Thursday, October 29, 2009

Petit Vegas

We had some time to kill before taking the shuttle bus back out to the airport to pick up our rental car, so we explored a new part of Montpellier called Antigone.

Back in the 1960s, the city acquired a 40-hectare area of land that had been an army base. It’s about a kilometre long, sitting between the Place de la Comédie (at the south entrance to the old city centre) and the river Lez to the east. The city hired a Catalan architect, Ricardo Bofill, to design what grew to be an immense complex of 4,000 apartments, and 20,000 square metres of stores, offices, restaurants, schools, hotels – a real mixed community.

The curious choice is the architectural themes: ancient Greece mixed with elements of the Renaissance and traditional French urban planning: courtyards, squares, and boulevards. Built between 1979 and 1997, it’s physically impressive and consistent from one end to the other. Does it work? Well, it seems more like Las Vegas with its obviously fake architecture, a Greek theme park plopped down in the middle of the south of France. That’s not a compliment.

Is it a community? Hard to tell. It’s all very busy during the day with office workers, but when we went back for a walk at night, only the theme restaurants along the river were open and busy.

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