PERPIGNAN, TOWN OF ART AND HISTORY
The name Roussillon comes from the Ruscino site, which was previously the Roman Administrative centre. After Charlemagne (otherwise known as Carolus Magnus) conquered the area in 811, the town quickly expanded. The first written mention of Perpignan is found in a bill of sale in 927 : “villa Perpiniano”. In 1172 it was bequeathed to the Realm of Aragon and the town became the capital of the Realm of Majorca (1276-1344). At this time, work started on the construction of the Palace of the Majorcan Kings and the cathedral dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The Castillet was built in 1368, during improvements to the fortifications of the town. In spite of all this, Perpignan fell under the yoke of the French in 1463 but then 12 years later following a prolonged siege, Perpignan was recaptured and given the name of “Faithful Town” – Fidelíssima Vila de Perpinyà. In 1659 Louis XIV signed the Treaty of the Pyrenees and the Roussillon, including Perpignan, was finally annexed to France once and for all. In the 20th century urbanisation saw the destruction of the town’s ramparts and the emergence of several architectural styles. In 2015 Perpignan obtained the “20th Century Heritage” award.
Le Castillet - Lieu d’intérêt majeur
For nearly 650 years, Perpignan has been protected by the Castillet. Built in 1368 under Peter IV of Aragon, the “Little Castle” was originally nothing more than a fortified gateway. During a vast campaign of fortification aiming to repel the Spanish assaults, Louis XI had a cupola added to its tower followed by the Notre Dame gateway which was completed in 1483. Arrow slits and other openings – surrounded by very visible white marble – were added to the red building. In 1542 Charles V had modifications carried out and then Vauban continued in the 17th century they were finally destroyed at the beginning of the 20th century. In order to make way for urbanisation and the expansion of the town most of the fortificatons were knocked down. Only the Castillet, still attached to the Notre Dame gateway, has subsisted and has become the icon of Perpignan. Once used as a State prison (1659), a Soldiers’ home and then municipal archives, the Castillet now houses the Northern Catalonia History Museum. From the top is a magnificent 360° view of the town for all those who manage to climb up the stairs.
For those who are partially or totally blind, visual aids are available in the Castillet and its museum. Guided visits are organised, usually by the Tourist Office, to enable everyone to explore this Catalan icon – as well as other notable historical sites in the town.
Le Palais des Rois de Majorque - Site de visite incontournable
As early as 1274, Jacques II commissioned the building of a fortress-palace to establish the capital of the Realm of Majorca in Perpignan. The two architects – Ramon Pau and Pons Descoyl – were asked to build an imposing castle capable of resisting enemy attacks, but also a place where the royal family would enjoy living. At the entrance is the impressive Tower of Homage aimed to show the strength of the monarch. The White Palace or Palais Blanc, also known as the throne room, was situated just behind and is remarkable in its Gothic-styled refinement – a contrast to its severe outer aspect. The double chapel, separating the king’s apartments from those of the queen, were also inspired by Arab-Spanish decorative elements. The Palace of the Majorcan Kings, an exceptional historical monument of Catalan heritage and culture, still watches over Perpignan from the top of the Puig del Rey hill. After much restoration work, including in the gardens, it has found its splendour of yester year.
Successive monarchs carried out works to protect the strategic site of the Palace of the Majorcan Kings (Palais des Rois de Majorque) including ramparts. Of those carried out by Charles V there remains a sword planted in a bastion. Philippe II of Spain had a modern citadel built with 6 bastions that were themselves protected by wide glacis. The starshaped additions were the work of Vauban in the 17th century.
Le Théâtre de l’Archipel - Une visite culturelle à ne pas manquer
Since 2011 culture and the arts have been promoted throughout Northern Catalonia by this National Stage, a title bestowed upon it in 2013. Performing in a colourful and diverse setting, the artistic season of the Théâtre de l’Archipel covers a wide range of events – different styles of plays, ballets, circus acts, opera, contemporary music and events for the young public... The programming covers not only the Grenat and the Carré halls but also El Mediator and the Municipal Theatre. The close relationship between the audience and the performers remain a recurrent theme, evident in the open rehearsals, workshops and conferences organised by the Theatre. The approach is also found in the two festivals organised every year – the Aujourd’hui Musiques (plays, dance and music) and the Tilt Festival (electronic music).
L'ensemble Cathédral Saint-Jean-Baptiste - Siège de l'évêché en Pays Catalan
The church of Saint Jean Le Vieux (St John the Elder) was consecrated in 1025, and details of Romanesque art can be seen such as the sculpted decor of the 13th gateway and some arcatures are still evident. Nevertheless, in 1324 the construction of a cathedral dedicated to Saint John the Baptist began, the idea being to take the diocese away from Elne. It was not consecrated until 1509 and in 1602 the aim was fulfilled. The ambitious plans included the building of 3 naves but eventually a single, 18m wide, 26m high grandiose nave was built. Flanked by 16 chapels, it is in Southern Gothic style. The cathedral houses a collection of rich furnishings such as the 14th century wooden sculpture of Christ on the Cross which can be seen during the renowned Sanch Easter Procession, as well as two 15th century bell towers and the organ, some elements of which date back to 1504. The 16th International Carillon Festival will take place between 12th July and 15th August 2018 from the Cathedral Carillon.