Visiting the statue of Gambetta, Cahors, France: inaugurated hardly more than a year after the death of the statesman
Demonstrative symbol of a statesman's — and eventually a nation's — way of thinking
When Léon Gambetta died on the last day of December 1882, many French people instinctively knew that an outstanding historical figure had been taken from their midst. His funeral was a particularly grand affair. The question of permanently honouring his memory thus took on a high priority. Amazingly, the fact that Gambetta, born in 1838, had been Prime Minister earlier in the year of his death was almost an appendage to the remarkable career of this defender of the Republic, who particularly came to prominence during the sanguinary Commune period in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War; he later energetically promoted the Republican system of government in France. There is a sense in which the Third Republic (1875-1940) was not far short of a personal creation of Léon Gambetta.
Sculptor Alexandre Falguière (1) was commissioned to create a suitable statue of Gambetta for his home city of Cahors, and in due course on April 14 1884, barely a year and few months after the statesman's untimely death at the age of 44, the sculptor's work was inaugurated at what is now known as Square François Mitterrand, close to the Allées Fénelon, in the city. Present on that moving occasion were other political leaders who were in due course themselves supposed to be regarded somewhat as luminaries of the Republican cause in France, Jules Ferry (2) and Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau (3), (although these figures were not as radically secularist as some of their successors proved to be).
The statue shows Gambetta with his right arm resting on a canon, presumably representing the French Revolutionary tradition of a nation at arms, and recalling Gambetta's rôle in resisting Prussian military occupation after the Franco-Prussian War. The statue's right arm is raised, as if the stateman were in full, rhetorical flow, exhorting his Republican followers and the French nation more generally.
A quotation from a rousing speech by Gambetta is chiselled onto the plinth of the statue.
The monument area was designed by architect Paul Pujol and the statue was cast in the foundry of the Thiébaut brothers.
Cahors is in the Lot deparment of France which is named for the river which flows through the city.
May 14, 2013
(1) Other works by Sculptor Falguière include a statue of La Fayette in Washington, DC, a statue of poet Goudouli in Toulouse, a statue of Cardinal Lavigerie in Bayonne, and many others. The sculptor was regarded as a leading practitioner of his art under the French Third Republic.
(2) Jules Ferry (1832-1893) served as Prime Minister 1880-1881 and 1883-1885; he was particularly noted as a secularist thinker, seeking to purge from state employment those who were known to be hostile to Republicanism, and as a promoter of overseas colonialist policies.
(3) Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau (1846-1904) served as Prime Minister 1899-1902, during which term the relations between religious associations and the state were regulated; he was also noted for his support for trade union rights and divorce laws.
Also worth seeing
In Cahors itself, its many architecturally distinguished structures include the Valentré Bridge and St. Etienne Cathedral, both Medieval.
Saint-Cirque-Lapopie (distance: 26 kilometres) is a Gallo-Roman village, still inhabited.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle), where car rental is available. (Paris-Cahors: distance: 576 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Cahors. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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