Perpignan is a city, a commune and the capital of the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France. Perpignan enjoys the most sunshine of any place in France especially during Winter. The summer season in Perpignan is enjoyable with average temperatures in the low 30°C in July and August. Perpignan basks in temperatures above 12°C, even during winter. Perpignan is the capital of the Pyrenees-Orientales the southernmost department of the Languedoc Roussillon. Perpignan is situated near the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France only about 30 kilometers from Spain. Perpignan retains a distinct Spanish flavour as it was once the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca and later became Catalonias second-largest city after Barcelona. Half Catalan and half French, Perpignan is Languedoc at its most exotic. The last major town in Languedoc before the Spanish border, it is no wonder why the flavour of Perpignan is essentially Catalan. There’s a real mix of cultures in this corner of the region: Catalan, Romany and North African all co-exist in this sunny city of palm-lined squares. For the visitor, it’s useful to know that this is not only one of the best places in the region to sample local food and wine but also a city with a relatively busy airport that has several handy air connections overseas. However, it does lack buzz – Barcelona is too close and too big a rival for little Perpignan to hit the big time. It’s also worth noting that over recent years Perpignan has become a stronghold for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s rightwing Front National Party who claim the city’s original white inhabitants have been overrun by foreigners.
The hayday of Perpignan was in the 13th and 14th centuries, when the kings of Majorca held their court here. Perpignan was the capital of the former province and county of Roussillon (Catalan: Rosselló), also known as Northern Catalonia, and continental capital of the Kingdom of Majorca in the 13th and 14th centuries. Though settlement in the area goes back to Roman times, the medieval town of Perpignan seems to have been founded around the beginning of the 10th century - first mentioned in a document as villa Perpiniarum in 927. Soon Perpignan became the capital of the counts of Roussillon. In 1172 Count Girard II bequeathed his lands to the Counts of Barcelona. Perpignan acquired the institutions of a partly self-governing commune in 1197. French feudal rights over Roussillon were given up by Louis IX in the Treaty of Corbeil in 1258. A former capital of the Kings of Majorca and the Counts of Roussillon, Perpignan changed hands repeatedly during the medieval period until finally becoming French territory with the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1659. Always too far from the coast to become a port, the town developed into a cloth-making centre by the early middle ages. In more recent times, Perpignan became home to countless “pieds noirs” or French citizens who fled the uprisings of the 50s and 60s in North Africa. The town is now also home to sizeable communities of people from Morocco and Algeria who moved to France to escape repression in their home countries.
Palais des Rois de Majorque. The top sight in Perpignan has been one of the reasons for the town’s success and growth over the centuries. Originally used as a king’s imperial residence during the 12th to 14th centuries, today it’s really only the gardens and the courtyard of this imposing citadel that are worth a visit. For an idea of the once wealthy Perpignan take a wander through the network of narrow streets in the Saint-Jean Quarter and take in the splendour of the 14th and 15th century mansions and imposing homes which make up this atmospheric part of the town. Cathédrale Saint-Jean has been functioning as Perpignan’s cathedral since 1602. The brick and stone exterior walls of the structure are particularly interesting with layers of stones from the local river bed being squeezed in between the brick. Escargots du Roussillon Snail Shop is a quintessentially French store in Place de la République and the ultimate place to buy fresh snails and herbs for a traditional French meal. Jardin de Sant-Vicens are gardens on Rue Sant Vicens that are not only full of exotic orange trees and oleanders, but it is also the place to look for ceramic pots and textiles which are on sale. The 13th century Palace of the Kings of Majorca sits on the high citadel, surrounded by ramparts, reinforced for Louis XI and Charles V, which were updated in the 17th century by Louis XIV's military engineer Vauban. The walls surrounding the town, which had been designed by Vauban, were unfortunately razed in 1904 to accommodate urban development.
Following a visit in 1963, the Catalan surrealist artist Salvador Dalí declared the Perpignan railway station the center of the Universe, saying that he always got his best ideas sitting in the waiting room. He followed that up some years later by declaring that the Iberian Peninsula rotated precisely at Perpignan station 132 million years ago – an event the artist invoked in his 1983 painting Topological Abduction of Europe – Homage to René Thom. Above the station is a monument in Dali's honour, and across the surface of one of the main platforms is painted, in big letters is Perpignan centre du monde (English: Perpignan is centre of the world). Traditionally, local commerce was in wine and olive oil, corks (the cork oak Quercus suber grows in Perpignan's mild climate), wool and leather, and iron. JOB rolling papers are also currently manufactured in Perpignan. Since 2004, every year during the last weekend of August in the Palace of the Kings of Majorca the free 3 day Guitares au Palais takes place. The festival has a broad main stream focus with pop related music as well as traditional acoustic guitar and alternative music with international guests like Caetano Veloso who appeared in 2007, as well as Rumberos Catalans, Pedro Soler, Bernardo Sandoval, Peter Finger with Aaron and Bryce Dessner in 2008. The famous Sanch Procession folklore, once forbidden by the Catholic Church, is still celebrated in Perpignan, Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure. Perpignan has a close connection with the sculptor Aristide Maillol, who attended school in the city.
Perpignan was long a stronghold, however, it is a border town, a place of passage and mixing of peoples. It is located on the road connecting the Strait of Gibraltar to the Italian peninsula, becoming the "Domitian" Roman, which today perpetuates the A9 route. It was the scene of invasions, wars, since the passage of Hannibal, the onslaughts of the Vandals, Visigoths, Arabs and the Franks, the rivalry between France and Catalonia, the wars of Spanish Succession, the Napoleonic Wars up until the Second World War. But it was also a place of refuge, bringing together for centuries people with different cultures. On the other hand, Perpignan has since the early Middle Ages been the heir to the organization, institutions, culture and urban values of Roman antiquity, taken over by the principality of Catalonia. Once ancient Roman city of Ruscino, seat of the County of Roussillon, it is among the first cities in Europe to be granted a charter of liberties in 1197 by the King of Aragon, Count of Barcelona Peter I. This is still visible in the civil and civic monuments of the city. Finally Perpignan became the capital of the mainland "Kingdom of Majorca" between 1276 and 1344. This peak period is at the origin of the major elements of its rich heritage. The royal city is covered with architecture and gothic decor, a college, and its commercial prosperity is exported throughout the Mediterranean basin. A cosmopolitan capital, Perpignan received artists and became the cradle of great literary troubadours, the stage of traveling philosophers such as Ramon Llull, a home to a school of philosophy and Jewish religious importance. The major monuments of this period testify to magnificent Perpignan: the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca, the Cathedral, the Campo Santo, the town hall and several churches.
Noteable residents of Perpignan are:
Menachem Meiri (1249 - 1310) a famous Catalan rabbi, Talmudist and Maimonidean.
Louise Labé (1524 – 1566) a female Lyons poet of the Renaissance.
Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659 - 1743) a female who painted the definitive portraits of Louis XIV.
François Arago (1786 - 1853) a physicist, astronomer and liberal politician.
Aristide Maillol (1861 – 1944) a French Catalan sculptor and painter.
Robert Brasillach (1909 – 1945) a fascist author and journalist, executed for advocating collaboration with Nazi Germany.
Frédérick Bousquet (1981 - present) a French freestyle and butterfly Olympic swimmer.
Sandrine Erdely-Sayo (1968 - present) a pianist and youngest recipient of the French Minister of Culture Prize at 13 years of age.
When James I, the Conqueror, King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona, founded the Kingdom of Majorca in 1276, Perpignan became the capital of the mainland territories of the new state. The succeeding decades are considered the golden age in the history of the city. It prospered as a center of cloth manufacture, leather work, goldsmiths' work, and other luxury crafts. King Philip III of France died there in 1285, as he was returning from his unsuccessful crusade against the Aragonese Crown. In 1344 Peter IV of Aragon annexed the Kingdom of Majorca and Perpignan once more became part of the County of Barcelona. A few years later it lost approximately half of its population to the Black Death. It was attacked and occupied by Louis XI of France in 1463 and a violent uprising against French rule in 1473 was harshly put down after a long siege, but in 1493 Charles VIII of France, wishing to conciliate Castile in order to free himself to invade Italy, restored it to Ferdinand II of Aragon. Again besieged and captured by the French during the Thirty Years War in September 1642, Perpignan was formally ceded by Spain 17 years later in the Treaty of the Pyrenees, and from then on has remained a French possession. Noteworthy buildings in the city are the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, begun in 1324 and finished in 1509. Place de la République and theatre. Sadi Carnot and Vauban walkways on the River Bassa. Perpignan is served by the Gare de Perpignan railway station, which offers connections to Paris, Barcelona, Toulouse and several regional destinations. The motorway A9 connects Perpignan with Barcelona and Montpellier. The nearest airport is Perpignan – Rivesaltes Airport. Perpignan experiences a warm Mediterranean climate similar to much of the rest of southern France.
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Wine Tasting Notebook
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