Saturday, September 12, 2009

An art hotel in front of the Popes' Palace

The large, sloped square in front of the Palais des Papes in Avignon is adorned with a large, handsome building, surprisingly baroque in inspiration in front of the gothic Palace, and almost windowless : la Monnaie des Papes , the Pope's mint.
This building, dating from the XVII century, was later converted into a "conservatoire", or school for the performing arts. The conservatoire Olivier Messiaen has since been moved to the Place Pie, at a stone's trow from our flat. The deserted mint, looking rather like a Roman palazzo stranded in Provence, has recently been sold by the municipality to a british investor, who wants to create an Art Hotel.
While somme people wince at the comparatively low price - 3 million euros, a trifling sum for a building this size, listed as a World Heritage building by UNESCO- the commitment of the investor to create local jobs ( about 45 for 27 rooms) and to open the Art hotel to the huge number of visitors to the square is apparently worth the sacrifice of one of the city's most valuable piece of real estate.
Park Plaza hotel, the lucky buyer, part of Carlsson hotel worldwide, is the owner of Art'otel group, which plans openings in Marrakech, Amsterdam, London, says the city magazine Avignon Actualite. Fashion designer Kenzo will be in charge of interior decoration, and Fendi, the luxury brand will be also trown in somehow. But hopefully the place will not cater to fashionistas alone, art exhibitions shall be a permanent fixture of the hotel. A ground-floor gallery is part of the plans, which include a large glass-covered patio in the center ; the mineral facade of course will be left untouched. Add music, works of art in the rooms.. Half vault, half palazzo, the former Papal mint will sure need creative ideas to make it a pleasant place to stay.
The municipal opposition regrets that this singular heap of stones has not been converted into a youth hostel. It is maybe a sign of the times that this locale, once so vibrant with young crowds in the summer, during the Avignon's festival, shall go the way Saint Germain des Prés has... fashion and commercial contempory art. But on the other hand, let's face it, the city finances are probably better served by this very upmarket project. Avignon is not only a gorgeous gothic and baroque inner city, but also has huge suburbs with a rather young population, coming from all around the mediteranean, who badly needs jobs and resources.
For more modest budgets, there is always the opportunity of staying in our studio flat. A week there costs a fraction of a night in a four-star joint. We did hang a couple of paintings on the wall, too... and I will be glad to talk to you about the artists.