Medieval Perpignan is the last stop before the Spanish border, and it breathes Catalan influences. Not surprising when you think of all the times Perpignan switched between French and Spanish rulers. Today, you can still enjoy a great mix of cultures. Let me take you on a trip through historical Perpinyà, the southernmost city of France.
The one monument most emblematic of Perpignan is Le Castillet, which used to be the main gate into the town at the Place de la Victoire. A bit later on, it was transformed into a prison. And today, Le Castillet hosts the Casa Pairal Museum of Catalan Arts and Culture. I have to say that Le Castillet is hard to miss with its red bricks and Baixax marble. On top of that, it photographs really well with the bright blue southern French sky in the background. By paying a small entrance fee, you can climb the 142 stairs to get a great view of Perpignan. Unfortunately, I arrived too early, so it’s best to check this website if you want to make sure it’s open.
Rue des Marchands
A few steps from Le Castillet, I walked towards the Place de la Loge, which has been the central square of the town since the Middle Ages. I wanted to go to the Tourist Office, which is located in La Loge de Mer: a beautiful medieval maritime tribunal from 1397. Adjacent to the Tourist Office is the, also, medieval town hall. But first, my attention was drawn to the colourful, half-timbered houses on the Rue des Marchands. This is how Perpignan must have looked in the Middle Ages before most of the typical houses were destroyed in the 19th century to make way for modernisation. In some of the shops on Rue des Marchands, you can still admire the beautifully decorated wooden ceilings that remain from the medieval buildings.
Perpignan is only a small town, so I decided to stroll through the streets and let the city guide me. Soon enough I arrived at a lovely square, the Place Léon Gambetta, with the Cathedral of Saint-Jean-Baptiste towering majestically over it. The first stone of this Roman Catholic cathedral was laid in 1302 with layers of brick alternated with stones from the local riverbed. However, it took another 185 years to complete.
From the cathedral, it is a short walk to the adjacent Campo Santo. This is, in fact, a vast rectilinear cemetery and one of the oldest medieval cemeteries in France. I found it closed, like Le Castillet, as it opens at 11h00 (and it closes on Mondays, although the entrance is free). But peeking through the gate, I could still admire the white marble gothic columns lining four galleries. During the year, all kinds of events and festivals take place at Campo Santo, like Live au Campo and Les Trobades médiévales.
Palais des Rois de Majorque
Another highlight of Perpignan is the Palais des Rois de Majorque. It might seem a bit odd to have a palace named after the Kings of Majorca, but this palace dates from the time when Perpignan was the mainland capital of the Kingdom of Majorca, and they were in charge. Luckily, it was open, and I could visit this perfect example of a medieval fortress. Bonus: climbing the tower gave me a great view over Perpignan with the majestic Mont Canigou on the background.
By the time I had seen all the ins and outs of the Palais des Rois de Majorque, it was lunchtime. And lunchtime in a city with so many Catalan influences is great! Especially when I discovered the culinary heart of the city in this tiny little street called Rue Paratilla, just a stone’s throw away from Place de la République. A nice platter of tapas accompanied by a great local wine ended my visit to Perpignan. For now, because there is more to explore!