Perpignan, A Charming City on the French Spanish Border
Perpignan is an enjoyable city but is somewhat overshadowed by Barcelona. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Perpignan is home to beautiful castles and palaces as well as wonderful historic village houses and buildings.
While actually in France, a good portion of Perpignan's population is of Spanish origin. The current residents are descendants of the refugees who fled to Perpignan to escape from the Spanish Civl war of the late 1930s. There are also Arabs from North Africa as well as Romany.
Perpignan France History
The height of Perpignan history was in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when the kings of Majorca held their court here, and it is from this period that most of its historical interest derives.
Perpignan gets its name from a lieutenant in the Roman army, Perperna, who murdered his boss, a 1st-century general, Quintus Sertorius.
The city's heyday was in the 13th century when the King of Aragon and conqueror of Majorca, created the Kingdom of Majorca and County of Roussillon for his young son. This tiny kingdom was absorbed by the Catalan kings of Aragon in the 14th century, but prospered until 1463 when Louis XI's army besieged the town. Rather than give in, the Perpignanais ate rats until they were ordered by the king to surrender or die.
Ironically, Perpignan was given back to Spain in 1493, but in the 1640's Richelieu grabbed it back. Although there's no separatist movement among French Catalans today, their sense of identity is still very strong, evident in both the language and frequent use of the national yellow and red colours.
Palais des Rois de Majorque - Palace of the Kings of Majorca
The number one sight in Perpignan which has been the focus of the town's success and growth over the centuries is the Palace of the Kings of Majorca. This palace was used as the king's residence from the twelfth through fourteenth centuries.
Le Castillet - Casa Pairal or Catalan Museum
photo: Bertrand Rieger--hemis.fr
Le Castillet, was built as a gateway in the 14th century. It was later a prison and is now a museum. This is all that is left of the original city walls. Now housing the Casa Pairal, an interesting museum of Roussillon's Catalan folk culture, with samples of craft and religious art. The Museum is open daily except Tuesdays.
CathÃ©drale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Perpignan - St John the Baptist Cathedral of Perpignan
Begun in 1324 by King Sancho of Majorca and continued in the 15th century, the church was originally the seat of the Bishop of Elne. Since 1602 this cathedral has been the seat of the Bishop of Perpignan. The exterior walls of this imposing structure are particularly noteworthy: layers of stones from the local river bed have been squeezed in-between the brick. The Arab and Romany St Jean quarter, south of the cathedral, is packed with fourteenth and fifteenth century mansions and stately homes as well as North African shops and cafÃ©s.
Place de la Loge in Perpignan
Place de la Loge is the focus of the pedestrianised old town and home to Perpignan's most beautiful building, the Gothic Loge de Mer. It was originally the city's stock exchange and maritime court and is highly ornate with Venetian arches and loggia and a ship-shaped weathervane. Bizarrely, it is currently rented to a hamburger chain.
Next door is the HÃ´tel de Ville, fronted by imposing wrought-iron gates and Maillol's statue of La MÃ©diterranÃ©e in the courtyard and the old Roussillon parliament building, Palais de la DÃ©putation.
Just to the east, is place Gambetta, site of the 14th century CathÃ©drale St-Jean. Inside the church are a number of elaborate Catalan pieces including the incredible DÃ©vÃ´t Christ, a wooden-carved crucifix depicting the agony of the tortured Christ in moving detail. One of France's oldest cemeteries is just past the chapel, Campo Santo, and is 600 years old.