The Château de Pontevès site is first recorded in a document in 1021 as the property of the monastery of Saint-Victoir in Marseille. Later, the lords of Pontevès progressively developed the site. In 1233 there is mention of a gate to the courtyard and the buildings arranged in the U-shape characteristic of the early 13th century. Further additions between 1560 and 1580 included a new bedroom, a great hall and the northwest tower. Between 1580 and 1590, the castle was defended during the Wars of Religion. In 1626, a billiards room, tennis court, stables and chicken house were added. Gradually, the castle was developed as a comfortable residence rather than a defensive site.
In 1650, François de Pontevès sold the castle to a rich Aix-en-Provence financier, Pierre Maurel, nicknamed the Croesus of Provence. The site then underwent a massive upheaval with most of the ancient edifice being destroyed and the materials reused to construct a vast building containing more than 50 rooms on three levels. Three corner towers were added. A gallery was decorated with trompe l'oeil paintings by Jean Daret.
However, this splendour was not to last. Faults in its constructions and inheritance problems led to a rapid degradation. By the time of the French Revolution the castle was already crumbling and many houses in the village today show evidence of plundering of the site for building materials, particularly doorframes and windows.
The castle today is open to the public. Visitors can see the gateway, four towers, parts of the curtain wall and other ruined structures.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.