RIVESALTES

It’s hard to know in exactly when Rivesaltes was founded. Rivesaltes comes from the Latin Ripis Altis meaning high banks. There are good grounds to believe it already existed at the time of the Saracen invasion in 729. Its name is cited in 923 and shows the existence of two churches, Saint André and Sainte-Marie which were given as heritage by a certain Landric to the Abbey of Lagrasse in the Aude department. Rivesaltes belonged to Lagrasse until the French Revolution and therefore had neither a lord nor a castle. Very early, by electing 35 advisors and a mayor to represent them, the population was able to benefit from municipal liberties. In 1172, Rivesaltes received the authorisation from Alfonso II, King of Aragon, to become fortified. Its position along the road to Perpignan was dangerous and it suffered the passing and occupation of the troops of Louis XI (1463) and Louis XIII (1639). The town was totally plundered by the Spanish army in 1793. The growing population made it necessary to build a new church, and the Romanesque building was replaced by the existing one (1657 – 1669). In 1860, Rivesaltes entered into a modernisation phase with the arrival of the train. It opened doors for transporting people and goods. Nearly 150 people worked in trans-shipping the wine and operating the train station. All the wine-making activities were thus established from the station to the town-centre. In 1863, the first cases of phylloxera were reported in the department of the Gard. 20 years later the whole South of France was contaminated. In all the affected vineyards of Rivesaltes, each vine stock was carefully grafted with American plants. Today, the appellation Muscat de Rivesaltes has become internationally well-know and highly appreciated! Our town also developed from an economic standpoint. Being near the airport, motorway and the train station, it’s a very attractive place for new companies to set-up shop, not just in the wine business but also varied high-tech business ventures. Boasting a historically-rich heritage, Rivesaltes is a bustling town which has intelligently combined the past and modern times.

TO SEE – TO DO

The Alleys of Marshal Joffre
Way back when, these alleyways were the largest in the department – 220 metres long, with 5 alleys bordered by plane trees. In 1858, the new train station obliged the mayor to request an exceptional loan and taxation to create a public promenade. At this time, it was baptised Cours Napoléon. In the centre there was a monumental fountain. As of 1909, at the foot of the no-longer standing Minerva statue, the tramway left heading towards Perpignan. In 2017, massive works were undertaken to renovate this promenade which today is still the pride and joy of Rivesaltes inhabitants.

The City Hall
This structure was built around 1860 by the public notary Charles Gauze. Built in a park, it had a restaurant which was known for its fine dining. It was bought in 1906 by a wine merchant, then in 1925 by Mr. Péquignot who made it into a private mansion. After being bought by a third person, this magnificent building was abandoned for many years and became the City Hall. 

The statue of Marshal Joffre
You are at the other end of the alleys and you’re admiring the equestrian statue of Marshal Joffre. This bronze monument, sculpted by Auguste Maillard, was built in 1931 to honour this Rivesaltes native, victorious in the Battle of the Marne which saved Paris in 1914. It was René Vicotre Manaut, a deputy of the eastern Pyrenees who initiated the creation of the statue. He requested contributions nationwide and in all the colonies where Joffre had served to raise the necessary funds to have it built. The Marshal and his wife personally chose where it should sit. For many years there were only two equestrian statues in the region as many had been melted during the Second World War.

The Caveau
This winery dates back to the 14th century. At the time, it was the largest personally owned wine cellar of the Roussillon. Its architecture miraculously survived being totally destroyed after having successively been used for wine making, stables and finally a dumping area for rubble. You can admire the framed doorway in Baixas marble, its red-brick and pebble laying (typical of the region) as well as marble gutters. Inside, the upper part is representative of the 14th century with its river-pebbles laid in a spiked or herringbone pattern and has two earthenware vats from the 17th century where grapes were crushed. The grape juice flowed from the lower parts of these vats to reach smaller ones were which also in marble (reception tanks). The wine was poured into the large barrels lined-up on either side of the cellar with a natural unchanging temperature of 14 to 15 degrees. The river-wall side is built into the ramparts and would date this red-brick layering back to the 12th century. The municipality, fully aware of its historical importance, had the cellar and its garden restored.

The legend of Babau
Once upon a time, there was a small village called Rivesaltes which sat comfortably and peacefully behind its ramparts. At this time, Jaume II of Majorca the Pacifist, was the ruler. The moonless night on the second of February 1290, while everyone was in a deep sleep, a horrendous noise was heard within the ramparts. Six babies disappeared, kidnapped by an enormous beast who entered though the forat del forn (a hole in a stove), usually used to throw aways ashes or waste. Another night, the night watchman noticed in the usually calm waters of the Agly, an iguana-shaped animal with a huge jaws and terrifying claws. When the Battle (the mayor) asked the man to describe the animal, the frightened man began to stutter and could only manage to say “va…vau”, meaning “there was” …. So quite certainly Va-Vau became Babau! Then the word became known all over town, baptising this bloody beast with the name of Babau (pronounced Babao). Unfortunately, the beast couldn’t be gotten rid of but thankfully along came Galdric Trencaven, Lord of Fraisses and Périllos. He was a very good archer. He hung up pigs along the ramparts to lure the beast. In a neighbouring house, Galdric sat ready to fight. He was obliged to take watch several nights before the monster again appeared. On the fourth day, Trencaven was finally able to shoot into the throat of the animal with two arrows and killed it. The monster was no more and the population cheerfully celebrated this event with a mass and a memorable banquet.
Today, the Babau coast is still visible from the Rivesaltes Municipal Tourist Office. We promise we’ll show it to you if you stop by to see us!

The Distillery and the Guinguette
On the banks of the Llobère, an affluent of the Agly, there once many guinguettes, small narrow homes where people came to drink chilled wine. Alongside, there was a natural well, a sort of municipal refrigerator where ice was kept. The village people used to swim in the Llobère and fished near the small makeshift dams. At the end of the 19th century, Mr Molinié, a cousin of Marshal Joffre, had a distillery built there. It became an extremely busy place between the incessant transporting of grapes and removing the pomace. This was part of the profitable industry of the time. Later, when Mr Roque bought the distillery, the locals complained about the unpleasant fumes. He respected their demands and had an ultra-modern oven built and also raised the imposing chimney which you have before you (the mark is still visible). Today, the Guinguette is a renovated district where, during festivals, people like to dance in its park located halfway between the Rue de la Guinguette and the Jacquet bridge.

The Jacquet Bridge
An old Romanesque bridge, cited as of 1282, once stood here, but destroyed by the terrible floods in 1940. The bridge which you’re admiring was built in 1947 and is the only suspended road bridge of the department. 150 metres long and 8 metres wide, it was considered quite an engineering feat for its time. From this bridge you have some breath-taking views of the ramparts.

The ramparts
From the bridge, you can see all the remains of the ramparts. It was in 1172 that Alfonso II, King of Catalonia and Aragon, allowed the inhabitants of Rivesaltes and their overlord to build a fortified wall around the church of Sainte-Marie, the first urban section of the town. Of the 7 towers, only 4 are still partially visible. It’s believed that a ditch surrounded the ramparts. As the Agly was dry in the summer, two of the towers which were closer together were a better defence. There was then only gate which could be used to enter Rivesaltes and it was located under the present clock tower.

Flax-retting pond
You are on a windmill parking lot, which unveiled some vestiges when being built relating to the dominant business activity during the 16th and 17th centuries, tied to the usage of a watering channel: flax weaving. This pond within an inner diameter of 5.10m, is surrounded by a ring of masonry work made with stones, tiles and lime mortar. It’s equipped with a water inlet and discharge.

The oven hole (forat del forn) and the Babau Festival
This great summer carnival stems from the village legend and was revived by a small group of volunteers in 1992 working at the Rivesaltes Tourist Event Office. After several decades of silence (the first trace of this carnival dates back to 1892), the Babau came back to life. All the village inhabitants, merchants, craftsmen, associations as well as the municipality all eagerly participate to make this festival be successful. In 2002, more than 10,000 people attended! This event reconnects with its medieval character of yesterday with markets, two cavalcades, the blazing monster and varied street performances. If you happen to come to Rivesaltes on that day, and you decide to dress-up, then you can rightfully take part in the cavalcade or otherwise, you can join the crowd and joyfully boo the Babau, as well as attend the killing of the monster on the banks of the Agly, leaving it go up in smoke amidst a big firework show.

KEY EVENTS

Tourist Office:
9 Avenue Ledru Rollin 
66600 Rivesaltes
+33 (0)6 32 80 36 12
rivesaltes@perpignanmediterraneetourisme.com

Close Menu
en_GBEnglish (UK)