Carrieres de Lumieres (Les Baux de Provence, France)
It was while planning a trip to the south of France that I remembered watching a stunning video on Facebook about an immersive art exhibit near Provence. After a little searching, I found the short video on YouTube. It was as etherial and hypnotic as I remembered, so we added Carrieres de Lumieres, located in Les Baux-de-Provence, to our itinerary.
Driving from Marseille to Les Baux-de-Provence takes about an hour. It’s mostly highway driving, but when you get off the A54 the road cuts through the Alpilles mountains. Here, the landscape changes dramatically. The roads are narrow and windy and houses are few and far between. Fields of almond and olive trees fill the lower slopes. Climbing higher, the hills become craggy, bare rock with a low-growing ground cover.
The area surrounding Carrieres de Lumieres is entirely undeveloped, and our arrival to the site came suddenly and without warning. Cars were parked haphazardly on the shoulder and folks of all ages milled about. There was little signage for traffic or pedestrians, and parking was confusing. Rather than a single large lot, there were several small gravel lots offset from the winding, main road.
The area was cool and very windy, but there were people everywhere . We just followed the crowd up the road and to a set of ticket windows built into the walls of this white limestone quarry. (The quarry closed its operation in 1935.) The ticket agent gave us little explanation as to where to go or what to expect, so we just followed the crowd inside.
While your first thought of a quarry is probably of an large open area, either dug deep or vertically into a mountain, this quarry is a cave. And unlike a traditional performance where there is a formal beginning and end, visitors continually walk in and out. We entered in the middle of the opening show. The room was pitch black, images were spinning across the floor and up the walls and music of Vivaldi, Led Zeppelin and others played loudly. Sensory overload! It was disorienting and thrilling.
Once we got our sea legs we could see that the main area, where the show is projected, was a huge, beautiful, exceptional cave with several voluminous rooms. The main gallery was about 200 feet deep and 30 feet high and had 15-30 foot wide supporting columns. The surfaces were relatively flat, and cut lines were visible in the stone, left from the harvesting of huge limestone blocks.
The quarry walls, multi-level floors, and elevated platforms are all used as projection screens. Every surface covered with the shifting figures and creatures created by these sixteenth century masters. Images crawl along the ground, rise up the walls, and dance from one to the other. There are no chairs or seats, so it’s easy to wander around, and experience the show from different vantage points, angles and perspectives.
Carrieres de Lumieres is open May-September and each new year brings a new show. We saw “The Fantastic and Wonderful World of Bosch, Brueghel, and Arcimboldo,” which lasted about 30 minutes. A short six-minute show “George Méliès, The Cinemagician” preceded the main program. Tickets were about $15 each. It was an experience we cannot recommend highly enough. To learn more about Carrieres de Lumieres, visit their website.