RD Honde is an avid landscape photographer and travel writer who resides in the South of France.
If you search the internet for information on the village of Lurs, disappointment might ensue. There’s not much available save for a few brief travel articles, the commune’s official website, and a few articles relating the village to an infamous unsolved murder mystery referred to as the “Dominici Affair’’ that rocked the French nation during the early 1950s.
But this pastoral haven perched atop a hillside plateau overlooking the Durance River Valley deserves more attention than the hushed sensationalism that still haunts it to this day. Despite its more recent ominous past, this countryside locale stands to be one of the best-preserved gems in Provence.
Directions to a Breathtaking Scenic View
From the main route D462, the village of Lurs looms overhead, promising an unspoken adventure just waiting to happen. At exit route D12, take a lowland road which leads to the marker designating the village in question.
When following the winding pastoral highway, one might get a sense of traveling back in time—an old mill, a few farmhouses and the remains of an ancient ruin catch the eye. Olive trees abound, dotting the hillsides along with a fig tree or two, standing tall and bearing a bounty of fruit just waiting to be plucked.
When rounding the last uphill turn, one can see the final stretch, which opens to a view of the valley below, lush and ripe with rolling hills and farmland fields, and extending as far as the eye can see.
One had to immerse oneself in one’s surroundings and intensely study nature or one’s subject to understand how to recreate it.
— Paul Cezanne
An Enchanting Visit
At first glance, one might expect to see a sleepy village. On the contrary! Market day falls on a Sunday morning in Lurs, which means the community breathes life amid a busy peddler hubbub while overhead the village’s ancient clock tower shadows with alluring enchantment.
The quaint setting appears pristine. Traditional French shutters adorned with potted flowers and wayward vines blend in amongst old doors and well-worn cobblestone paths. To the average sightseer or photographer, Lurs’ rustic flavor might appeal, but to the serious historian, the draw of medieval history, predating Roman influence bombards the mind with awe-inspiring imagination.
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It is no coincidence that, on all four sides, in all four corners, the borders of the Roman Empire stopped where wine could no longer be made.
— Neel Burton
Ancient Roman History
Most historians believe the emperor Charlemagne established Lurs while in pursuit to unify church and state. But long before the papal acquisition, there was a settlement situated atop the hillside; descendants of the original location of Lurs—or in Latin “Alaunium”—sacked by barbarians in the 5th century.
Located downhill and southwest of the present-day site, the Notre Dame des Anges still stands. The chapel designates the origins and ancient ruins of a Roman resort, a waypoint along the Via Domitia otherwise known as the old Roman Road. The Empire’s influence had been long since established in the surrounding region before the Bishops of Sisteron had ever set foot in the present-day village domain.
Evidence of the mighty Roman Empire stands nearby in the village of Ganagobie. Here you can see the Pont Romaine de Lurs long since erected; it's a well-preserved bridge still used to date, which had connected in the north from Sisteron to the south, leading from Lurs to Cereste before joining in northern Spain.
The Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.
During the reign of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, the Bishops of Sisteron took control of Lurs; the village underwent a major architectural transformation. In need of a summer residence, the religious authority started with several projects, which include a seminary and Château that survive today.
Architectural Points of Interest in Lurs
- Chapel of Saint-Michel
- 15th-Century Clock Tower and Provencal Campanile
- Chapel des Penitents
- Bishop’s Castle (château used to host and house the Princes of Sisteron)
- Priory of Saint Charles Boromée
- Promenade des Notre Dame de Vie (15 Oratories Erected Along the Scenic Walk)
- Le Moulin de la Cascade (Oldest Operating Olive Oil Mill in France)
A Modern-Day Mystery: The Dominici Affaire
After the height of the Holy Roman Empire, the Bishops of Sisteron and the village of Lurs fell into disrepair. The village all but dropped off the map until the early 1950s, when a collective group of artists such as the famed Provencal writer from the nearby town of Manosque, Jean Giono, and Maximilien Vox, a good friend and renowned printer and publisher who rediscovered the medieval rendezvous. The philanthropists took great pleasure in restoration, including their shared idea of an open-air theatre built on the first ruins, and crafted to host meetings for professionals and scholars.
During this same decade, it was an unfortunate sensationalist event that captured the fascination and horror of the French people. In 1952, a triple murder mystery known as the “Dominici Affaire” brought attention to the village, catapulting Lurs back onto the nation’s map. The unfortunate murder case remains unsolved and remains an ongoing investigation. If you’re interested in learning more about this tantalizing true crime story that rocked the French nation then I suggest an excellent read available in English format: The Dominici Affaire: Murder and Mystery in Provence by author Martin Kitchen. The author breaks down the sordid account of one of the most famous criminal cases in English and French history while posing questions that remain unresolved to this day.
© 2019 RD Honde