This week, I came across a national contest I hadn’t heard about before, le Monument Préféré des Français. I was already aware of a parallel competition to find the nation’s favourite village, which Cordes (2014) and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (2012) in our region have won previously. That competition continues, since there is no shortage of picturesque villages in France.
Both TV competitions are fronted by Stéphane Bern, France’s Monsieur Culture. France’s 13 regions, including Corsica, plus Guadeloupe each put forward three monuments which represent the built cultural heritage of their region. They range from bridges to canals to abbeys and fortresses.
You can see all the nominations by region on this link. You can even vote if you feel inclined, until 27th May. The 14 regional choices will then be put to public vote again.
The three monuments our region, Occitanie, has highlighted are:
L’Abbaye Saint-Martin-du-Canigou / Casteil / Pyrénées-Orientales.
I haven’t visited this abbey, but the photo on the website shows that it is in a spectacular setting.
I have visited this subterranean river at the bottom of an enormous chasm, which you can explore in flat-bottomed boats rather like punts. Speleologist Edouard-Alfred Martel first explored the cave in 1889 and the first tourists visited it at the end of the 19th century.
A natural phenomenon like this is bound to give rise to myths and legends, foremost among which is that the Devil created the abyss to challenge St Martin. If the saint succeeded in crossing the chasm, the Devil would give back all the souls he planned to take to Hell with him. St Martin spurred on his mule, which took a giant leap and landed on the other side. Naturally, the Devil was less than chuffed and disappeared into the abyss.
Le Viaduc de Millau, Aveyron
After the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, this is probably one of France’s most recognisable monuments. The viaduct is the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world. I have seen it both during construction, when the gigantic pillars had been raised but before the road surface was built, and in its finished state. It’s an impressive sight but graceful for all its size.
It’s worth scrolling through the regions to see the monuments they have nominated. Despite having lived in France for 25 years, there are still many areas we haven’t visited, so a number of these places are now on my bucket list.
Apart from our own region, the one I am most familiar with is the island of Corsica. Its three nominations, all of which I know, are:
Napoleon Bonaparte’s birthplace in Ajaccio
I have never been inside, since it has always been closed whenever we visited.
Napoleon was born here on 15th August 1769. His parents had fled the town of Corte, the heartland of Corsica’s short-lived independent republic, after the Battle of Ponte Novu in May 1769, when France conquered the island. Napoleon’s mother, Maria Letizia, was already pregnant with him when they are said to have escaped along the Tavignanu mule track.
The prehistoric site at Filitosa
This mysterious megalithic site, occupied from the end of the Neolithic era, is haunting. Its sculptors carved increasingly sophisticated statues in the form of warriors.
No one quite knows the purpose of these megaliths, although various theories have been proposed. Some archaeologists believe that the inhabitants sculpted their enemies, thereby divesting them of power.
If you go to Corsica, this is a must-see.
The citadel in Calvi
This impressive 13th-century Genoese structure guards the entrance to the Bay of Calvi in the North West of the island. Christopher Columbus is said to have been born in Calvi, although there’s no evidence to support this. However, the claim has stuck.
Admiral Nelson lost an eye during the siege of Calvi in 1794. In a strange interlude, Corsica became part of the British Empire for a few years, complete with a Viceroy. Britain provided military support to Corsica, which was rebelling against French rule, spurred on by nationalist sentiment after the French Revolution. Calvi was held by the French. The situation was, of course, a lot more complicated than I have described.
I will stay loyal to my adopted region, so I make no secret that I have chosen the Viaduc de Millau.
Which monument would you vote for? Or do you have one of your own favourites from France?
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