Roussillon is north of our home base of Saint-Remy-de-Provence in the Luberon region of Provence. It’s another small town, but it has a unique and colorful history. For many year’s, this was one of the main sources of “ocre,” the red or yellow pigments made from the clay deposits of the area’s mountains.
These ocher deposits were formed when the area was under the sea. Iron makes the soil look red, just like the iron rust gives the Golden Gate Bridge its distinctive red color.
In the late 1700s, Jean-Étienne Astier, a Frenchman from Roussillon, developed a process to extract, concentrate, and dry the pigment from the clay soil to make materials that could be used effectively for artists’ paints.
With the advent of capabilities to create synthetic ochers, Roussillon’s original eight ocher “mines” have been shut down. Now the town’s main industry is tourism for all those interested in seeing the beautiful colorations. A scenic walk allows kids (and adults!) to climb the red walls and play in the sands. At the end of the day the kids depart with red pants.
What else is there to see in Roussillon? A climb up the narrow streets leads to Roussillon’s St. Michael’s Church.
On the inside, some of the religious artwork uses ocher coloration.
Back outside are colorful flowers.
Down the street is Roussillon’s bell tower, with open ironwork to let the mistral winds blow through.
We ended the day enjoying a beer in the square and looking up at other ocher-painted buildings.