“Here on the river’s verge, I could be busy for months without changing my place, simply leaning a little more to the right or left.” – Paul Cézanne
Walking through the mazes of Ille-sur-Têt, I am in the company of the master. I cannot help but be reminded of his devotion to his beloved mont Sainte-Victoire. Shortly after the opening of the Aix-Marseille line, Cézanne wrote to his friend, Emile Zola, on April 14, 1878 to praise the mountain which he viewed from the train while passing through the railway bridge at Arc River Valley. That same year he began a series of over 60 paintings of Sainte-Victoire.
I give you the above quote as I seemed to hear his voice as I hiked through Ille-sur-Têt. He kept telling me to turn my head and record what I witnessed. Ever since the first time I visited his Atelier in Aix-en-Provence, I take his messages to heart. Perhaps I was carried away with the camera or just maybe, I listened to the master. I could imagine his response to witnessing the wonder of Ille-sur-Tet and the great Mont Canigou in the background…
Orgues (Organ) of Ille-sur-Têt: The site was listed in 1981 as protected under the Act of 2 May 1930 regarding the protection “of natural monuments, and artistic, historic, scientific, legendary or picturesque sites.” Listing the site concerns outstanding features of the heritage whose preservation is of general interest. The procedure permitted to develop the site so that it could be more welcoming.
The approach to the site follows a trail of approximately 800 meters before entering the actual site. Shortly before the entrance you will find a scattering of metal sculptures. The art and their placement reminds me of the park grounds surrounding Atelier Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence.
This part of the Têt valley is called the Ribéral. The word means “river area” or “born from rivers” due to the number of springs and resurgences present on the territory. The site is situated in a valley wich is 2 km wide at the level of Ille-sur-Têt and surrounded by three massifs – to the south, west and north. Eastward the land widens out to spread gradually to the Roussillon plain. The foothills of Les Aspres lie to the south. These hills with their steep slopes are mainly composed of schists – an impermeable rock accounting for the dryness of the environment. To the south-west you can view the highest point of the Canigou Massif (2784 m) it is also known as the dog’s tooth peak and is the last high summit of the eastern part of the Pyrenees and an important symbol for the Catalan people.
The first stop facing the visitor centre is situated at the confluence of two torrents: the Retxe and the Piló d’en Gil. These rivers often run dry (as they were when I was there) but be aware as heavy storms turn them into raging torrents. Autumn rains are often violent, sometimes catastrophic, as there can be 150 to 200mm of water in only one day and there are records of 600 or 800 mm of water which is equivalent of rainfall in the Paris region in a whole year. The locals will never forget the month of October 1940 and the ‘aiguat’ (downpour/overflow). About 1280 mm of rainwater tumbled down over the region during three days. The Têtriver reached record levels of 700 times more than its average rate of flow or a discharge ten times more than the average rate of flow of the Seine in Paris. The level of the water rose up to 6m in Perpignan, over 80 buildings were destroyed and there were about forty victims in the department of the Pyrénées Orientales. While such events are rare, they are not exceptional and each generation remembers their ‘aiguat’. I have come to realise that this will not be a single post. Please join me again as we explore the magnificent Ille-sur-Têt. There is more information and lots of photos to encourage us to listen to Cézanne who turns his head searching for each new perspective and sees so much more. Bisous, Léa