Arles la fête des Gardians Day Trip
“Arles, la fête des Gardians” Lucia announced to the room in general. We had been pondering what to do with our bank holiday weekend. Trying to think of things to do and places to see in Provence. Arles, la fête des Gardians seemed to fit the bill perfectly for a day trip from Avignon.
To an uneducated novice like me, la fête des Gardians seemed reminiscent of an old western movie… only set in Provence. Local cowboys parading through the city of Arles on horseback. We decided we should mosey on down to Arles to check it out for ourselves. So we jumped in our wagon (fiat 500) and rolled out. Arles is around an hours drive south of Avignon. Once we arrived in Arles, I soon discovered there was a lot more to la fête des Gardians than I had realised.
Held every year on the 1st day of Spring, May 1st. Throughout France this bank holiday celebrates labour day, the workers holiday. But in Arles, this festival celebrates everything about the history of the Camargue.
The beautiful white horses that are the local breed. The splendid Gardians riding through the centre of Arles. Their period dress black suits and stetson like hats. Armed with their 2.5 metre long pikes.
The ladies in their beautifully made period costumes. With bustles and parasols adding glamour and elegance to the whole scene.
Then in the afternoon the attention is focused on the arena. Tickets are available direct from the arena kiosks for the show. A variety of displays and dances, games and entertainment.
Lily of the valley is the traditional plant of labour day in France. On this day you will find many people with this plant. On every street corner, small stalls pop up just for the one day to sell these beautiful flowers to passers by.
History of the festival
The festival is organised every May 1st of each year since 1984. Originally it was organised before April 23 for Saint George, since the creation of the Brotherhood in 1512.
The Gardians brotherhood was created shortly after the annexation of Provence to the kingdom of France. While a war between France and Italy was beginning. The gardians were recognised for their qualities as master horsemen. They then organised themselves into a brotherhood in order to avoid enlistment in the royal armies.
The program of the day consists of several animations. In the morning, there is the parade in town in tribute to Frédéric Mistral and the blessing of the riders and their horses. In the late morning, there is the delivery of blessed breads to the authorities.
At the end of the afternoon, the show begins at the Aenes de Arles. The show is made up of several games. The games include a Camargue race, an abrivado on the track (the guards surround the bull or the bulls in the arena) and a parade of the amazons of the Brotherhood.
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