Mougins  –  at the heart of the Côte d’Azur

Simone, Claudie’s friend, drove us through the Valmasque forest – mainly pines, olive trees, cypresses – up to the vieux village of Mougins.  As with many towns in Provence, it is a fortified village, village perché, on a hill top, most necessary in this case since it is within sight of Cannes where the Saracens held sway for eighty years in the Middle Ages before they were defeated by the locals.

Porte Sarrazino

In fact, one of the original archways is called Porte Sarrazino which gives you a view all the way to the coast. But prior to the Middle Ages, prior to the Romans and the Greeks, there were the Ligurians, the ancient tribes.

Blending with Celts, they occupied most of the territory one can see from there, as well as portions of Italy.  One wonders who they conquered to be there.  There are rock paintings in Spain and in France that we as South Africans would recognize as San. And like Lascaux in France there are rock paintings that date back 20,000 years, at least…

The guide books are quick to inform you of the long list of artists and celebrities that have visited Mougins, notably Picasso who spent his last 13 years here.  It’s the view, I imagine.  When you arrive you see a 360-degree view of the Côte d’Azur and I’m told that in winter the surround of the snowline on the Alpes Maritime is spectacular.

I was hoping to visit the Museum of Classical Art there, but for some reason looked past it and have been to see it on a subsequent visit.  What I did see, quite by chance (one of the nicest things about travel is the chance find), was the Museum of Photography.  The prime mover in setting up the place is André Villiers, one of the great photographers in France and a personal friend of Picasso, making possible a remarkable collection of images of the artist, which is on display.  His own art photographs, together with a number by Jeanloup Sieff, are also there.  I was forbidden to take photos of the photos, which made me grind my traveller’s teeth, because some of them were remarkable.

Picasso, by Andre Villiers

Stained-glass window, St Jacques

On the way back we peeped into St Jacques-le-Majeur, an 11th-century chapel that was refurbished in the 1990s by Americans. Can we – Americans and ourselves – deny the attraction we feel for the depth of European history? The smooth interior of this chapel has been tastefully done in autumn pastels and renders a peace.  I was struck by the stained-glass window, contemporary, and in primary colours: a man in a blindfold, perhaps signifying a martyrdom.

I had gone off on my own and on returning found Claudie and Simone sipping juices at one of the many restaurants.  Approaching them, I asked, “What are two lovely girls like you doing in a lovely place like this?”  Quite near to us, a capricious piece of art that I called The Dancer graced the terrace above the summer valley, humming with cicadas.

The Dancer

Will van der Walt ©

Samedi  7 Juillet 2012 

Image Sources: Photograph of Picasso by Andre Villiers & other photogropshs by Will


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