Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Section
Montagne Sainte-Victoire - Provence
Montagne Sainte-Victoire made famous by Paul Cezanne
Montagne Sainte-Victoire is one of the most attractive geological sites of Provence!
The paintings of Paul Cézanne made it also worldwide famous.
The impressive mountain overlooks the city of Aix-en-Provence to the west and the Plain of Pourrières to the east.
It highest summit, Pic des Mouches, peaks at 1,011m above sea level.
This limestone chain was formed during the Jurassic.
It was indeed raised by the tectonic movements that resulted from the formation of the Pyrenean-Provencal massif during the Eocene.
The first uplift of the Alps, later during the Oligocene, triggered the rupture of its fold anticline.
This gave it its unique shape that has become the iconic image of the region.
According to geologists, the Montagne Sainte-Victoire is in constant movement and rises by 7mm a year!
Its imposing ridge is surrounded by contrasting geological formations.
These include foothills, promontories, rounded hills, small basins and valleys.
There once was a quarry of pink marble, known as Marble Aix, popular for construction and sculpture.
Victory Mountain or Windy Mountain?
Legend has it that the Romans named the mountain Montagne de la Victoire during the 1st century BC, after defeating Germanic tribes in the Plain of Pourrières.
Others believe that the name simply evolved from the Latin vencturus, meaning windy.
The Montagne Sainte-Victoire is indeed known as Mont Venturi (windy mountain) in Occitan.
That would make sense.
The Rhone Valley is indeed a long corridor exposed to the Tramontane, the north wind coming down from the Alps, and the Mistral, which blows from the sea.
The name would definitely be an amalgam of the two versions.
The Montagne de la Victoire was renamed Montagne Sainte-Victoire during the evangelization of the region in the early Middle Ages.
These days, locals simply call it La Sainte!
Sites of interest on Montagne Sainte Victoire
Archaeological findings show that the mountain was already inhabited in the 3rd century BC.
Excavations indeed brought to light the vestiges of the forts of Untino and Bramefan.
The Celts and the Ligurian built these strongholds long before the Roman colonisation.
They built built their oppidum of Untino on a rocky plateau peaking at 556m above sea level.
It therefore commands the Vallée du Bayon and Plaine de l'Arc and boasts prime views of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire.
The Romans took over the oppidum, which remained inhabited without interruption until the 11th century.
The inhabitants then moved downhill and founded the little bastide of St. Antonin.
This charming village, where Cezanne sojourned and painted, is the smallest village on the mountain.
This is also where you'll find the Maison Saint-Victoire*, where guided tours can be booked.
The Montagne Sainte-Victoire is sparsely inhabited.
The superb vestiges of the Roman aqueduct carrying water from the Montagne Sainte-Victoire to Aix are also still visible.
Montagne Sainte Victoire - Grand Site de France
6500 hectares of forest (out of over 30,000) were classified in 1983.
The Montagne Sainte-Victoire is therefore a paradise for nature enthusiasts, climbers, hikers and mountain bikers.
Hundreds of listed trails are indeed at their disposal!
The terrible fire, that destroyed more than 5000 hectares of vegetation in 1989, led to the creation of the Syndicat Intercommunal du Massif Sainte-Victoire.
This inter-communities board is in charge of reforestation.
The Montagne Sainte-Victoire is part of the Natura 2000 network, and is a haven for countless many bird species.
It was granted the label of Grand Site Sainte-Victoire in 2000.
It was also listed Grand Site de France in 2004 - this label is awarded by the Ministry of Environment.
Department of Bouches-du-Rhône
Coordinates: Lat 43.535706 - Long 5.627514