France From The Inside

France From The Inside: A Portrait of Collioure - A Haven for Art Between Mountain and Sea

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This article praises the attractions of the mediterranean resort of Collioure in the south of France. It refers to its medieval architecture and its artistic connections.

Where the French Pyrenees that barricaded the spent force of the seventeenth century from the Napoleonic juggernaut, tumble into the sea, there is a cluster of little towns steeped in history and gently broiled in sunlight; of these Collioure has become the cultural magnet that pulls thousands of visitors from frostier climes each year to simmer in its benevolent ambience.

Collioure's Medieval Architecture

Although the town asserts its probably uncontested claim to being the Anchovy Capital of the world, its real attractions are the sun, the sea, the art and the architecture. The Majorcan Kings built their stronghold here and here it still stands with its foundations washed by the warm mediterranean virtually untouched by centuries of change, its towering battlements dominating the little walled town and the old men playing boules in its shadow. On the easternmost point of the bay sharing the same footbath as its giant neighbour stands the picturesque church of “Notre Dame des Anges”. This mellow sepia stone chapel with its dome-topped turret, represented in oils, acrylics, water-paints, bronze and resin, has become the symbol of the modern Collioure.

Collioure's Town Centre

The town itself is a bewitching confection of tall narrow terraces clad in multi-hued plaster renders, salmon-pink, azure-blue, sage-green, custard-yellow; each wearing a bonnet of terracotta tiles and jostling for space in the narrow streets like shrewd housewives in the marketplace. Of course because commerce follows the tourist herd as the lion follows the wildebeest, each one of these erstwhile fisherman’s home is now an emporium of some sort, a restaurant or a boutique, a discotheque or a wine merchant, somewhere to buy beachwear or the ubiquitous representation of the church of “Notre Dame des Anges”, and all at grossly inflated prices. Indeed as with “tourist traps” the world over the shops of Collioure sell so little of real practical value that one wonders where the locals obtain their necessities of life. One shop is crammed from floor to ceiling with captivating wooden toys, sufficient to entertain an army of under-fives for a year or more; another one purveys ice-cream in every conceivable flavour, colour and size, gallons of the stuff day after day to the pink, panting crowds that potter along the streets; pattisseries provide croissants, brioche and bread no matter what the hour of the day but the predominant product of the town is art.

Collioure City of Painters

Building upon the reputations of Henri Matisse and André Derain (who both visited the town in 1905), Picasso, Chagall and many more, everywhere you go, tucked into every impossible little basement, dilapidated barn or former tiny front parlour there are artists. Some of them tempt with charming scenes of Collioure’s street-life and architecture, others though harness the town’s reputation as the "City of Painters" to present diverse works be they representational or abstract, technically superb or merely daubs. Every two years the "Prix Collioure" is awarded to a young european artist who is then allowed to work in the town's Museum of Modern Art for a year.

Amongst this pulsating crowd of consumers and purveyors though, there are if one looks carefully one or two individuals whose life-course, judging by their origins and occupation, would likely be truly absorbing to anyone with a passion to write. There is the gracious Romanian lady, for instance, whose source of revenue comes from the delightful images that she paints in acrylics on sea-washed pebbles picked up from the beach. There is also her counterpart, the dapper Romany with his smiling eyes, his rich tenor voice and his ancient accordion who will sing “The Skye Boat Song” to you if you ask him with due courtesy. Surely that is the art to be most pursued be it at Collioure in the south of France or anywhere else.
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Travel and Culture