The Coulobre, the Vaucluse dragon

Perched on the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, the Coulobre is a legendary creature resembling a dragon and having a fetid breath.

Spitting hellfire and feasting on human flesh, the monster was banned from the Sorgue in the 6th century thanks to Saint Véran. The Coulobre resurfaced in the 15th century during a fatal confrontation with Petrarch. This event marked its disappearance from history… until its next appearance?

Saint-Véran, the hero

On the square in front of the church in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse stands a fountain sculpture representing Saint-Véran killing the Coulobre, a bloodthirsty beast whose name comes from the Latin word for “snake”. This monster takes the form of a gigantic winged salamander living under a rock covered by the water of the Sorgue. According to the story, it mated with passing dragons who – because of its ugliness – did not stay by its side. The Coulobre frightened the whole village by massacring the population and the livestock.

During the 6th century AD, the bishop of Cavaillon – Saint-Véran – confronted the horrible female creature, defeated it and expelled it into the Luberon, thus clearing the river Sorgue where it lived. There is a variation in the legend about Saint-Véran: some consider him a bishop and others a hermit. The story also explains that Saint-Véran – at the instigation of the inhabitants of the village – observed the beast for many days before taming it by making a sign of the Cross which wounded it. After this confrontation, the Coulobre is said to have gone to the heights of the Alps where she stayed in a hamlet that still bears the name of Saint-Véran, in reference to the religious saviour of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

The fight against Petrarch

The Coulobre is back in the limelight during the 15th century. Petrarch – a Florentine scholar, poet and humanist – is attacked by this creature when he is on the banks of the Sorgues with his beloved Laure. After an intense fight, he kills the beast with a sword stroke. In revenge, the Coulobre – on the verge of death – spits its foul breath on Laure, who then dies of the plague. Devastated by the loss of his love, Petrarch never recovered, but the Coulobre has indeed disappeared from history since his intervention.

The Coulobre in Dordogne

The Coulobre – a male animal this time – is also a name given to a Dordogne dragon that lived in a cave in the Couze cliff. It is a monstrous winged reptile that can live on land, in the air and on water. The beast – described as gigantic – kidnapped the inhabitants of Lalinde, boatmen and animals to take them to its lair where it made a feast of them.

Legend even has it that when the Coulobre de Dordogne drinks from the stream, its head is at river level and its tail extends over the cliff. Thus, the strength and size of the animal means that by sucking so hard, it manages to move large blocks of stone. This is how the dangerous passage of the Saut de la Gratusse was formed. According to the story, the bishop of Périgueux – Saint Front – went to the cliff where the dragon was standing to fight it. He ordered it to return to the ocean where it had come from. Frightened, the Coulobre rushed into the Dordogne and was never seen again. To thank their hero, the villagers built a chapel dedicated to Saint Front on the cliff overlooking the river.

In the footsteps of the Coulobre

Planning a trip to Provence? Discover the Coulobre at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, in the Vaucluse department.

From Avignon, it will take you about 40 minutes to reach Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, next to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Take the D907, D225 and D942 departmental roads in turn to the D16 exit towards Entraigues/Bédarrides. Follow the D25 to Chemin du Prieuré to reach your destination.

From Marseille, you should reach Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in less than an hour and a half. Take the A7 motorway towards the D99 at Plan-d’Orgon to exit 25 and leave the carriageway. You will continue your way via the D973 and D24 to reach your destination.