The exploitation of Fontvieille stone dates back to Roman times. The construction of the Tarascon castle gave it a significant boost. From then on, the quarries have been continuously exploited until today.
Fontvieille stone was first quarried in Roman times. However, it was not until the early 15th century, with the Château de Tarascon site, that it expanded significantly. From that time, the quarries were operated continuously until modern times.
The extracted stone has a number of qualities which have made it famous far beyond the boundaries of the Alpilles; it is a fairly soft conchiferous limestone, easy to extract but very resistant to crushing. The layer of cullet which rapidly forms on its surface when it dries makes it impermeable. In 1914, the Fontvieille quarries produced 24,000 m3 of stone a year (compared with just 2,000 today); it was exported to neighbouring towns and regions such as Arles, Lyon via the Rhône, or Nice, as well as to different countries in Europe and the Mediterranean basin.
1914 sounded the death-knell for the stone industry, as the majority of the labour force was requisitioned and reinforced concrete supplanted dressed stone in the construction industry after the war. After a brief resumption of activity due to the great need for housing in the immediate post-war period, the quarries began their definitive decline, despite the efforts of the architect Fernand Pouillon, who tried to demonstrate through his 'project-challenges' that it was possible to build housing for large numbers of people using traditional materials. Only one quarry remains operational (Les Taillades quarry).
The remaining operations are open quarries and the galleries dug over several centuries are closed to the public for safety reasons. These galleries contain many testimonies to the lives of the quarriers who 'inhabited' them, particularly the drawings made in the soot with ochre and coal and the sculptures and simple graffiti.