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, It also had a thorny turtle shell and huge scaly tail that ended in scorpion's stinger.
According to the Golden Legend "There was, at that time, on the banks of the Rhone, in a marsh between Arles and Avignon, a dragon, half animal, half fish, thicker than an ox, longer than an horse, with teeth like swords and big as horns, he hid in the river where he took the life of all passers-by and submerged vessels."
The Tarasque was said to have come from Galatia which was the home of the legendary Onachus, a scaly, bison-like beast which burned everything it touched. The Tarasque was believed to be the offspring of the Onachus and the biblical Leviathan.
The king of Nerluc had attacked the Tarasque with knights and catapults, but the creature was almost impossible to kill. But Saint Martha (one of the biblical figures that witnessed Jesus' resurrection) found the beast and charmed it with hymns and prayers, and led back the tamed Tarasque to the city. The people, terrified by the monster, attacked it when it drew nigh. The monster offered no resistance and died there. Martha then preached to the people and converted many of them to Christianity. Sorry for what they had done to the tamed monster, the newly-Christianized townspeople changed the town's name to Tarascon.
In Modern Culture
- 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. Originating in 1469, the festival was created by Rene of Anjou. They took place on the second Sunday after Pentecost, and were meant to exorcise the evil that caused the Untimely excesses of the river. The Tarasque was blamed, among other things, of breaking dikes and dams that prevented the flooding of the Camargue. In the festival, a huge effigy of the Tarasque is carried through the streets, to traditional cries of "Lagadeou, lagadigadeou, la Tarascou Lagadeou, lagadigadeou, lou Casteou" While these festivals previously varied according to river conditions, happening in 1846, 1861, 1891 et 1946, they have since become a yearly event and tourist attraction, usually on July 29, the day of Saint Martha.
- A legendary marine creature reported to live in Vietnam's Halong Bay was also called "Tarasque" by the French who ruled the area at the time.
- The French military named a towed 20 mm anti-aircraft gun (53 T2) after the Tarasque.
- The Tarasque is one of the statues of the Corpus Christi procession of many Spanish cities
- Tarascosaurus is a dinosaur named after the Tarasque
- The table-top RPG Dungeons & Dragons has a 'boss' monster known as the 'Tarrasque'