The rugged landscape of the Val d’Enfer stretches westward from Les Baux-de-Provence, its convoluted limestone formations writhing fantastically against the sky. The poet Dante was said to have been inspired by these vistas in his description of “Inferno”, although it is not immediately obvious in which circle of Hell these tortured contours appear. The rock in this area has been quarried for millenia; it was used by the Romans to rebuild the old Celtic-Ligurian town of Glanum, and several centuries later the late Roman town of Arles. The 11th century Lords of Baux built their towering château out of limestone from these quarries, the Carrières du Val d’Enfer, which remained more or less in use until their closure in 1935.
In 1959 the brilliant artist, poet, and film director Jean Cocteau was captivated by the stark beauty of the quarries and set the last part of his Orpheus trilogy, “Le Testament d’Orphée” in them. In 1977 Albert Plécy, the editor of le Parisien, raised the curtain on the Cathedral of Images in their caverous expanses. Inspired by the ground-breaking conceptions of Czech scenographer Josef Svoboda, whose numerous triumphs included three plays for Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre and his own multimedia theatre company Laterna Magika, the Cathedral of Images presented a glorious audio-visual presentation where the quarry walls formed the backdrop for projections of some of the world’s greatest art, coupled with high-end sound projection of atmospheric music, a unique combination of a fantastic venue with state-of-the-art integrated bespoke technology. Annual shows were dedicated to one main artist; in 2006 Cezanne, in 2008 Van Gogh, and in 2009 Picasso, and these alternated with shows presenting the work of modern artists and photographers.
In 2008, the Municipal Council of Les Baux-de-Provence, the owners of the Carrières du Val d’Enfer, put the management of the site out to public tender, and in 2011 the contract was finally awarded to Culturespaces, who had been managing the Château des Baux since 1993. Opening in March 2012 and rechristened the Carrières de Lumières, to emphasize the human visual imagination it celebrates, it has been transformed into the largest permanent video installation in France, with 6000sqm of projection surface, including the floors of the extensive quarry – a vast carpet of glorious coloured images underfoot.
The Carrières consist of two main areas. The Dante Room, where the audio-visual show is projected, is a gigantic hall with the roof supported by huge pillars left by the stoneworkers. Here the walls, the floor, and the pillars all become screens for the seventy video projectors, each with an individual server. High-end fibre-optic technology surpassing even the best HD projection, and computer-controlled dynamic event lighting, such as is used for top stage shows, coupled with the total 3D surround-sound acoustic environment bring the work of artists such as Van Gogh and Gauguin viscerally to life. The uneven contours of the quarry walls and ceilings provide an intriguing relief effect to the projections, and between shows the quarry is illuminated to show the natural beauty of the rock itself.
There are also areas for receptions (the Cocteau room, 300sqm) and refreshments (the Van Gogh room, 220sqm, opening in 2013), as well as a smaller projection room screening excerpts from Cocteau’s film. The Carrières de Lumières will be a vibrant hub for all kinds of cultural events, with annual shows to highlight famous artists, other audio-visual shows, and concerts.
Les Carrières de Lumières
13520 Les Baux-de-Provence
© Gianfranco Iannuzzi
© Gianfranco Iannuzzi