Visiting Menton, France and its towering Saint-Michel Basilica: crowning Baroque architecture atop the Pearl of France
Sunlit or floodlit, truly an architectural gem
The full name of this church building in Menton, France, is the Basilica of St Michael the Archangel (French: Basilique de Saint-Michel Archange). Built between 1639 and 1653, it towers over a city known as the Pearl of France (French: Perle de la France).
Its main architect was Lorenzo Lavagna. It was originally commissioned by Prince Honoré II of Monaco (1), the local ruler. The tower, with its circular upper section, dating from 1701, for which the architect Emmanuel Cantone was responsible, is truly a crowning feature and, with the building set on an Alpine foothill in any case, dominates the city. While the tower is 53 metres high from its base, yet it looks even higher, given the vantage point of its location.
The building's main frontage was re-crafted in the 19th century, but in conformity with 17th century Baroque style. The interior of the Basilica contains a number of priceless works of art. A large sundial is affixed to the wall of the building: particularly apt in this most sunny of French cities on the Mediterranean coast.
The Basilica has a strong musical tradition and for over 60 years has hosted a Festival of Classical Music (French: Festival de Musique classique ).
Interestingly, the Basilica was formerly linked with the Diocese of Ventimiglia in present day Italy, but today it forms part of the Ecclesiastical Province of Marseille. (Meanwhile, the Principality of Monaco, of the city's former rules, is itself now an Archdiocese.) Local political boundary changes over the past 150 or so years have been complemented by ecclesiastical reorganization.
Some particularly good views of the Basilica can be obtained from the Port area of the city. There is a sense in which, from certain angles, the building and its surrounding built environment have hardly changed for some centuries.
Menton is situated in the Alpes-Martimes department of south-eastern France. The Basilica is situated by the intersection of Montée du souvenir and rue du Palmier .
November 27, 2012
(1) Clearly the Basilica is very similar in style — particularly in the pink hue of its stone — to various church buildings in the neighbouring Principality of Monaco, which is not surprising, because of the close historical connections between Monaco and Menton, and the architectural patronage which the Princes of Monaco long exercised in the city.
Also worth seeing
In Menton itself, visitor attractions include: the Carnolès Palace (French: Palais Carnolès ) was formerly a residence of the Princes of Monaco, to which Menton belonged until 1861; the the Jean Cocteau museum in the Bastion ; military history buffs may be interested in the small Pont-Saint-Louis Casemate museum, near the Italian border; and many others;
How to get there
Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur ), from where there are bus links to Menton . The French railroad company SNCF maintains services to Menton from Downtown Nice. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Nice include easyJet, from London Luton Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
- Visiting Menton, France: Mediterranean, border city with Monaco memories
- Visiting the Pont-Saint-Louis Casemate, Menton, France: remembering some World War Two history
- Visiting Saint-Charles church, Monte Carlo, Monaco: sedate, 19th century French neo-Renaissance arch
- Visiting the Museum of Stamps and Coins, Monaco: good ambassadors for the Principality
- Visiting San Luigi Bridge, near Ventimiglia, Italy: remembering events of World War Two