Carpentras berlingot © UnclesamCarpentras [pop.30,300] is a quiet town with a fascinating history. Home to winter truffle markets, the town has been a magnet for merchants since the days that the Greeks and Phoenicians would visit to buy honey, sheep, and wheat. The town's history is stamped over its architecture and there are some particularly beautiful buildings to see. As you wander around the town, don't forget to bring some traditional local sweets for a snack. Called berlingots, these colourful small striped sweets are made from fruit syrups.

Carpentras was once the capital for a local Celtic tribe. The plentiful produce of the region brought merchants from as far afield as Greece and Phoenicia to trade for honey, sheep, and wheat. The Romans too soon came to Carpenoracte Meminorum, as Pliny called it, and established their influence in the area, eventually renaming it Forum Neronis.

It is the medieval period that has had the most influence upon the town's architecture and development. The land was given to the papacy in the 13th century and remained in the hands of the Holy See right up until the 18th century. For part of the 14th century, the Avignon Popes made Carpentras their residence, building a palace beside the cathedral. It was during the 14th century too that Carpentras provided sanctuary for many Jews who came seeking the protection of the pope against persecution elswhere in France. The Jewish community in Carpentras is still active.


On the river Auzon in the Comptat Venaissin, Carpentras has an old city centre that is surrounded by a meandering modern sprawl. The old centre is enclosed by a ring of boulevards that are mostly pedestrianised. It is very easy to get around and tourists are aided by signposted trails – just look for the berlingot candy on the signs. The train station is southwest of the old centre, on the avenue de la Gare, but it does not serve passenger trains. For buses, head to place Terradou, also southwest of the old centre. The companies to look for are Cars Comtadin and Cars Arnoud.



FRANCE PACA VAUCLUSE  St Siffrein Cathedral
St Siffrein Cathedral [3 place St Siffrein] is a cathedral no more but Eglise St Siffrein is still a splendid sight. It was built between 1405 and 1519 by order of Pope Benedict XIII, though according to tradition, a cathedral was first built in the 6th century by St Siffrein, who was bishop of the city. Inside there are many small chapels and rich decorations such as paintings by Mignard, Parrocel, and Duplessis. The main door of the cathedral opens on the Place du Palais de Justice, a law court that was built over the old Bishop's palace. The Gothic south door is called the Porte Juif, (Door of the Jews) from 1840. At the top is the surreal stone sculpture of a globe being devoured by rats.

The grand facade of the 18th century Hôtel Dieu [place Aristide Briand, ] hides a wonderfully preserved apothecary and an ornate baroque chapel with multicoloured marble. Hôtel Dieu or Hostel of God was the name given to the main hospital of French towns. The building is quite beautiful itself but the highlight is undoubtedly the well stocked (and highly decorative) apothecary, which used to dispense medicines such as opium and myrrh.

Carpentras' only reminder of its Roman days is the small stone arch. Built early in the 1st century AD under Augustus, the Roman triumphal arch celebrates Rome's victory over the barbarians, who are pictured in chains on the sides.

The synagogue [place Juiverie, +33 4 90633997, free entry] in Carpentras is oldest active one in France. It was founded in 1367 when Jewish people came to the area seeking papal protection from persecution but it has been rebuilt and restored, first in the 18th century and second in the 1950s. The oldest parts of the synagogue can be found on the ground floor, where there are ritual baths, two bakeries and a room dedicated to Jerusalem.

The Musee Comtadin Duplessis [423 boulevard Albin Durand, +33 4 90630492, entry €2] holds the art collection of Monsignor Inguimbert, the bishop of Carpentras from 1735 to 1757. The collection includes paintings by J.S. Duplessis, portraits, and works by Vernet and Bideauld. There are also displays of local folk art and historical artefacts on the ground floor.

Not just a sight, but a sound, smell, and taste: the Carpentras truffle market is a wintry Friday morning institution. Between around 8 and 10am, not only can you buy the sought after black diamonds but also delicious cheeses, honeys, nuts, olives, and the traditional sweet of the town, the colourful, striped berlingot candies (see previous photo).


CARPENTRAS STREET MAP:   1. Tourist Office  2. Train Station (south of map limits)  3. St Siffrein Cathedral  4. Hôtel Dieu  5. Synagogue  6. Musee Comtadin Duplessis

Javascript is required to view this map.