[Clan Sinclair]
[prev] [next]
7 Roses
   & Zolo
Elba to
Tim about
   Zolo in

Zolo 5: From the Languedoc and Golf of Lions to Aigues Mortes and Sete

The Golf of Lions was calm. In contrast to its reputation for being perennially windy and tempestuous, it greeted us with a glass-like sea and complete calm: the first since the beginning of our trip. On the ancient galleys, the oarsmen would have picked up their oars and begun a long day. On 7 Roses however, today's propulsion is handled by the twenty-eight horsepower old Yanmar. Our speed with the motor is not unlike that reached by the quick and sleek galleys of yesteryear which could cover between 5 and 6 miles an hour powered only by the force of the arms. If speed (in our case) is not one of the advantages of mechanical power over human, then consumption certainly is. The oarsmen were not always slaves and in order to be efficient and faithful to their commander, they had to be in good physical shape, well nourished and well hydrated. There were very precise rules for the hiring of crew and rowers. Among the documents from the thirteen and fourteenth centuries in the archives of the museum in Marseilles are the "roles of Oleron". Comparable to the decrees of modern labor unions, the roles of Oleron indicated the type of food, the quantity and quality that every member of the crew should receive during the trip. Crackers, cured meat, dried fish, peas, fava beans, wine and water were the basis of the diet. The portions had to be plentiful: not less than two liters of wine a day, and for those who abstained, a supplement of food at every meal. In comparison, the three liters of gasoline and few grams of oil that my old motor consumes seem like a very satisfactory alternative.

The sea along Camargue has a limey color that is not very inviting. Here the Rhone empties into the Mediterranean and the history of commercial maritime routes meets those of the internal routes. In the last two centuries France developed a network of rivers and canals, among the most important in Europe. The use of rivers for the movement of goods and men goes back to ancient epochs; during the Roman era the first canal to be dug in France connected the Rhone to the Seine. At the end of the fourteenth century the first rudimentary lock was constructed but the system now in use was the work of Leonardo da Vinci. The development of river transport was born when Atlantic crossings to the north were still very rare and sporadic. The ancient Roman roads which guaranteed quick movement in a direct line were inadequate for the needs of merchants. With caravans, the cost and the risks of the voyage outweighed the worth of the merchandise. Loads were limited, not only by the physical limitations of the caravan but also by the rules of the old road code which, because of taxes and tolls, imposed a maximum weight of between sixteen and eighteen quintals on every carriage.

The use of internal navigable roads resolved many of the above problems: barges guaranteed a considerable quantity of merchandise to be transported to the deeper areas while rafts could pass over the more shallow areas. The prosperity, not without difficulty, of river transportation saw an increase in the interest of Italian traders who were already present in the more important markets of northern, southern and central Europe. Transporting by rivers and canals did not eliminate the problems of tolls, bandits, aggressions and constraints brought about by forced itineraries. It was most likely the constant search for more advantageous, economic and competitive solutions that pushed Genoa, Venice and Pisa to compete for alternative routes beyond the columns of Hercules. Italian cities, more than others in the Mediterranean, felt the necessity of maritime relations. One of the factors that brought our people to search for routes on the high seas was the very geological configuration of our peninsula. Mountains crossed Italy from north to south, navigable roads were insufficient, and internal roads were difficult and inconvenient. In order to escape the natural geographic isolation, Genoa had only her ships and Venice would have been very little if she had to count on 'terra ferma'. Cities such as Palermo, Syracuse, Brindisi and Rimini had no other reason to exist than their ports. Sailors for love or for necessity, Venetians, Genoese and Tuscans accelerated the changes and progress in the art of sailing.

Plowing through the seas of past and present, 7 Roses leaves the opaque waters of the mouth of the Rhone and approaches Sete. At the time of the Zeno brothers, this quaint little French city did not yet exist. Sete was built around the middle of the 1600's, on a piece of land on a lagoon that reminds one of Venice. Our historic course requires a visit to Aigues Mortes, a medieval city that often saw Venetian ships drop anchor in the shelter of her fortresses. At the time it was built, Aigues Mortes was an appreciable port on the Mediterranean with access to the rich commercial exchanges from both canals and the sea. Here ships of the king of France and the Templars were armed before setting sail for the Crusades to Egypt and Tunisia. Aigues Mortes was also renowned for its large salt deposits, an inexhaustible bank of white gold in those far off centuries. Of this past prosperity, the forts that enclose the city still remain, as well as the salt deposits which are still today among the most extensive in the south of France. The port has disappeared, swallowed up by the sands of the lagoon. There are no longer crusades and armed soldiers, ships of war or transport, but a large natural reserve for the calm colonies of herons and pink flamingos.

The course of 7 Roses is now set toward Spain. Next stops, Barcelona and Valencia.

Last changed: 00/06/25 18:24:23 [Clan Sinclair]