2,000 years of history
Château Calissanne, a land of conquests
Between history, nature and commerce…
Close to the Via Aurelia, the Aurelian Way, which was once the main road linking Rome to Spain… A region impacted by invasions, conflicts and many other influences, but also open to trade… The legacy of Greeks traders, Roman land managers and Gallic farmers…
In the heart of Provence. On the banks of the Etang de Berre lagoon.
More than 1,200 hectares in the sun, 38 kilometres from Marseille and 28 kilometres from Aix-en-Provence.
17 kilometres from Marseille International Airport (10 min)
Introduction to Jacques Mazel’s book, “Une terre de Conquêtes”
The Oppidum of Constantine
Located at the highest point of the estate, the Oppidum rises 170 metres above the château.
In the fourth century BC, Calissanne was the ”Oppidum of Constantine” – a stronghold occupied by Celtic-Ligurians, which still surveys the entire estate. Its northern rampart, reworked by the Romans in the first century AD, forms a superb wall which is still easily visible. A sanctuary devoted to Chtonian deities is mentioned as one of the major sites among sacred sites in the ancient world.
In the footsteps of the Romans…
Amphorae, villas, oil lamps…
In was during this period, as the Romans were advancing northwards through the Rhône valley, that the estate was planted with grape vines and olive trees. Many traces from this Gallo-Roman period can still be found at Calissanne, including a 1st century amphora − unearthed in 1990 while tilling between the grape vines − and the remains of several villas scattered around the foot of the Oppidum.
Cradle of living history
During the 11th and 12th centuries, the estate belonged to the “Hospitaliers de St Jean de Jérusalem”, who later became the Order of Malta. At that time, the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Calissanne was said to contain remnants of the Virgin Mary’s garments. In the 17th century, a member of the Parliamentary Court of Aix-en-Provence − M. de Leydet − had the present château built there.
Finally, in the 19th century, the estate was acquired by Flemish-born Charles Auguste Verminck, a proprietor of soap and oil factories. He considerably revitalised the estate, establishing several farms within its boundaries: Sainte Modeste, Font de Leu, the Fer me Neuve, the Jas de Bayle and the Moulin de la Durançole − all buildings that still bear witness to the extensive agricultural activity during this period. As for the château itself, the huge vaulted stables, the dovecotes with their glazed tiles, the chapel and the majestic horse trough are all indicative of the estate’s grandeur.
After the splendour of the Verminck era, Château Calissanne gradually stopped cultivating almonds, asparagus and cherries during the course of the 20th century and focused mainly on grape vines and olive trees.
Life is sweet at Château Calissanne
Legend has it that the famous Calisson d’Aix, a marzipan confection, takes its name from a hillside on the Calissanne estate where almond trees once grew. The name “Calissanne” was already mentioned in a charter dating from 1152… Without this sun-baked slope, perhaps the Calisson would never have been invented…
Fauna and flora
A tranquil existence…
A haven of peace for Mediterranean fauna and flora
But vines and olive trees have built the latter-day reputation of this vast estate dotted with Mediterranean trees – which provide natural shelter for the local wildlife.
Partridge, rabbit and wild boar are very much at home in this scrubland of kermes and white oak, box, rosemary, prickly juniper, thyme, mimosa, cistus, gorse, and wild lavender.
This stony garrigue, with its profusion of Mediterranean flora, hosts extensive bird life including bustards and Bonelli’s eagles (a protected species).
There are also plentiful roe deer, and even albino roe deer.
All of these animals naturally live side by side, and we actively protect this territory through careful surveillance (wardens) and a private hunt to help control the animal population.
Hives for Provençal honey
Calissanne also makes its own honey. More than 150 hives stand in three localities on the estate’s uplands, amid garrigue at the foot of the cliffs.
We only treat our vines once a year, with a certified bee-friendly product.
In the past three years, we have begun planting arable and forage crops around the vines, ensuring rich ecodiversity – and thus promoting the bees’ vitality and health.
The pairs of Bonelli’s eagles are the stars of our estate. And like all stars, they are much watched. They appear only seldomly, and nest even more rarely! They are not keen on spotters/paparazzi! They prefer to take refuge in the concealed crannies of Calissanne’s hill.
Transhumance was an ancient practice at Calissanne, and we have renewed with tradition.
In fact, transhumance – and the beautiful journey it involves – is no longer the right word. Now, the sheep come by truck, but they live peacefully amid nature, as they once used to.
Some 2,000 sheep arrive in early spring, and spend four months on the estate’s southern plains and northern plateaux.
Thus have we rediscovered the pretty tableau of Provençal sheep flocks.
This tableau sends a gratifying message about bonds and harmony between nature and animals, and about respect for the sheep’s welfare and health.
Truffles at Calissanne
Known as “rabasse” in Provençal and also nicknamed the “black diamond”, the truffle is a mycorrhizal fungus, so it needs a host tree.
At Calissanne, this tree is the kermes oak, and its hypogeous (underground growing) fungus grows here in nutrient-poor, shallow, aerated chalky soils. The truffle loves climates where vines thrive: cold winters but no big freezes; mild wet springs; and dry hot summers.
Provence without donkeys would be a less lovely place! And we are reminded of this by Alphonse Daudet, the French novelist and playright …
Our donkeys no longer bear loads – they merely serve as a reminder of a beautiful bygone Provence! Our two donkeys Cigale and Fourmi – contemplative and slightly nostalgic – have lived on the estate for more than 15 years, and they are a delight!
The quarries at Calissanne
Famous landmarks in the Aix region and many more such buildings exemplifying France’s architectural heritage were once hewn from blocks of stone excavated from the Calissanne quarries. These quarries were worked from the Iron Age (prehistory to protohistory) until the eve of the First World War.
Calissanne’s pure white limestone is renowned for its quality.
It has been used to construct numerous buildings and monuments.
Discover some of the beautiful buildings and sculptures that exemplify France’s architectural heritage:
- In Aix-en-Provence, St-Sauveur Cathedral and most of the city’s fountains
- In Marseille, the Church of Notre-Dame de la Garde, designed by the architect Espérendieu, the Palais Longchamp and the Palais Pharo
- In Paris, “The Horses of Marly” (18th century sculpture) on Place de la Concorde
- In Saint-Chamas, the famous “Pont Flavien” (Gallo-Roman bridge, 1st century AD, 22 m span between its two arches!)
- In Lançon-Provence, all the buildings at Château Calissanne, which we invite you to discover…
Today, the quarries are still clearly visible, carved from the craggy cliffs.
A living spring
The Durançole brings freshness and life to Calissanne
La Durançole, the “Little Durance”, is a thermal spring that gushes forth from inside the estate at a constant temperature of 19°C.
This stream, which borders Calissanne along its entire southern boundary over a length of four kilometres, flows into the Étang de Berre lagoon.
Its current, very strong in summer and weaker in winter, hints at a distant, alpine water source, as is evoked by its name that reflects the stream’s links to the Durance River. This great river flows through the uplands of the southern Alps and, during the heat of the Provençal summer, supplies water to all the towns and villages in the départements of Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône.
The crystal-clear waters of La Durançole are one of the great riches of the estate.
Charles Auguste Verminck understood the importance of such a gem and developed an irrigation network that supplied the entire southern part of the estate.
Recent works to clean up and upgrade the riverbanks and drainage systems have enabled this gem to be “rediscovered” and revived!
The Durançole stream originates on the estate and flows for four kilometres as far as the Etang de Berre lagoon. The stream emerges over ground on the estate with a “nival regime”, i.e. it is caused by melting snow. This proves the distant origin of the water, far beyond the La Fare mountain range, and explains its continuous flow, the constant temperature of its water (19°) as well as its salinity as it rises from deep strata which owe nothing to natural runoff.