Tarasque – Tarascon, France - Atlas Obscura

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Tarascon, France

Sculpture of a legendary French dragon. 


You don’t expect to see dragons in the South of France. Sun-tanned heirs to the shipping industry and the occasional fire-breathing celebrity on vacation maybe, but not dragons. The city of Tarascon is the exception to that rule, and is named after a grotesque dragon-like beast that’s had a presence in the region for 2,000 years.

Before understanding the history of the town of Tarascon, it’s important to get a mental picture of the beast itself. A Tarasque is a dragon with six stubby bear legs, the body of an ox, and the grumpy face of a powerful lion. With its short, fat body, It would almost be cute, until you realize the Tarasque also has a wildly-swinging scorpion tail and thorny turtle shell.

As legend would have it, the Tarasque migrated from Central Turkey and was almost impossible to kill. Knights and Kings chopped with every weapon they could find yet the beast eluded them. Sometime around the 1st century, St. Martha, one of the biblical figures that witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, took care of the problem. She simply charmed the beast and brought it back to Tarascon. Unfortunately, the villagers still feared the monster and killed it, even though it made no attempt to attack or even defend itself.

After the beast was killed, the town’s people felt guilty and named their town after the dragon they had slain. Today, a sculpture of the Tarasque sits placidly in the town near King René’s Castle. Every year, the villagers of the town celebrate a festival in honor of the Tarasque and its untimely and eventually sad death.

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November 11, 2011

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