October 10, 2011
1 Le Pelerinage des Gitans
2 Le Pelerinage des Gitans
When we think of the Cote d’Azur, the words that immediately form in our mind are ‘beauty’, ‘glamour’, ‘wealth’, ‘exquisiteness’ and ‘quality’, with the word ‘gypsies’ rarely making the list altogether.
Although you would be mistaken if you were to think that gypsies had no connection to this sublimely striking stretch of coastline. The town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, meaning “Saint Marys of the Sea”, is the capital of the Camargue and boasts a vibrant history of being a town honoured by a succession of cultures, including Romans, Celts, Christians and, most recently, Roman Gypsies.
After the arrival of gypsies in Europe in the early 1400s, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, became a popular place for gypsies to reside, although the reasons for this remain hazy and ambiguous. The town’s remoteness is one valid reason why this small fishing village on the Cote d’Azur became a prevalent destination for gypsies, meaning they could remain predominantly hidden from the bustle encountered on other places on this stretch of Mediterranean coastline.
According to local legend in the village, shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was the place of residence for Mary Magdalene, Marie-Jacobe, Marie-Salome and several of the other disciples, who were forced to free the Holy Land in 45AD.
After a treacherous journey across the Mediterranean, the women landed their boat in the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where they became honoured by the local people. In light of this veneration, the church in the town, enshrines three wooden statues, one being Marie-Salome, one being Marie-Jacobe and the other being of Sara-la-Kali, whose identity remains a mystery.
The mysterious female statue remains the hub of worship of gypsies, who gather here each May, to embark on the ‘Pelerinage des Gitans’ meaning ‘Pilgrimage of the Gypsies’. Many of the gypsies believe that Sara was an important queen of the village who welcomed tired travellers to the shores of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
During the month of May gypsies from across Europe and beyond gather to this remote town of the Cote d’Azur, to celebrate the ancient pilgrimage with dancing, feasting, shows and colourful processions.
Although for all those ‘gypsies at heart’, you don’t have to wait until May to participate in the gypsy worshipping in this remote, tranquil and exceptionally picturesque fishing village in southern France, as, each October, the ‘Big Fat Gypsy Festival’ is held in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
This year, this Cote d’Azur beach party with a difference, will take place on 22 and 23 of October and is the perfect place to witness a slice of authentic gypsy culture. Revellers will sample traditional music, food and celebrations, which date back centuries, with the zenith of the festival being when Saint Sara is brought to the see – Definitely the Cote d’Azur like you have never seen it before.