiers – as they are the only access to the village.
Historically, its name is recorded for the first time in 1021, in the charters of the abbey of Saint-Victor de Marseille. That year, Lord Arbert and his wife Aldagarde gave the Marseille monks some property they owned in the territory of Pontevès, at a place called “Barjols”.
In 1057, their son Foulques offered the abbey the church of Sainte Marie, situated in the same territory. He is a character to be remembered, as he is the first of the lineage to take the name of the village as a patronymic: the “de Pontevès” are born with him. This family was one of the most powerful in Provence.
So 1021 marks the first documented mention of Pontevès, albeit as the name given to an uninhabited area and river (now the Fauvery). Plans were put in motion for a millennial celebration in 2021. But then Covid struck. So, perhaps uniquely, the village celebrated its millennium 1001 years after its “birth”.
But the village’s development was not exactly linear. Most significantly, the 14th century plague helped wipe out the entire population. As Naudin wrote:
In the 13th century, the Pontevès built ramparts, inside which houses were built. The village was prosperous and the lords created a new residential area to the east of the village: the Bastide de Pontevès, which had 150 inhabitants. But in the second half of the 15th century, everything changed. The great plague of 1348, followed by troubles linked to the succession to the County of Provence, emptied the Bastide and then the village of their inhabitants. In 1384, there was no longer a living soul in the first, and in 1433, the second was deserted. Pontevès was uninhabited until 1477, when Bertrand de Pontevès wanted to repopulate his village. He offered the inhabitants of Montegrosso, a small village in the diocese of Albenga (northern Italy), to settle on his land, and obtained from King René an exemption from taxes for several years; the charter was signed. About thirty families settled down and the village was reborn from its ashes.
Since 2015 Montegrosso and Pontevès are twinned villages. There are regular exchanges between the two communes. The mayor and others from Montegrosso participated in the millennial celebrations, and especially a re-enactment of the arrival of the Montegrossini in 1477. Meanwhile, members of the family de Pontevès travelled from Paris to take part in the celebrations.
Pontevès is a classic, compact Provençal village. If you are cycling along the EV8 and have the time, it’s well worth taking a detour along the Pontevès boucle to pay a visit. The village is especially lively on Friday mornings, when the market takes over the village square.