In French legend, the Tarasque is a fearsome dragon. According to legend, the creature had been terrorizing the town of Nerluc before being tamed by Saint Martha. The townsfolk avenged themselves by killing the pacified beast before then converting to Christianity and renaming the town to Tarascon.
The tarasque is an essential part of Tarascon's cultural identity, the town bearing the beast on its coat of arms and holding festivals dedicated to the creature up to the present day.
The tarasque's name is likely based off Tarascon, not the other way around as folklore attests. The town's name itself may have been based off Tauriscus, a Gaulish tyrant thought to be slain by Hercules.
The oldest reference to the Tarasque is in the "Vita S. Marthae" of the Pseudo-Marcella, dating back to somewhere between 1187 and 1220. The accounts of Vincent of Beauvis and Jacobus Voragine were based off a prototype of the Pseudo-Marcella and had gradually brought Saint Martha into 13th century martyrologies. The tale of the Tarasque was used to further increase the prevalence of Saint Martha in the region and establish the town of Tarascon's cultural identity.
The tarasque is a chimeric creature, being "half animal and half fish". It is larger than an ox and longer than a horse, has exceptionally sharp teeth, and had the armored shell of a turtle. It has the face and head of a lion, the mane of a horse, six bear-like legs, and a serpent's tail. It's back and scales are also notably sharp. The Pseudo-Rabanus adds on that it has hooked fangs, whistled and roared horribly, and that sparks leak from its eyes. It further mentioned that it had a pestilent breath that was lethal upon contact and then it lived alongside other serpents.
Multiple festivals in Tarasc)on feature the tarasque as an effigy, particularly on Pentecost and the feast day of Saint Martha (July 29th). On the former day, the effigy of the tarasque is represented as untamed and wild, breathing fire. On the latter day, the tarasque is represented as chastened, held on a leash by a little girl. It is accompanied by celebration, games, and music, as well as a traditional chant:
"Lagadigadeu, le Tarasco, Legadigadeu le Tarasco de casteu! (Lagadigadeu, the Tarasque, Lagadigadeu, the Tarasque of the castle!)
Laissas la passa, le vieio masco (Let her pass, the old mask)
Laissas la passa, que vai dansa (Let her pass, she's going to dance)
Leissas la dounc passa, la vieio masco!" (Let her pass then, the old mask!)
- The Tarasque and Tarascon were inspiration for the naming of the predatory dinosaur Tarascosaurus, a member of the abelisaur family and a close relative to Carnotaur
- Tarasque A Book of Creatures