Perpignan – The City, the Mediterranean and Catalonia

by Antonio Bonito

Perpignan, a small city in the Languedoc of south-west France, is the perfect destination for lovers of the sea, mountains, art, culture and history. With miles of sandy beaches nearby, this is a cultural center not to be missed for those visiting south-west France or northern Spain.

Perpignan is to be found in a region of France known as Languedoc-Roussillon. It is in fact located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, close by the border with Spain. It also benefits from a stunning hinterland formed by the Pyrenees mountain chain and the well-known and equally famous Corbieres wine-growing region. For those interested in facts, Perpignan is also the southernmost city in France.

Perpignan also has a unique and most interesting history, and is equally well-known for its architecture as for the modern-day tourist industry. It is also very well-known for its world-famous rail station, the ceiling of which was painted by the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali, who called the station the “cosmological center of the universe”.

Perpignan is old, very old! The area surrounding the city, formerly known as Ruscino (which lent its name to the whole of the region), was inhabited from the sixth century BC, and was a major trading partner with the Greek nations. In the second century BC it was taken possession of by the invading Celts. Howevern Perpignan as it is known today came into being during the middle ages when it belonged to the Counts of Roussillon who made it their headquarters. The city later on was bequeathed to the King of Aragon, in northern Spain, before passing into the hands of the kingdom of Majorca. Many of the remaining historical features of the town date from this period.

Perpignan is also renowned for being the proud owner of one of the most incredible carillons in the world. In fact it is the only remaining fully operational carillon with an overall range of four octaves dating from the 19th century. The carillon was produced by the French foundry of Amadee Bollee and Sons from the town of Mans, and before being installed in Permignan, was first exhibited at the Universal Exhibition of 1878 in Paris .

The carillon is owned by the town and in 1996 it was fully restored to its original glory by the French carillon experts, Herepian. Since being restored, carillon players have been employed, and nominated by decree of the church, to demonstrate the instrument at its best. And since it was electrified in 1956, every day in the morning, mid-day and evening, a player will sit at the keyboard and play the Angelus prayer.

Perpignan is also the proud owner of four museums: the Museum of Catalan Arts and Popular Traditions, the Museum of Coins and Medals (one of the most important in France), the Museum of Natural History, and the Hyacinthe Rigaud Museum of Painting. All four museums possess magnificent collections.

As if that isn’t enough, it’s unbelievable that in a conurbation such as Perpignan, teeming with people, there are still acres of land inhabited by nesting birds of all kinds. But not surprising once you realise that the central area of the town also contains over 130 hectares of parkland, with over 2000 hectares of outlying cultivated land, all conserving a huge variety of wildlife and bird species.

The cuisine of the Perpignan region is of course Catalan – a discovery and gastronomic experience not to be missed by those who aren’t already familiar with it!

So, there you are, the city of Perpignan in all its glory. All that remains is to wish you a happy vacation and many happy encounters with the magnificent city of Perpignan.

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