Peyresq Foyer d’Humanisme
Welcome to Peyresq
|Perched on a rocky Alpine outcrop in Haute-Provence 1.528 metres above sea-level, the village of Peyresq, a unique and magic spot and a shining success story, has taken on a new lease of life.
Founded in 1232 by the Count of Provence, Raymond Béranger V, as a more powerful stronghold than the old castrum of La Colle Saint-Michel, the fortified village of Perets became in 1388, and for nearly five centuries remained, a frontier post between Savoy and France. At this time, the frontier was delimited by boundary stones bearing the cross of Savoy and fleur-de-lys, and ran through Colmars, Lake Lignin and Entrevaux.
|Peyresq's late Romanesque church was also built in the 13th century and confided to the earliest Benedictine monks of Saint-Dalmas de Pedona, who lived in Peyresq up to the 16th century.
In 1481, when Provence became annexed to the Kingdom of France, Peyresq was a village of 28 hearths, or approximately 100 inhabitants.
In 1580, Marguerite de Bompar, Lady of Peiresc and wife to Reinaud Fabri, gave birth to Nicolas-Claude, a precocious child with a penetrating intellect who, as early as 1600 enthralled the many European savants whom he encountered during his travels, and with whom he kept up a prolific correspondence right up to his death in 1637.
Acceding to the lordship of Peyresq in 1604, he became one of the greatest European humanists of the 17th century, and was known simply as Mr de Peiresc.
In 1713, the Lord of Peyresq, Mathieu Bayol, bequeathed his goods to the village community in exchange for an annual pension, thereby turning seigneury into a simple form of ownership.
In 1860, the Treaty of Turin permanently incorporated the County of Nice into France, and Peyresq ceased to be the watchtower of Provence.
This was Peyresq's apogee, with a population of 251. What followed was a sharp decline, as wars and rural migration to a developing Riviera steadily drained the villages of the high valleys where for so many centuries, families resigned to their lot in life had carried on an agricultural civilization built on mutual self-help.
The terraces whose blurred contours can be seen around the village remain an authentic landscape that typifies the living conditions of the Peyrescan community in centuries gone by.
By 1932, there were just 17 people still living in Peyresq, the village school having meanwhile been shut down. The abandoned houses were falling increasingly derelict, as roofs caved in under the weight of snow, and frost laid bare the walls.
So when in 1952 Georges Lambeau happened across Peyresq, he found it still inhabited only by the mayor, his wife and one of his daughters, a handful of sheep and as many goats, cracked walls and many collapsed roofs, depopulated but not a ghost village.
In search of a farmhouse where to bring his art school students at intervals for renewed inspiration, he discovered a village where with a friend from Brussels, Toine Smets, he formed the idea of setting up an influential humanist centre where students and teachers, artists and researchers could be brought together.
What more natural inspiration for their venture than the scientific and European outlook of Nicolas-Claude Fabri, Mr de Peiresc.
|In 1954, Elise Lambeau picked up a hitchhiker in her van - a young architect, Pierre Lamby - on the Digne road and dropped him off in Peyresq.
Pierre embraced the project, and became the architect of the rebirth of the village, supported by a young local contractor, René Simon.
But this fusing of enthusiasms owed its drive and success to the thousands of Belgian student-builders who over thirty years came to work on the immense task of rebuilding Peyresq - an exceptional plight that summoned forth exceptional efforts.
The village's traditional look was also restored by Pierre Lamby, through a renovation faithful to the principles and materials of the Provencal style of architecture.
This earned the village of Peyresq the “Chefs-d'oeuvre en Péril” (Endangered Masterpieces) prize in 1980, awarded by President Giscard d'Estaing in person.
It is hard to look at Peyresq today and imagine this rebuilding of the village going on; and much-deserved tributes are due to Georges, Elise, Toine, Pierre, René and the student-builders, certainly, but also to all those people of goodwill who supported this project so enthusiastically; secretaries, treasurers, bursars, site foremen, organizers, cooks, administrators, not to mention the local, regional, departmental and other administrative authorities … who put their trust in the builders of Peyresq.
It is that rationale which, since 1954, has been behind the long succession of minor and major miracles that have helped Peyresq to regenerate, come back to life and find new influence.
Today, the founding Peyrescans, builders and each new Peyrescan form the new village community, restored to life by the leisure civilization and the willing efforts of a Belgian academic community.
Botanists, zoologists, physicists, mathematicians, cosmologists, geographers, historians, artists and environment defenders … have all made Peyresq their place of choice in which to work, meet and discuss.
What they said :
• Bill Felstiner*, Research Professor at the University of Wales, Cardiff :
“… It reminds me of how much I and the group are in your debt. Our July meeting in Peyresq was the best yet, in many ways beyond the intellectual content. …”
(10 September 2000)
*President of several meetings in Peyresq on "Working Group on the Comparative Study of Legal Professions
• Hugues Beeseau, Department of Communications, Rhône-Alpes Regional Tourism Committee :
“… I wonder if the region realizes how blessed it is to have such a gem of intellect, renaissance and life at Peyresq?”
(Lyons - 22 June 2002)
• Lyman Page, Department of Physics, Princenton University, Princenton NJ :
“… Thank you for putting together a wonderful conference. It was the most fulfilling one I have been to in years. The talks, company, setting, food and excursions were all a joy to be able to take part of.”
(Peyresq - Cosmology, 30 June 2003)
• Yvon Georgelin, Astronomer - Marseilles Observatory :
“… Your website (www.peiresc.org) is a big success, and has been instrumental in putting me in contact with some very interesting people, and even with colleague astrophysicists in Nice and Paris at the time of Mercury's last transit of the Sun….”
(Marseilles, 3 October 2003)
• Wolfgang Cramer, Department of Global Change and Natural Systems, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research :
“… I have to confess that I fell in love with Peyresq and that I have become truly convinced that you and the foundation are achieving something very remarkable there. Perhaps you can understand what I mean when I say that these two weeks in September have been the best two weeks of my working life so far. I have never seen about 50 people work so hard and so well at the same time - and enjoy their lives (which is of course a prerequisite for the work).”
(7 October 2003)
• Didier Ferrier, Professor of Law at the Universities of Montpellier and Paris :
“… Many, many thanks for your kind and warm welcome, not to mention the excellence of the exchanges which you organized and supported. I see why my father was so unstinting in his praise for the vigour and relevance of your Peyresq venture …”…”
(Conference “About Peiresc the Humanist”, 16 September 2004)
• Professor Edgar Gunzig, Professor of Physics at the Free University of Brussels, on the magic of the village of Peyresq :
“In recent years, Peyresq has become the extremely dynamic centre for a range of very high level international scientific meetings, not least the Cosmology and General Relativity symposia which have been held there each year for the past ten years. The proceedings of these symposia are published in an annual special edition of a top American journal and have been much of the reason for the international renown enjoyed by these meetings. A lot of highly-advanced scientific work has specifically come out of collaborative arrangements that originated in Peyresq.”
(4 April 2005)
• Professor Jean Lejoly of the Laboratory of Systematic Botany and Phytosociology at the Free University of Brussels, who has organized training courses in ecology :
“Peyresq, a place for extramural training,
Peyresq, the perfect place in which to immerse oneself,
Peyresq, the place of choice for working across disciplines,
Peyresq, place for the international dissemination of scientific knowledge,
Peyresq, a wonderful pedestrian place,
Peyresq, a prototype for glocalisation,
Peyresq, at the crossroads of change,
Peyresq, a place for observation and mountain walks… “
(L’Architecte et le Berger, 2004)
• and the scientific journalist, Elisa Brune :
“… the extraordinary tale of what happened to a ruined village … who would have thought that Peyresq, a nearly deserted Alpine village in Haute-Provence would become the centre of intense intellectual activity of worldwide repute?
Peyresq's prestige now goes far beyond the wildest dreams of the handful of ardent believers who were behind its reconstruction”.
(Ciel et Espace, June 2003)
|The development of scientific and cultural meetings at Peyresq has been achieved through the active collaboration of the non-profit organization Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc asbl, with Peyresq Foyer d'Humanisme.
Through its European and international radiance, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc asbl carries on its ongoing efforts to foster scientific, artistic and cultural activity in Brussels, the Provencal village of Peyresq, and in the Verdon-Vaïre valleys.
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