Tarascon is located 23 km (14 mi) south of Avignon and 20 km (12 mi) north of Arles, on the left (east) bank of the Rhône River. On the other side is the similarly sized town of Beaucaire in the département of Gard, région of Languedoc-Roussillon. Directly opposite each other and connected by several bridges, Beaucaire and Tarascon effectively constitute one town, with about 30,000 inhabitants. An irrigation canal of 18,00 km length rejoins the Rhone near Tarascon.
The climate in the Alpilles is considered Mediterranean. The winters are mild and dry and the summers hot and dry. The maximum temperature is observed in July and August (+ 29 °C = ~84 °F), the minimum temperature in December and January (+ 3 °C = ~37 °F). The most rainy month is January with seven days of rain on average, against two days in July, the driest month. The Alpilles region receives more rainfall than the coast of the Mediterranean: 500 mm / year in the Camargue against 600–700 mm / year for the Alpilles. The mistral blows violently from the north or northwest, especially in winter and spring. The mistral blows strongly 100 days a year on average and more weakly for 83 days, which leaves only 182 windless days per year. Two types are distinguished; the "white mistral", which clears the sky, and the rarer "black mistral", which is accompanied with rain.
Hamlets located on the territory of the commune include:
Shards dating from the Late Bronze Age have been found in a shelter at a place called the Lèque, confirming the existence of human settlement in the Alpilles since prehistoric times. Settlement spread in the early Iron Age. At Tarascon, the sites sit alongside the Rhone, near the church of Sainte-Marthe.
In the second part of the first Iron Age (7th–6th centuries BC), the population, shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary one and began to construct extensive buildings. Trade intensified with the Eastern Mediterranean, with the people of the area likely trading grain for luxury goods.
Located along the Rhone, at the crossroads between Avignon, the Camargue and the Luberon, Tarascon is still associated with fairy tales and legends dating back to prehistory. According to tradition, Martha of Bethany, who came from Judea, landed at Tarascon where an amphibious dragon was destroying the river traffic. She tamed the beast only for it to be butchered by the townspeople. Many pilgrims visit the Royal College of Sainte-Marthe, built in her honor near the castle of King René. This sanctuary, the main monument of the city, contains the relics and the tomb of St. Martha in the crypt which was built on the exact location of her house.
Rostagnetus of Tharascone, knight, was provost of Nice, Alderman of Tarascon (1322, 1325) and son of former co-lords of the city in the 12th century. In 1366-67, Guillam de Sault ruled Tarascon. He received an annual salary of 90 florins. The death of Queen Joanna I reopened a succession crisis at the head of the County of Provence, the cities of the Aix Union (1382-1387) supporting Charles de Duras against Louis I of Anjou. Tarascon hesitated before joining the Union of Aix, the community deciding in 1383, without committing itself very firmly. When Louis I died, Tarascon was also one of the first cities to receive Jacques Reillanne, Ambassador of his widow Marie de Blois, regent of Louis II of Anjou, in the summer of 1385. He successfully persuaded them to switch sides and join the Angevin Kings of Anjou. The castle is well preserved. The work of construction began in 1400 under Louis II of Anjou and completed in 1449 by his son, King René, led by Guillaume Crespin, captain of the castle, and his lieutenant, Regnault Serocourt, its close relative. With an impressive defensive system, the building also houses a princely residence.
Église collégiale Ste Marthe (St Martha's Collegiate Church) is where, according to a local tradition, the biblical figure Martha is buried. The church was built half-Romanesque in the 12th century and half-Gothic in the 14th century. The crypt dates from the 3rd century.
Collegiate Sainte-Marthe was dedicated in 1197 and enlarged in the 14th and 15th centuries. The crypt houses the relics of Martha in a sarcophagus of the fourth century.
The construction of the current castle of Tarascon was started in 1401 by Louis II of Anjou, after the previous castle was destroyed. The construction was continued by his first son, Louis III of Anjou, and was completed in 1449 by his second son, René I of Naples. Thus, the castle is often referred to as le château du roi René (King René's castle).
It was turned into a military prison in the 17th century, until its acquisition by the state in 1932.
It stands right on the banks of the Rhône opposite Château de Beaucaire, and near the Collegiate Church of St Martha. (43°48′22″N 4°39′18″E / 43.80611°N 4.65500°E / 43.80611; 4.65500)
The castle of King René. The present castle replaced a fortress, built on the site of the Roman town to monitor the border of Provence. After the destruction perpetrated in 1399 by the bands of Raymond de Turenne, the Anjou family decided to rebuild it entirely. Between 1447 and 1449, René d'Anjou, who was the favorite residence, did refine the interior. Its massive silhouette posed beside the Rhône, the unexpected elegance of its interior architecture and its exceptional state of preservation make this one of the finest medieval castles of France. It consists of two independent parts: the South, the stately home, flanked by round towers on the city side and river side with walls of up to 48 m high and square towers and the North, the lower court that defends the rectangular constructions.
A mythological monster, the Tarasque, is said to have lived there at the beginning of the 1st century. It was purportedly tamed by Martha in 48 AD. See Tarasque for the whole story and pictures.
The novel Tartarin de Tarascon (1872) and its two sequels Tartarin sur les Alpes (1885) and Port-Tarascon (1890), by Alphonse Daudet, were set here.
Since 1985, there has been a small museum in the town, dedicated to the fictional character Tartarin.
A festival is held every year on the last Sunday of June to remember Tartarin and the Tarasque.
In 2008, the median household income tax was €13,986, placing in Tarascon 29,178 th among the 31,604 communes with more than 50 households in France. Olive oil from the Valley of Baux-de-Provence is a protected designation of origin (AOC) from an order made by the INAO, the 27 August 1997. The varieties of olives that fall within this order are the Béruguette, Grossane and verdale Bouches-du-Rhône. It also produces crushed olives and black olives included in the order of the INAO. The varieties of olives crushed are salonenque and Béruguette. For black olives the only variety accepted is Grossane.
Apart from agriculture, the industry most easily identifiable around the Alpilles is tourism. Even the wine and olive oil producers take into account the development of tourism and increasingly offer tasting services. There are three main types of tourism in the Alpilles. First, the historical and cultural tourism that relies on a rich historical heritage ( Les Baux-de-Provence, Glanum, etc..) or festivals. Then the relaxation tourism resulting in a significant expansion of B & Bs, hotels and rented properties. Finally, the green tourism that benefits from the many hiking trails and protected framework offered by the massif and its surroundings.
Tarascon is served by a train station and several buses.
The GR 6 footpath runs through Tarascon.