Montmajour Abbey was a fortified Benedictine monastery built between the 10th and 18th centuries. Until the late Middle Ages, Montmajour was an island, 43 meters above the surrounding terrain, protected by marshes and accessible only by boat. As early as the 3rd millennium BC the island was used as a cemetery, with individual graves carved into the rock. In the 9th and 10th centuries the island also served as a sanctuary for the local residents during invasions of the Saracens and the Normans. During the Middle Ages, several legends arose about Montmajour and its founding. One legend said that the island had been the sanctuary of St. Trophimus, who had been sent from Rome by St. Peter to convert the Gauls. After coming to Arles in 46 AD, he took shelter in one of the caves on the island and received disciples there.
In 949 a Frankish noblewoman, Teucinde of Arles, acquired the island from the Archbishop of Arles, and left it in her will to a group of hermits already residing on the island, with instructions to create a monastery following the Rule of St. Benedict. Pope Leo VIII raised it to the status of an abbey in 963. The first abbey church of was built between 1030-69. The second abbey church was built, possibly on the site of the previous one, in the 12th century. The abbey was at the peak of its influence and wealth.
The 14th century was the age downturn in Montmajour. in 1348 the Black Plague reduces by half the population of Provence. The Free Company, armies of French soldiers left unpaid after the defeat of France by the English army at Poitiers during the Hundred Years War, ravaged the countryside in 1357. It was pillaged again by marauders in 1357, and by the soldiers of Raimond de Turenne of Les Baux, who wage war against Arles from 1386 to 1398. The Abbot of Montmajour, Pons de L'Orme, then fortified the monastery with a massive tower.
During the Wars of Religion in 1593, the abbey was occupied by soldiers of the Catholic League, and the monks were forced to move to Arles for two years. When they returned, they monastery was ruined. In 1786 the abbey was officially secularized.
Built in the 12th century, the Notre Dame abbey-church is characteristically representative of Romanesque buildings. The buildings, including the chapter house, the refectory, the pantry, the library and the kitchen, can be reached by way of the cloister, restored in 1872.
St. Peter's Chapel is the oldest existing part of the abbey, probably built between 1030 and 1050. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was built to contain the most valuable relic of the abbey, a piece of the True Cross. It is located a few hundred meters from the abbey church, outside the monastery walls, to provide the monks with greater separation from the crowds of pilgrims.
The ruined Maurist Monastery was built in the classical Piranesian style on a huge scale; the building was originally five stories high, covering eight thousand square meters, with sixty windows and two grand staircases. The monks, lay brothers and novices lived on the top two floors, with their library, classrooms and archives. The building was largely demolished after the French Revolution for its building materials.
The rocky slope near St. Peter's Chapel has more than a dozen tombs cut into the rock in the shape of human bodies, with places for the head, shoulders and feet. The more recent tombs (14th century) were rectangular, and were probably covered with stone slabs.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.