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10 anecdotes from tour guides to wow your loved ones

Discover all the historical and cultural wealth of the South region thanks to the 10 anecdotes of guide-lecturers to know absolutely and to share with family and friends. Well-kept history secrets that only professional guides know how to tell and pass on during their guided tours.

Who is the Man in the Iron Mask?

Died in 1703, he would have lived the last 34 years of his life in prison, including 11 at the Fort of Île Sainte-Marguerite in Cannes. He is the most famous prisoner in the world, and the mystery of his identity has never ceased to fuel the imaginations, including that of Voltaire: “We were ordered to kill him if he uncovered the mask with which the chin bar had been worn. steel springs which gave him the freedom to eat with the mask on his face”. Since the 17th century, he has been credited with more than fifty identities such as the twin brother of Louis XIV, his illegitimate son Louis de Bourbon or the superintendent Nicolas Fouquet.

The Rhinoceros of Château d’If

A long time ago, a rhinoceros stayed on the island of If in Marseille. This is also the starting point for the construction of the famous Château d’If. In 1516, King François I, on a pilgrimage to Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, learned that a rhino sent to the Pope by the King of Portugal made a stopover in Marseille. Not knowing what to do with such an animal that had never been seen in Europe, the Marseille authorities installed it on the island of If. This is how François I, going to the island to hunt, discovers the place and the rhinoceros staying there, and decides to build a fort in order to improve the defenses of Marseille: the Château d’If.

When Van Gogh cuts off his ear

In 1888, in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh launched his painting school which he wanted to develop with his friend Paul Gauguin. The two artists start to work together but do not share the same vision of art. Tensions turn into crisis and during a violent argument Van Gogh threatens Gauguin with a razor before turning the weapon against him. He cuts his left ear then goes to offer it to a young employee (not a prostitute) at the neighboring brothel. Cared for and recovered, Van Gogh alternates crises and periods of respite. He finally decided to be hospitalized in the mental institution of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in May 1889.


An exotic menagerie at the bottom of the secret gardens

Like other prestigious gardens of the time, that of the Popes Palace included a menagerie with exotic animals: lions, gorillas, bears, ostriches, peacocks … illustrate the papacy’s capacity to acclimatize and domesticate, in short to rule the world. Beyond that, these landscaped and cultivated gardens had a more concrete and utilitarian vocation. Contribute to the supply of kitchens (indeed, the peacock was a bird particularly appreciated during banquets) and offer the sovereign pontiffs a healthy and pleasant space conducive to “recreatio corporis” (relaxation of the body), conceived as a necessity by the papacy from the 14th century.

The Angels of Nice

Nice is the number 1 destination on the Côte d’Azur with its famous Baie des Anges. The name of “Bay of the Angels” is neither a tourist name such as the “Côte d’Azur”, nor a religious name as one might think in the first place. The angels of the bay of Nice are actually a species of sharks called angel sharks or angel fish (peï Angé in Nissart dialect). These harmless sharks living on the seabed had the bad habit of destroying fishing nets. They were therefore easily exterminated. Today, thanks to human courage and foresight, the angel shark is one of thousands of critically endangered species.


How was the plague?

Between 1347 and 1352, the Black Death killed around 25 millions Europeans, including 7 million French, or around 40% of the population. Its exponential propagation is to be attributed to the rats that arrived from Asia on commercial ships. The epidemic hit Marseille in 1347 then Avignon. Then City of the Popes, Avignon receives the faithful from all over Europe, which contributes to the spread of the disease. The plague causes massacres of Jews throughout Provence believed to be responsible for the epidemic. In 1720 the “Great Plague” spread from Marseille by a ship that did not respect the quarantine. Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin decided to confine themselves by building a wall guarded night and day between the Durance river and Mont Ventoux.

When Monaco shrinks

In 1847, the Principality of Monaco was a territory of 24.5 km². Today, its area is 2.02 km², a loss of over 90% of its territory. Indeed, the cities of Roquebrune and Menton once belonged to the Principality. The increase in taxes on agricultural exports from Menton (oils and lemons) is at the origin of the revolt of the two cities which are then attached to France in 1861 in exchange of the payment of 4 million gold francs. Having lost its agricultural income, Monaco is investing this money to transform itself into a luxury seaside resort by authorizing gambling which was then banned in France and Italy.


When Caesar takes Marseille

In 50 BC, Pompey, then at the head of the Senate of Rome, accuses Caesar of treason. Caesar then goes to war against the armies of Pompey in order to become the sole leader of the Empire. Marseille, already one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean at the time, is loyal to Pompey. Caesar, outraged by the Marseilles position, organizes the siege of the city in 49 BC. The Marseillais, starving, surrender, after two failed attempts to break the blockade, and 6 months of siege. Caesar destroys the walls, burns the city, and takes away its fishing rights. Marseilles will then be saved by its neighbors, its colonies, and especially Greece, which sends it provisions, construction timber, workers and inhabitants to replace the losses.

Who is Fanny ?

The most famous ritual of pétanque is certainly that of kissing Fanny‘s buttocks. This ritual takes place when a team loses without scoring a single point: 13 – 0. The expression “kiss the old woman’s ass” dates back to the Middle Ages when a lord loses several battles. It is transposed to the game of billiards in the 18th century. The character of Fanny appears at the end of the 19th century at the Clos Jouve club in Lyon. A young Fanny Dubriand (said to be a little simplete, dirty, frumpy and sleeping in the street) consoled the loser by showing him her buttocks against a coin, but did not accept kisses.


The Sainte Baume grotto

In the heart of the Sainte-Baume mountain is the cave where the Saint Mary Magdalene is said to have lived for the last 33 years of her life. It is the most mystical place in Provence, protected by the monks who live in this mountain. The legend tells that Mary Magdalene would have come to Marseille after arriving at Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer. She would have stayed there for two years before following the Huveaune river to its source and living the life of a hermit alone in the grotto. On her death, Mary Magdalene would have been buried in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. The tomb of Mary Magdalene is the third most important tomb in Christendom after those of Mary in Ephesus and Peter in Rome.


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