Sunday, October 14, 2012

Il était une fois...

In 1720, the bubonic plague came to Provence--but--it did not come to La Ciotat.

An oriental ship docked in the harbor of Marseille unloaded cargo and, unintentionally, the black rats (and fleas) who spread the disease. Word spread through Provence, and the administrators of La Ciotat decided to close the gates of the town, not to let anyone in or out for an entire year, until the disease had run its course. Only one person in La Ciotat died from bubonic plague: a little girl, who has a monument dedicated to her downtown.

Because only one person died, the town celebrates this historical moment every year in a celebration called "1720" and this year there was a musical as well as a medieval village constructed--sort of like the French version of Medieval Times (or Heritage Hill for those who know Green Bay). I did not go to the musical because tickets were sold out and had to be reserved ahead of time. The village was also apparently smaller than usual, because they are doing two shows next year, one in the spring, since Marseilles is going to be the European Capital of Culture in 2013.

 The 1720-1721 Peste de Marseille was the last recorded outbreak of the disease in Europe, from the original epidemic in the 14th century through the Middle Ages to the 18th century and beyond. The bacteria still exists today, and can still be deadly, but it is normally treated with intravenous antibiotics and is only spread from human to human in later stages. That is to say, modern doctors can (in most cases) pinpoint and stop the disease before it becomes deadly or contagious, but it still needs to be done in 24 to 36 hours.

I went down to the Vieux port with the other assistants. We had a good time taking in all the sights and sounds (and smells) of the past. Food, music, and lots of townfolk, sailors, fisherman, and artisans livened up the port into a real party.

E. with donkey

There were butchers, bakers, candlestick, seriously! Plus washerwomen, glass blowers, traditional instrumental musicians, plague victims rising from the dead to dance... R. and I even got "kidnapped" by Portuguese pirates! It goes to show: anything can happen in a place like La Ciotat!



That's a gaita, not a bagpipe.


  1. HOMEMADE macarons! They had awesome flavors, too, like lavender, rose, cinnamon, walnut, anis... I had to restrain myself from buying my weight in macarons!! :P