History and Architecture

The castle of Simiane is a famous landmark known far beyond the borders of the area: Around 10,000 people visit the Rotonde each season. Each year in August, lovers of Ancient Music flock to its beautiful concert room, where the international festival ‘Les Riches Heures Musicales de la Rotonde’ is held. At the Laboratoire Sainte-Victoire visitors can learn more about the process and the benefits of essential oils such as lavender, rosemary, and clary sage. Young Living is proud to be represented in this stunning historical complex and to showcase wonderful oils and essential waters, which can be sampled and purchased on site. We are working closely with the local community to combine authentic cultural heritage, sustainable farming methods, and state-of-the-art essential oil research.

As early as 1031, a legal document mentions the existence of the Castrum of Simiane, a group of buildings clustered around the fortress of the Agoult-Simiane family, who were among the most powerful vassals of the Counts of Provence and Forcalquier. They possessed around fifty castles in the Pays de Sault - Simiane is one of the oldest and best preserved.

From the 11th-14th centuries the central courtyard was enclosed by an unbroken defensive ring of high buildings, of which the Rotonde on the west was the centre-piece. The buildings were entirely surrounded by a dry moat, still in evidence to the south-east of the Château. Entry to the Château was through a Gatehouse in the centre of the south wing. This is now the public entrance. After lying empty for almost three centuries, the north and east wings were demolished. The restoration of the Rotonde, classified as a Historic Monument in 1841, began in 1875. The restoration of the south and east wings began in 2001, after they were acquired by the municipality of Simiane in 1999.

The paved slope that leads up from the gate and passes alongside the south wing follows the line of the former dry moat. The first-floor mullioned windows are part of the alterations made at time of the Renaissance.

At the top of the slope is a covered passage. On the left is the reception desk. This small room is what is left of the Gatehouse. It opens into a rectangular room that dates from the 14th century. This is now the History and Archaeology room, pure Romanesque in style with its three transverse ribs each resting on triple embedded columns headed by conical capitals. The missing rib at the far end of the room has been restored recently.

A former fireplace has left traces of soot on the ceiling in the south-east corner. The two high windows and the door to the courtyard date from the Middle Ages. The other openings were made in the 19th century when this room was a carpenter’s workshop.

Today it houses an exhibition which tells the history of the Agoult family, that of the Château of Simiane and of the village. Here you can see some of the archaeological remains found in the course of excavations in 2001 - sculpted heads, gargoyles, stone gutters, columns and capitals, indications of the architectural quality of the vanished buildings.

On leaving this room you enter the courtyard. In the centre, what appears to be a well is in fact the opening to a water-cistern, dug into the rock.

The massive keep (donjon), which rises 19 metres above the level of the courtyard, is the Rontonde, built around 1200 and designated a Historic Monument in 1841. Who built it? There are three possible candidates: Guiran, his brother Bertrand-Raimbaud, and Raimon II, who was a friend and patron of the Troubadours.

There is a surprising disparity in the stonework on the outer façade of the Rotonde. There are rough blocks at the base, and then finely-worked stones at the first floor level where there is a fine Romanesque doorway. There is a watchtower at the top of the keep.

You enter by the dark windowless lower chamber on the ground floor. This would have been used as a store, a cellar or an armoury. The stone arch that supports the oak floorboards of the first floor, and the staircase, were restored when the Rotonde was re-opened to the public in 1986.

A stone and wooden staircase leads up to the superb Romanesque room, with its ribbed cupola more than five metres high, opening into an oculus bordered with a sculpted wreath. There are twelve niches between the arches, whose capitals are decorated with leaves of aquatic plants and expressive human masks.

The third levels of the oldest circular keep in Provence seem to have served separate functions.

On the top is a defensive platform, once crenelated, accessible by stairs in the outer wall. The ground floor is a storeroom, entered from the courtyard. Between the two, on the first floor, is a state reception chamber showing the wealth of the Agoult-Simiane family, and reached by the way of the Romanesque doorway.

You can reach the first floor of the south wing either by the balcony recently added to the Romanesque doorway or by the spiral staircase (16th century). This leads up from the door on the right of the History and Archaeology room to the apartment, fitted in Renaissance style by Louis d’Agoult-Montauban for his family. It consists of three inter-connected rooms lit by wide mullioned windows: a hall, a bedroom and a ‘garde-robe’.

In the first room you can see traces of grisaille wall paintings of la dans macabre, around the remains of the great fireplace. For many years this room was without a roof.

The next room, the main bedchamber, was restored in 2007. Notice, the French-style ceilings, the painted wood-graining between the joists, the lime rendering and the friezes composed of shields uniting the Wolf of the Agoult with the Chevrons of the Levis (the family of Louis’ wife).

The third room, also restored, served as a ‘garde-robe’ for the family. It has several partitions.

In order to enjoy a view of the whole Chateau, and of the plain of Simiane and its surroundings, you can climb the stairs to the terrace built on the remains of the first 11th century stately residence. When the weather is clear you can see the Alps to the east and the Lure Mountain to the north-east.


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