Oppède Le Vieux and its history

Discover this village of character full of history and exciting anecdotes around the Luberon.

Page updated on 02/10/2020

Magic Square or Sator Square





The alleys of Opede le Vieux are full of mysteries, one of them is on the facade of a private house accessible only on foot, it is a square with inscriptions in Latin.

This is called a magic square or a Sator square.

The SATOR square is the oldest square of letters known. It has been found in several places around the world, especially in the ruins of Pompeii, dating back to at least 79 A.D. This square has the peculiarity of being a palindrome, that is, it can be read on the spot or upside down.

Oppède the Old

Oppède-le-Vieux © OT LCDP

Square Sator - Oppède

Carré Sator ©M Disdero / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The SATOR square is the oldest square of letters known. It has been found in several places around the world, especially in the ruins of Pompeii, dating back to at least 79 A.D.

This square has the peculiarity of being a palindrome, that is, it can be read on the spot or upside down.

The square consists of the five Latin words SATOR (plowman), AREPO (proper name or plow), TENET (holds), OPERA (work, care), and ROTAS (wheels). The literal translation of the square is 'The labourer Arepo holds the wheels carefully, 'or 'The plowman holding the plow works while rotating'.

Many other translations have been proposed, with religious, alchemical or numerological interpretations.

For example, if each letter in the alphabet is assigned a number (A=1, B=2,..., Z=26), the words in the square are total 73 (SATOR), 55 (AREPO), 64 (TENET), 55 (OPERA), and 73 (ROTAS). These values can be summed again: they are all 10, then 1.

Another example: we can write 'Pater Noster' ('Our Father' in Latin) with the letters of the square. When the letters forming 'Pater Noster' are removed, there remains the alpha and omega (A and O), the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet, which symbolize the eternity of Christ in the Christian tradition.

Oppède and the legend of the Anti-Pope Benedict XIII

After belonging to the Count of Toulouse, Oppède was attached to the Comtat Venaissin, the Pontifical Land from 1274 to 1791.
During the period of the Western Schism, 1378 to 1417, the Catholic Church was separated with two competing popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon.

In 1380, Oppède was awarded to the road driver Bernardon de la Salle, who kept him until his death in 1391. Returning under the authority of the pope, the Oppedans did not appreciate its heavy taxation, especially when the troops of Raimond de Turenne, who was waging war against the Pope, damaged the village in 1394: the Oppedans reproached the pope for being more effective in collecting taxes than in defending the taxed ones. When the Taillades rose against the pope in 1398, the Oppedois joined them.

Cardinal Pierre de Moon (Pedro de Luna from his original name in Aragon) was elected Pope in Avignon on September 28, 1394 under the name of Benedict XIII. During the Council, he had promised to resignate if necessary to facilitate the union of the Church. He did nothing, despite the embassies that Charles VII sent him.

Benedict XIII

Benoît XIII, pape d'Avignon ©Unknown author / Public domain
Couronnement de Benedict XIII
Les cardinaux de Saint-Martial et de Neufchâtel couronnent Benoît XIII Chroniques de Froissart, FR 2646, f° 190 v. Bibliothèque nationale. ©Peintre des Chroniques de Froissart / Public domain

Jean le Maingre, dit Boucicaut, Marshal of France, was placed at the head of an army that went to Avignon in order to force the recalcitrant Pope to renounce his office.
The Pontifical Palace was encircled and Benedict XIII will remain locked there for five years. In 1403, he managed to escape from the Palace (by an underground nearly 10 km long which, according to legend, ended at Châteaurenard...) and he was welcomed and protected by Louis d'Anjou, Count of Provence. He found refuge in Opede, but there, too, he was chased and besieged in the Fortress.
It was there that he managed to 'fly' through the valley of Combrès, supported by legend by the Devil himself.

Benedict XIII then went to Rome in search of a compromise, but he was deposited twice, in 1409 at the Council of Pisa and in 1417 at the Council of Constance. He then took refuge in Peniscola, Aragon, the last state to recognize him, where he died in 1424.

Statue de Benoît XIII à Peníscola ©Valdavia / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The rose of the 'Petit Prince' in Oppède le vieux.

Consuelo de Saint Exupéry en 1942 à Montréal où elle était venue rejoindre son mari.

Originally from El Salvador, Consuelo Suncin Sandoval married on April 21, 1931 at the town hall of Nice Antoine de Saint Exupéry. The Second World War separated them for a while, as a pilot in the air force and aeromailing, she was in Marseille where she helped artists and intellectuals to hide and leave France.

It was therefore on August 6, 1940, that with some 'lost, demobilized soldiers and retracted civilians' looking for refuge and who had in common had studied, before the war, at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, she arrived in the village of Oppède le vieux, abandoned by a large part of its inhabitants since the beginning of the 20th century.
They were gradually joined to form an artistic community of some forty refugees, including architects, students, musicians, painters, sculptors and their families. Some will stay only a few weeks, others a few months.

They are hungry and cold and their concerns are first and foremost material. But a great joint project is created around Bernard Zehrfuss, the Grand Prix de Rome for Architecture: it is a question of reviving and rebuilding Provence. The group d'Oppède was founded on August 18, 1940. The mayor puts at his disposal the former premises of a holiday colony, one of which becomes the architectural workshop.

In October 1940, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry visited the group for two days.
His wife, Consuelo, shared the life of the community from the beginning of 1941 to 1942.
When she joined Antoine in the United States, she promised to write the story of this epic 'so that the survivors would be ready to rebuild when the era of destruction ceased. ' What she did in New York in 1945 (then Gallimard Publishing in 1947). The book bears the only title: Oppède.

Oppède - Gallimard

The blue cedar of the Atlas close cousin of the mythical cedar of Lebanon

The history of Cedar in Provence begins only in the 19th century.
Since then, it has flourished well on this vast territory of the Luberon.

 Château d'Oppède the Old et sa mystérieuse forêt de cèdres ©OT LCDP

The Ancient Greeks and Celts knew him and associated him with the territory of present-day Lebanon of which he is the symbol.

It was coveted by the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Ottomans who in turn made their hands low on their forests, which quickly found themselves stripped.

These are the cedars of the Atlas, which were planted in the Luberon in 1861, from seeds of the Algerian Middle Atlas. It is the work of foresters. There is the largest cedar forest in Europe on the Bonnieux side.

Those found in the Vallon de Combrès are also extraordinary, including young cedars looking for light under tall trees.

Cedar Forest

la canopée de cette belle forêt ©OT LCDP

cônes de cèdres ©OT LCDP

Symbolic of the Cedar

A sacred tree par excellence strongly linked to the number 7, a symbol of purity, power and majesty, the cedar is the tree of the very High. Cedar is quoted 77 times in the Bible.

Its use

Cedar wood has many properties: for its exceptional resistance to decomposition, it defies time. Its wood has a pleasant scent with the light ochre colour.

Its resin has medical properties, for balms, anti infectious, and actions on the digestive system. And it was also used for embalming bodies.

Its wood was used for the manufacture of the ancient Sarcophagi and for the coffin of the popes.
Ships in antiquity were often built of cedar wood.

Photo gallery

Oppède le Vieux 1. Crédit Ph.Giraud-OTLMV.jpg
Oppède le Vieux 6. Crédit Ph.Giraud - OTLMV.jpg
Oppède le vieux 1. Crédit Ph.Giraud - OTLMV.jpg

Practical information on Oppède Le Vieux and its history

Opening times and periods

Aucune information disponible