Carrieres de Lumieres

By Wendy VanHatten

When visiting the village of Les Baux-de-Provence, we were told to visit the old quarry. “Go to the light show. It is in the old quarry. You’ll see Picassos there. It’s amazing.”

A light show in an old quarry? With Picassos? Seems interesting, and probably worth seeing what they’re talking about.

Expecting some drawings on the quarry walls, lit with spotlights, we made our way out of the village, down the road, to the old quarry. After all, they probably don’t have real Picassos hung on some old quarry walls. Right?

I’m sure we were thinking this would be underwhelming…at best.

Well…first of all, it was not what we were expecting.

Yes. It was an old quarry. Old being the operative word.

The quarry was where the Les Baux stone was extracted. This stone from the south of France is slightly calcareous limestone, fine-grained, whiteish in color. It results from the compaction of calcium carbonate on calcareous sand. Marine fossils have been found in the rock.

Back in the 19th century, this stone was in demand for building. Hence, the enlarging of the quarry to meet those demands. At the time the quarry was referred to as Les Grands Fonds. Today it is called Les Carrieres de Lumieres.

Following WWI, the demands lessened so much that the quarry was closed until about 1959. A visionary genius, Jean Cocteau, loved the beauty and simplicity of the old quarry. He filmed The Testament of Orpheus here.

In 1977 Joseph Svoboda, a scenographer, decided the walls would make a great backdrop for a light and sound show. Since then, the management developed a unique concept for the site. AMIEX is a registered name, Art & Music Immersive Experience.

We were told music and art come together on the walls of this massive place. Monet, Renoir, Chagall, Klimt, Vienna, Michelangelo, de Vinci, Raphael, Bosch, Brueghel, Arcimboldo have all been showcased. With a light show.

A light show? Oh my. That doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We stepped inside an almost dark, seemingly large space, and were met with the Flower Power movement, Sixties Music, Hippies, Peace and Love, Sgt. Pepper, Hendrix, the Stones, the Beach Boys. Each song was accompanied by swirling lights, flashing colors, and dancing people. Walls were covered with vivid displays, all moving. The floor was carpeted with colors, lights, and more movement. Talk about a party.

If you’re prone to motion sickness, don’t look down at the floor. It’s moving. I think.

When this first journey ended, the lights came up softly. We could see we were standing inside a huge white room with different levels. People were everywhere. White quarry walls, marked where immense blocks of limestone had been cut out years ago, made this cavernous space look even larger.

We moved into a different area as the lights once again dimmed. This time, our artistic journey took us through years of the Spanish masters’ paintings. All projected on the walls. Some were shown straight ahead. Some moved around the walls and corners, from one wall to the next. Music played. Goya was there. So were Rusinol, Zuloaga, Sorolla.

Then followed Picasso. The entire experience was an intense lesson in discovering a century of Spanish painting. All up close and personal. All bigger than big. Portraits, beach scenes, rustic, gardens…all brought to life right in front of us. It was as if we were totally immersed inside the paintings.

Once the lights came back up, we wandered around the monumental space of the quarry. It was impressive, even without the light show.

How did they do it? The digital and immersive exhibitions are presented with thousands of moving images of digitized works. They are brought to life by the cutting edge of AMIEX technical equipment.

Those white limestone walls are the perfect background for the hundred projectors to transform the masterpieces. Or the Sixties. Both, a unique experience inside this magical space.

Again…not just some light show. Not just a few paintings.

You have to go…trust me.


If You Go: Carrieres de Lumieres is located at Route de Maillane 13520 Les Baux-de-Provence. It is 800 m from the Chateau des Baux-de-Provence.