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The Isle en Venaissin was once a fishing town born of the waters of the river. An “Insula” in the Middle Ages, the place was an island in the middle of the wetlands which were gradually drained by canal digging. The many channels that run through the area have earned it the nickname “Venice of the Comtat”.
Since ancient times, the waters of the Sorgue, both abundant and dependable, have provided the driving force for local crafts and industry. The watercourses allowed the installation of flour mills from the twelfth century onwards. Later, workshops for treating wool and silk were built. The few remaining picturesque water wheels give the Isle its distinctive character. In the nineteenth century there were sixty-two such mills working and the intense activity that prevailed back then created many new fortunes in the silk and wool trades, and made it the main centre of economic activity in the département. A waterwheel discovery map can be obtained from the Isle sur la Sorgue Tourist Office.
From time immemorial, local fishermen have had the exclusive right to fish in the Sorgue, the Source of the Rhone. We see this right confirmed in the privileges granted to the Community on July 31, 1237 by the Count of Toulouse. When the church became sovereign over the land, it maintained the established practice and although there were plenty of fish, the church took a handsome cut of the profits. For centuries the fish stocks found their way to the ecclesiastical tables of Le Thor, to regional legates and vice-legates, and most importantly the papal seat of Avignon. Fishermen gliding on their punts, called Négo-Chins, (which means “drowning dogs!) keep the memory alive in summer and winter, armed with a variety of tackle, looking for crayfish, trout, grayling and eels. To continue the tradition, a fishing demonstration is organized every year in the month of July (see the diary page).
The old town, once surrounded by walls, retains the charm of a city marked by each period of its history. The Tour d’Argent (Silver Tower), near the the church, was built by the counts of Toulouse in the thirteenth century. Not far away, in the streets of what was once the main town of the Comtat, you can admire beautiful Gothic and Renaissance façades. The Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges, was rebuilt with the exception of the choir, in the middle of the seventeenth century, and is a monument exceptional for the richness of its interior — a major example of baroque architecture in the south of France. We can't fail to mention some of the achievements of the eighteenth century family of architects, the Brun family. They built the granary which today houses the Tourist Office, the hospital lobby, the chapel with its apothecary - decorated with a beautiful fountain garden, and, among other mansions, the Hotel Donadeï Campredon which houses the Campredon Art Centre and regularly hosts exhibitions of contemporary art.
The city guards the memory of the old Jewry House whose inhabitants, protected by the the Pope, actively participated in the prosperity of the city.
A paradise for lovers of china, the Isle is the largest centre of professional antique markets in Provence. With an influence at the European scale, its popularity has steadily increased since the creation of the first antique fair in the 1960s and the first large-scale open air fair in 1978. Each year over three hundred merchants come to sell furniture, paintings, artworks, fabrics, jewellery, books, and metalwork, all arranged in “villages” open from Friday afternoon to Monday evening. On Sundays you'll also find the Flea Market on the Avenue des 4 Otages. There are over 500 exhibitors at major events such as the Foire Internationale à la Brocante et à l’Antiquité - at Easter and August 15.
Whether you're an antique professional, an informed enthusiast or a simple bargain hunter, you are sure to find the special piece of furniture or rare item you've been hoping to find.
The Tourist Office offers “A Guide to Antique Merchants” which can also be viewed or downloaded in the “download our brochures” section.
Maison de Tourisme (Tourist Office)
Place de la Liberté 84800 L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Tel: +33 (04 90 38 04 78
Open all year Monday to Saturday: 9 am-12.30 pm and 2.30 pm - 6 pm
Sunday 9 am to 12.30 pm, except July-August from 9.30 am to 1 pm