Pyrénées-Orientales (66000) Population: 105,983 Altitude: 30 m
Perpignan is a great town in a great location. The Mediterranean is 10 km to the east, Spain is 30 km to the south, and westward are the Pyrénées and the land of the Cathars.
There's an extensive Medieval old town, interesting historical sites, many lovely squares with terrace cafés and dining, shopping discoveries to make.
Perpignan is quite a large town, and even the very picturesque old town is pretty spread out. It would take more than one day to do a good exploration of Perpignan, but it's a lovely place and we think it's worth the time.
The Squares of Perpignan
The points of interest for visiting Perpignan are the squares (places), and including the Hotel de Ville and the Castellet tower.
We began our tour at the Place Péri, in front of the pillared 1859 Palais de Justice, then past the small complex with the tourist office. Along the lovely, canal-like Bassa river is the Quai Nicolas Sadi Carnot, lined with terrace café-restaurants.
The red-brick Castillet was a defensive entry tower into the town in the 14th century. Tucked in behind the tower is a nice little village square with terrace cafés and pedestrian shopping streets leading further into the old town. The structure was built in 1368 by the King of Aragon and originally included a draw bridge. Improvements were made in the 15th century and the hexagonal watchtower was added. In 1904, the Medieval walls of Perpignan were demolished, but the Castillet was spared.
Place de la Loge
The Place de la Loge has the huge, 14th-century Gothic Loge de Mer. It was built in 13888 by Jean d'Aragon to promote Perpignan as a maritime commercial center (hence the nautical motif). In the 16th century the building was doubled in size. The gray-stone building is lined with Gothic arches and has a row of sculpted windows along the upper part. A jutting gargoyle is joined by a nearby iron sailing ship (miniature) to remind us of the maritime purpose.
Hotel de Ville
The Perpignan Hotel de Ville (town hall) is located in the western end of the building. There's a small tourist office there, of interest to visitors. Inside its cloister-like courtyard is a pretty fountain and a complex, ancient sundial.
Place Leon Gambette
The Place Leon Gambette is a long, narrow square lined by three-story buildings that provide shade there most of the day. At the east end of the square is the 14th-century Saint-Jean-Baptiste cathedral with its ornate and gold-decorated campanile.
Place de la République
The Place de la République is a very large, open square. It has terrace cafés, of course, and a colorful carousal. There was a small market while we were there, probably a daily occurrence. The square is surrounded on four sides by pastel-colored buildings, all very neat and many with small iron balconies, and shops along the street level. On the north side of the square is a round sundial, simple but old.
Place de la Révolution
The Place de la Révolution is a very small square, a few blocks east of Place de la République. It's small, but very village-like. The old fountain looks a bit like an ancient well, and has an interesting bronze lizard on it. We had lunch here, in the bistro La Baratine, with really great homemade food. The street leading to the Place de la Révolution from the west is the narrow pedestrian street Rue de la Révolution Française, which has small shops, cafés and restaurants.
Citadelle - Palais Majorque
The Citadelle is a vast fortified structure on a low hill at the south edge of the old town, and inside is the Palais des Rois de Majorque. The citadelle is now essentially 19th-century fortifications (with an earlier and later history).
Jaume II, the King of Majorque made Perpignan his capital in 1276, and began construction of the Palace-fortress, completed in 1309 (in the time of Jacques the Conquerer). The palace included a two-story chapel, built in 1300, includes the lower Chapelle Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, reserved for the Queen, and the upper Chapelle Sainte-Croix, reserved for the King.
The complex was completed by Louis XI, Charles-Quint, Philippe II and eventually by Vauban (France's famous builder of forts).
We found the site to be a very interesting place to visit. From the modern (19th-century) defensive entry, the citadel facade and the many, large and interconnected palace rooms, some now doing double duty as art exhibits. The architecture and its feeling of ages and history is very good, and there's a fabulous view of the entire town and countryside from the top.
Entry is a meager 4 euros (kids under 12 free). It is a 15-minute walk south from the center of the old town.
History of Perpignan
Ancient name: Ruscino (Celtic oppidum); Julia Ruscion colony in the Roman Province of Narbonensis I. The modern name is Castel Roussillion. Ruscino to Ruscion to Roussillion is the origin of the name of this region of France, and the present-day department of Languedoc-Roussillon [map, southwest]
Celto-Ligurian: The original inhabitants around the 6th century BC were a tribe that traded with the Greeks and the nomadic Champs d'Urnes civilisation. By the 2nd century BC the area was dominated by the Celts.
Gallo-Roman: In the time of Auguste, the Roman Domitienne Way (voie Domitienne) crossed through here on its way between Italy and Spain. An oppidum including a forum and a temple was built, where the route crossed the Têt river, in the time of Augustus.
Medieval: The site expanded into a proper village, prospering until around the 5th century when the barbarian invasions devastated the area. it wasn't until the 10th century that the domain Villa Perpiniana was established overlooking the river.
The Counts of Roussillon resided and ruled here in the 11th century. The last Count of Roussillon died in 1172 and leagued the domain to the King of Aragon. In 1262, Jacques le Conquérant (Jacques the Conquerer) left Perpignan and his French domains to the eldest son Majorque, and the future King moved into Perpignan. The Kingdom of Majorque disappeared in 1344, and the Perpignan was ruled by an administrator until the wars between Louis XI and Aragon in the 15th century. A Spanish garrison surrendered the site to French troops in the 17th century, and it became officially French in 1659 by the Treaty of the Pyrénées.
More Recently: The archeological site of Ruscino, now Castel Roussillion, is about 5 km east of the town center on the south side of the Têt river, out the Route de Canet (D617a), then north at the round-about on the Chemin du Charlemagne (C17); 3 km southeast of Bompas. Finds here include Celtic, Iberique and Greek pottery and urns of the Champs d'Urnes. Roman finds include pottery, mosaic, ceramic and money, not to mention a forum, ovens, and houses.