Close to Marseille on the Mediterranean coast and near the dramatic Camargue, famous for its black bulls and white horses, Salon is a commune in the département of Bouches-du-Rhône in southern France.
With a population of just over 46,000, Salon is surrounded by beautiful countryside where the olive tree is king – giving rise to its reputation for soap, lavender and olive oil. In addition to being twinned with Huntingdon & Godmanchester, Gubbio, Szentendre and Wertheim, Salon is also twinned with Aranda de Duero in Spain.
Today, Salon’s principal claim to fame is as the place where Michel de Nostradame, better known as Nostradamus, spent his last years. He is buried in the Church of St Laurent. His home is maintained as a museum, and for four days every June or July the town holds a mediaeval festival in his honour, with masked revellers parading through the streets.
Salon was a Gallo-Roman oppidum, well-positioned on the salt trade routes between the Adriatic, the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. This region was under Phoenician influence from the 6th century BCE, and stretches of the Via Aurelia can still be recognized just outside the town. The earliest mention of the place under its familiar name is the 9th century, as Villa Salone. The archbishops of Arles controlled the site.
The historic centre, with its beautiful plane trees, still lies within its circuit of walls, entered through two seventeenth-century gateways, the Porte de l’Horloge and the Porte Bourg Neuf. In the sixteenth century Adam de Craponne built the canal that still bears his name to bring fresh water from the river Durance to the town and the surrounding plain of Crau. Inexpensive freight brought commerce to Salon, and the town prospered.
The castle, which was the biggest in Provence during the 12th and 13th centuries, still dominates the old town. It was the preferred residence of the Bishops of Arles when Provence was part of the Holy Roman Empire and became the property of the town after the French Revolution. After damage caused by the 1909 earthquake, it has been restored and now houses a museum of military history. Every summer, it hosts an international classical music festival.
Open air cafés and good restaurants are a feature of Salon, and its lively market, held every Wednesday in the Place Morgan, sells everything from fish, fruit and vegetables to materials in traditional Provençal patterns.
Salon is an important French Air Force base, home of the French Air Force Academy, and also hosts the French equivalent of the Red Arrows, the Patrouille de France.