Its tall buildings & narrow streets cast dark shadows that resonates a mysterious beauty.
In Freda White's book Three Rivers of France first published in 1952, she says of Villefranche:
" The walls of the city are gone, and there is a dull spread of modern suburbs outside the line they used to bound. But inside it the town is as perfect an example of a medieval trading center as can be found.
The town square, slanting uphill, is completely surrounded by cornières, with the street running beneath the arches."
Those words have remained true until this day. However, on a recent visit to Villefranche, I was heartsick to see that the beautiful old town square has been slated for a "modernization". The old grey stones polished to a sheen by centuries of use have been removed. Where once it was slanting & uneven, rutted by cartwheels, the square has been made symmetrical & level. Piles of bleached white stone are ready to be installed. But the most tragic of all, there are plans for three shooting fountains to be place at its center.
I do not like to find fault with my adopted home here in France but I am afraid I am in harsh disagreement with this latest trend to "update" the town squares of its beautiful historic old villages.
The town of Villefranche holds a special place in my heart. When we first came to this region over twenty years ago & the only year that we spent a winter here, we went to the Villefranche Marché de Noël just days before Christmas. It is a memory I shall never forget. The frosty air made clouds of breath as people talked & bargained. The market, much diminished from the larger lively summer markets, was concentrated in the old town square. The glistening stone that had felt the footsteps of a millennium were a part of the beauty of the market. Stalls with every sort of winter vegetable, apples, dried fruits & spices were busy selling their ware.There were live geese in wooden crates sitting in beds of straw, big round balls of mistletoe freshly gathered, handmade wooden games & toys, & along with the wines, breads & cheeses of every sort, there were special Christmas pastries & cakes. The decorations were beautiful in their simplicity. The lights that stretched above the streets illuminated one single star, while small Christmas trees were adorned in only red bows & tiny white paper flowers. The shops under the arched arcades were bustling with activity, as shoppers looked for all the specialties needed for their Christmas dinners. And from the corner toy store came happy shoppers carrying one perfectly wrapped package, a special gift for some excited child. It was such a contrast from the overly commercialized Christmases of the United States & it truly felt as if we had walked into time gone by.
Now to think that this remarkable square that had survived unchanged for so many years will become a display of modern ingenuity. I use the term "modern" loosely here, as for me, I find these sorts of fountains shooting jets of water high into the air to be sadly already outdated & silly at best. They certainly, in my opinion, have no place in a town that boasts 14th century doorways & one of the most beautiful examples of a medieval fountain to be found.
I must apologize for my rant. My frustration & sadness is overwhelming. I realize of course that there is nothing that I can do. I can only remember & treasure my memories, knowing how fortunate I am to have them.