Visiting Perpignan, France: refracting past sovereignties
The shadow of the Pyrenees, dualities and bilingualism
When I visited the ancient city of Perpignan (Catalan: Perpinyà), I had the impression that a cultural duality was very much a local feature. In the apparent nature of the place, more than one historic identity seemed to be asserted simultaneously.
Since the 17th century, Perpignan and its surrounding Roussillon (Catalan: Rosselló) region, have belonged to France, and the official language has for centuries been French. But Catalan, the original local language, has also survived, and today many of Perpignan's street signs are written in Catalan as well as in French. Although this area of France borders on Spain, local people in Roussillon culturally identify more closely with the region of Catalonia within Spain, rather than with the Spanish state.
Indeed, centuries ago, the Kings of the Catalan-speaking former realm of Majorca built a palace here, a continental base for their island kingdom. This fine palace may be seen today.
Another of Perpignan's landmarks is the Castillet (Catalan: El Castellet ) tower, It is often the familiar red and yellow striped Catalan flag which flies from this ancient building, dating from the 14th century.
Running near Perpignan, and across the Franch-Spanish border, is the Pyrenees range of mountains. One nearby mountain, the Canigou (Catalan: El Canigó ), broods majestically over the coastal plain near the Mediterranean, by Perpignan.
Bordering the Pyrénées-Orientales department, in which Perpignan is situated, is the Catalan-speaking Principality of Andorra (Catalan: Principat d'Andorra ; French: Principauté d'Andorre ). In this mountainous state a comparable sense of duality has been maintained since the Middle Ages. Established as a condominium of Co-Princes, the Count of Foix in nearby France (now the titular responsibility has passed to the French President) and the Bishop of Urgel in nearby Spain, the principality has for centuries maintained its independence perched high in the Pyrenees.
Also worth seeing:
Banyuls-sur-Mer (Catalan: Banyuls de la Marenda ; distance: 38 kilometres) is a picturesque town on the Mediterranean, close to the Spanish border, which already functioned as a port in the Middle Ages.
Andorra-la-Vella (French: Andorre-la-Vieille ; distance: 163 kilometres) is the capital of the Principality of Andorra. If you decide to drive, please check weather reports first because adverse weather can affect the roads.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ) (Paris-Perpignan distance: 849 kilometres), from where there are air links to Perpignan. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris (station: Gare de Lyon ) to Perpignan. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, Ryanair flies from London Stansted Airport to Perpignan Airport (Aéroport International Perpignan-Rivesaltes ), from where car rental is available. 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.