Les Baux-de-Provence is a commune in the Bouches-du-Rhône department in southern France, in the province of Provence. It has a spectacular position in the Alpilles mountains, set atop a rocky outcrop crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south. Its names refers to its site — in Provençal, a baou is a rocky spur. The village gives its name to the aluminium ore Bauxite which was first discovered there in 1821 by geologist Pierre Berthier.
The defensive possibilities of Les Baux led to the site being settled early on in human history. Traces of habitation have been found dating back as far as 6000 BC, and the site was used by the Celts as a hill fort or oppidum around the 2nd century BC. During the Middle Ages it became the seat of a powerful feudal lordship that controlled 79 towns and villages in the vicinity. The lords of Baux sought control of Provence for many years. They claimed ancestry from the Magus king Balthazar and placed the Star of Bethlehem on their coat of arms.
Despite their strengths, the lords of Baux were deposed in the 12th century. However, the great castle at Les Baux became renowned for its court, famed for a high level of ornateness, culture and chivalry. The domain was finally extinguished in the 15th century with the death of the last princess of Baux, Alice of Baux.
Les Baux was later joined, along with Provence, to the French crown under the governance of the Manville family. It became a centre for Protestantism and its unsuccessful revolt against the crown led Cardinal Richelieu in 1632 to order that the castle and its walls should be demolished.
The town was granted in 1642 to the Grimaldi family, rulers of Monaco, as a French marquisiate. To this day the title of Marquis des Baux remains with the Grimaldis, although administratively the town is entirely French. The title is traditionally given to the heir to the throne of Monaco. Princess Caroline of Monaco uses the style Marquise des Baux, but, being a French title it can only pass through a male line under Salic law. It lapsed on the death of her grandfather Prince Louis II, the last male in a direct line.
In 1822 the mineral bauxite was discovered near Les Baux by the geologist Pierre Berthier. It was mined extensively in the area, but by the end of the 20th century had been completely worked out; France now imports most of its bauxite from west Africa.
Les Baux is now given over entirely to the tourist trade, relying on a reputation as one of the most picturesque villages in France. Its population of 22 in the old village is a fraction of its peak population of over 4,000, and many of its buildings (in particular the castle) are picturesque ruins.
In the Château des Baux demonstrations of huge catapults are given every day from April to September.