Grenoble’s Silk City
While much of Grenoble centers around its downtown and looming Bastille that overlooks the city, a small museum in an often-overlooked part of the city operates as a tribute to an industry that came and went in the relatively quick blink of this city’s eye. In the city’s Échirolles neighborhood, in a non-descript small building on a dirt road in a former industrial area is the quirky but interesting Musée de la Viscose – the Museum of Silk. Grenoble was a silk producer for centuries, although no larger than others in France or Europe. Yet it was in the 20th century that manufacturers started creating artificial silk and by 1920, artificial silk outsold genuine silk. One of the companies leading the way was Celletex, with its headquarters in the Ardennes. Yet satellite facilities sprung up across the country and the one in Grenoble became particularly large and important. It opened in 1927 and like other production plants, became in industrial city complete with workers’ housing and services – not unlike other factories of the industrial revolution at the same time throughout the world. Over time, through mergers, market ups and downs, the silk, or viscose industry consolidated and eventually declined and saw the closure of all but two factories in France. Grenoble’s Cité Viscose closed in 1989, putting the final few hundred workers out of jobs. Nevertheless, the viscose city left an indelible impression on the landscape and memory of Grenoble and the Musée de la Viscose tells this story and keeps the memories of this short but important part of Grenoble’s history alive.
A City on the Cliff
France is filled with placed that one can only dream about. Pont-en-Royans and its cliff-side dwellings is one of those places. The town itself lies at the entrance to the monumental Vercors massif and the cavernous Gorges de la Bourne, of course cut by the raging torrents of the Bourne River. Pont-en-Royans, then was cited at the first place a bridge could be built to span the gorge. To give an idea of what lay upstream, it was the Gorges of the Bourne that gave Hannibal his first major challenge to crossing the Alps. More than a millennium later, Pont-en-Royans served as a logging trade center and the last outpost into the alpine frontier. As such, it developed a sizeable population, but instead necessarily built upwards. The houses that we see today were built in the 1500s to adapt to the environment rather than move away from it. The result is a transition from the river’s rocky crags that transform seamlessly into beautiful residential towers. The architecture forms a truly remarkable piece of artwork that is a pleasure to simply marvel at.
A Place for Lovers
What is France but a land for love and lovers. It’s in the language, in the food, in the wine, and in the land. Paris may be the destination for many international lovers, but Valence lays claim to the place where this public demonstration of affection took center stage in an appropriately modest fashion. Not far from Valence’s beautiful old town is a riverside park and plaza Esplanade Champ de Mars. Rising 15 meters over the mighty Rhone, the park has been a local gathering place for several hundred years – since before the Revolution. It acts like a front porch for this city of some 70,000 inhabitants. With such an inviting spot, an elaborate bandstand was constructed in 1862 to anchor the space. With its elaborate ironwork and tile roof, the structure is very much a romantic French Empire style structure. A cartoonist named Raymond Peynet was passing through Valence in 1942. Sitting on a characteristically green bench in the Esplanade and was enamored by a lone violinist serenading a little girl. This cartoon entitled “La Symphonie Inachevée,” captured the hearts of millions. Peynet went on to become famous for his bandstand in Valence and images of lovers. The Esplanade and its main attraction remain as romantic as ever, luring starry-eyed lovers to its benches and bandstand, making for a fantastic place to bring your own love or just to sit back and people watch. Either way, enjoy the romantic landscapes and ambiance of the French culture.