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Habiter la ville

Maurice Garden
Yves Lequin

II. Structure de la ville et quartiers

Quartier blanc, quartier rouge neighborhood, everyday life, and popular political culture in Perpignan, 1815-51

John Merriman

Texte intégral

1Perpignan during the first half of the nineteenth century: few industries (some manufacture of common cloth, candles, eau-de-vie, pottery, chocolate and the preparation of leather) in a region rapidly specializing in viticulture, as the woods and oliviers of the hinterland began to disappear. The population of Perpignan, 13, 365 in 1774, fell during the French Revolution in the wake of the considerable emigration from the department of the Pyrénées Orientales: 14, 363 in 1816 and 18, 193 in 1846.

2Two salient characteristics marked Perpignan’s development. First, its location near the Spanish border contributed to the maintenance of a Catalan culture and language in Roussillon (the department of the Pyrénées Orientales, if one excludes the Fenouillèdes tacked onto the department in 1790). This same factor necessitated that Perpignan be a ville forte, dominated by its Citadelle and the military presence in a garrison town. Perpignan remained a heavily fortified, walled town until the end of the nineteenth century, with only three major gates into the city. This blocked expansion of the town, leaving only two small faubourgs, the «faubourg» and the quartier of the tanners. The military presence exacerbated tensions between the State and the city in several ways: the struggle for water in a dry region (including 1830, significantly), rivalries and conflicts between the military and civilian (Catalan) population, and the physical presence of the walls themselves (hatred of the octrois, endemic in any case, accentuated by the resulting difficulty of smuggling into the town in a province in which contrebande was a way of life; workers having to bury their tools outside of the walls in order to sneak out to work on Sunday during the Restoration, etc.).

3At the same time, the walls of Perpignan represented an unnatural barrier because of the close economic, social, and cultural ties between the town and its hinterland. Perpignan had some characteristics of an agro-ville. A sizeable agricultural population lived within its walls: some 16,9 % of the working population in 1820 – 428 brassiers, 118 cultivateurs, 114 jardiniers and 96 others (agriculteurs, bergers, métayers). Very few of these lived beyond the walls, but the daily ritual of going to and from work in the fields and the vineyards gave Perpignan some appearances of a rural society. This was particularly true of two quartiers, St-Jacques and St-Mathieu.

4Perpignan was divided into four parishes, each of which corresponded to a quartier (although smaller neighborhoods existed within each quartier, in addition to the «faubourg» and the quartier of the tanners). The first and most important was St-Jean, une société urbaine, which included the most prosperous streets of Perpignan and the focal points of political power (the prefecture, hôtel de ville, the Cathedral, and the Bishop’s residence), as well as the principle urban distractions (the theatre, the principle salons, and the Place de la Loge and its cafés). Large numbers of servants and domestics on the streeets of St-Jean reflected the relative wealth of that quartier (rues Notre Dame, Main de fer, des Trois Rois – Trois Journées, etc., and the Place d’armes). La Réal, the smallest parish of the four, was similar to the parish of St-Jean (Grand’Rue de la Réal, Marché Neuf, Fusterie, etc.). The other two quartiers, although they included the usual range of artisans and petit bourgeois, were distinguished by concentrations of rural laborers. They were also marked for the duration of the period under consideration by the bitter rivalry between them. This rivalry, enmeshed in la vie quotidienne, intensified the sense of quartier solidarities in both St-Jacques and St-Mathieu. The concentration of rural workers lent an air of the village to the traditional antagonism between the neighborhoods. This division assumed a political character during much of the first half of the century; at the same time, the manifestations of this antagonism were rooted in Catalan culture, particularly in St-Mathieu, le quartier rouge.

5Both St-Mathieu and St-Jacques were occasionally referred to as «faubourgs» because of the nature of their inhabitants more than their physical setting. Both were within the walls of the city, though bordering the fortifications, as did all of the quartiers. St-Mathieu, the southwest section of Perpignan, had, in addition to the fortifications, the rues d’Orléans (after 1830), du Pont Vestit, Petite Monnaie, and des Augustins. The heart of the quartier, beyond the church of St-Mathieu, consisted of a series of parallel streets of some length (rues de la Lanterne, Arago – 1830 –, du Four St-François and du Puits-des-Chaines) and cross streets forming rectangular blocks (including rues de l’Hôpital and Dagobert). The Porte Saint Martin, one of the principal gates to the city, lay beyond the barracks of that name. In 1820 the quartier included at least 96 brassiers, 24 agriculteurs, 6 jardiniers and 5 bergers. By 1846, the number of brassiers had grown to 177, reflecting the increasing viticulture of the hinterland of Perpignan; the neighborhood also included some 101 journaliers and manoeuvres in that year, and but one jardinier. There were but 29 servents in the quartier of the 617 listed in the recensement of 1820.

6The quartier of St-Jacques, which was in no place contiguous with that of St-Mathieu, was considerably larger. Unlike the latter, the church of St-Jacques lay at the back of the quartier, just before the fortifications and adjacent to the barracks of St-Jacques. Both bordered the Place du Puig, the center of activity in the quartier. The Porte de Canet, the most important gate for the rural laborers going to work, lay at the end of this quartier, which lay, for the most part, on a fairly steep hill (rue des 15 degrés) reaching its culmination at the Place du Puig (which means hill in Catalan). Like the other quartiers, the fortifications formed a considerable part of its exterior limit; like St-Mathieu, the heart of the quartier consisted of a series of rectangular blocks formed by major parallel streets (St-François de Paul, l’Anguille, de l’Aloès, 15 degrés and Farines as well as the rues Mercadiers, Paradis, Porte Canet and the Grande Rue St-Jacques below the church and the barracks). The quartier was divided from the other quarters by the rues Bastion St-Dominique, du Ruisseau, and de l’Université. In 1820 there were 203 brassiers (and possibly more) living in St-Jacques (47,4 % of the brassiers in Perpignan), 72 jardiniere (63 %), 21 agriculteurs, and 2 cultivateurs. In 1846 there were 100 brassiere, 115 journaliers and manoeuvriers, and 103 jardiniere. On the rue Jésus den Boudeille (Sentier after 1830), there lived 25 brassiere, 5 jardiniere and 1 agriculteur out of a working population of 49; rue Bénaventurats (Cuirassiers after 1830), 16 brassiers and 3 jardiniere of 28 working people, all in 1820.

7The daily routine of rural work seemed to perpetuate the rivalry between the quartiers, as confrontations, disputes, brawls and vengeance occurred before and after work, as the brassiers awaited day-break at the Place de Puig or the Porte de Canet or Porte Martin. The fact that St-Mathieu was revolutionary during the French Revolution, in contrast to St-Jacques, added the weight and collective memory of the past to the battles between the two rivals. The years of great popular political contention in Perpignan – 1815-20, 1830-33, and, above all, 1848-51 – saw a politicization of this conflict.

8The almost daily reports of the Commissaires de police, busy men indeed in nineteenth-century Perpignan, allow us to follow the violent rivalry. The collective manifestations of this conflict were rooted in Catalan popular culture. Dancing and singing, both inside and outside of the calander of the Church (patron saint’s day, Mardi Gras, and so on), characterized popular culture in Perpignan and the Roussillon. This was particularly true of St-Mathieu and St-Jacques, the two most populaire of the Perpignan parishes. All quartiers, including the faubourg and the tanners’ quartier as well as smaller neighborhoods within the parishes (such as Porte Canet), held public dances in turn during the year, particularly during Mardi Gras and the summer months. Mardi Gras, which, the Church lamented, started a full five weeks early in Perpignan, was notorious for the lively tradition of mascarades and travestissement. Various attempts to force a curtailment of the «offensive» or «outrageous» nature of the disguises by their targets (the Church, the Army, government officials, or local notables) failed (1825, 1827, 1833). These traditions accentuated and at the same time perpetuated the conflict between St-Jacques and St-Mathieu.

9Likewise singing was more than just an expression of Catalan popular culture: it was a means of exacting personal and collective revenge by offending the opposition party. Quartier rivalries were reflected in song as bands of men challenged each other with hostile verses at the places where brassiers awaited day-break, or outside and inside quartier cabarets and rural guinguettes, or late at night during provocative incursions of men of one quartier into the other. Local and national events were quickly put into Catalan verse: for example, a quite sophisticated account of the Congress System during the first years of the Restoration turned up in song on the streets of St-Mathieu; accusations against witnesses who testified against men from that same turbulent quartier echoed through the streets of the city during the same period. During the Second Republic, the apogee of political singing in Perpignan, the so-called «Plot of Lyon» was soon recalled in song. Songs, hurled as insults, sparked many brawls at the Place de Puig and the Porte de Canet (for example, «The Guinée» and «The Counter-Guinée» during the early Restoration). Two typical examples: a police report of April 18, 1819, «Des chants insignifiants, mais qui tendent à réveiller l’esprit de parti, se sont renouvelés hier soir de part et d’autre en pleine rue, dans la section St-Mathieu, parmi cinquante à soixante paysans qui étaient rassemblés devant un cabaret»; and November, 1819, when public order was threatened «à cause des chansons offensantes que les paysans ont l’habitude de chanter de parti à parti, et plus particulièrement quand ils en ont de nouvelles.» Because these songs, the product of an oral culture, were virtually never written down, the police sometimes had to force someone they had caught singing to repeat the offending verse so that they could write it down in French.

101848 and the Second Republic was, as Maurice Agulhon has suggested, the highpoint of folklore and politics in France. Perpignan was bitterly divided between rouges and blancs, with St-Mathieu and St-Jacques identified with each respective side, as in every period of political conflict in the preceding sixty years. Violence or some sort of provocation between the quartiers seemed daily, although the greater number of rouges in the city and some brave allies in St-Jacques gave the men of St-Mathieu the upper hand. These conflicts took some of the following forms, drawing upon the traditions of the past. 1) The provocative incursion of a band of men from one quartier into the other, usually from St-Mathieu across town and up into St-Jacques. These invasions were usually accompanied by the aggressive singing of songs or couplets attacking the other party: for example, singing against the Church in the quartier of St-Jacques, known to be more respectful of organized religion than its enemy (this parish had been favored by the government of the Restoration, to the detriment of St-Mathieu, whose priest had accepted the Civil Constitution of the French Clergy). These incursions reminds one of endemic battles between villages (example, in 1830, vignerons with a red and white flag crossed the village of St-André on the way back to their own Pallau from work; the men of the latter, taking offense, attacked them. The mayor, wearing his écharpe of authority, only temporarily succeeded in breaking up the fight before it began anew, resulting in «un bon nombre de blessés et sang répandu de part et d’autre...»). 2) The provocative promenade on neutral ground, the Esplanade, the Platanes, the Place de la Liberté, or the Place de la Loge, particularly as the latter, the center of elite political and café life, attracted the laboring poor from St-Mathieu and St-Jacques during the politicized era of the Republic: such promenades were usually accompanied by the wearing of obvious symbols of one party or the other: bonnets rouges (which corresponded to the red Catalan beret, whose revival may have received some assistance from the political evolution of Perpignan and its region), red belts, red ties, or the colors of white and/or green, less dramatically presented, but leaving no doubt as to the political tendancies of the wearer. These displays invariably sparked insults and, increasingly, police action, but rarely led to pitched fights; one reason was that women participated in the promenades, and the space was neutral. (Nîmes offers a particularly good example of this, pitting Protestants from quartiers like La Placette against the Catholics of the Enclos de Rey for predominance on the boulevards and the Esplanade below the Arènes). 3) Provocations in and outside of humble cabarets in both quartiers or in the guinguettes outside Perpignan, particularly «La Chaumière.» These could involve songs, but were more direct challenges and almost always led to some violence. Occasionally opponents agreed to take their fight outside of the walls, usually beyond the Porte Canet, to begin again. 4) The rentrée from festive occasions outside of Perpignan (in Canet, for example) or from guinguettes, or from dances in rural communes. This situation could lead to incursions, accompanied by song or other verbal challenges, into the hostile quartier, or to the famous tour de ville. Examples, in June, 1848, when the National Guardsmen of St-Mathieu returned from a banquet outside of town; their return via the Porte Notre Dame caused a full scale riot which led their quartier to defend itself against guardsmen from other quartiers and against troops; or, February, 1850, «A la rentrée de la population de la pépinière, une douzaine d’enfants de l’âge de 9 à 13 ans traversaient la place de la Loge dans l’ordre suivant: 3 d’entr’eux marchaient de front et ouvrant la marche se donnaient le bras, celui du milieu plus grand que les deux autres portait sur ses épaules un autre enfant debout, habillé en déesse, et coiffé du bonnet phrygien, la main droite en l’air tenant un rameau de laurier, les suivant chantant la Marseillaise, le public très nombreux écartait les rangs pour faire place à la déesse»; or, the rouges of St-Mathieu, returning from the dances in Le Vernet across the Têt, immediately headed for St-Jacques to insult the Legitimists who could always be found on the Place de Puig. 5) Other incidents of violence, usually occurring when someone from one quartier turned up in the other. During the Second Republic, the most famous case was the murder of two blancs of St-Jacques with a knife by one rouge of St-Mathieu, Julien Dapère, 28, known to everyone as Mata-Pouillets (Tueur-de-Poulets), who had been visiting his mistress in St-Jacques. 6) Those incidents resulting from the politicization of the quartier dances, increasingly more against the police and local officials than the opposition quartier: example, the dances in St-Mathieu, when «on portait des rubans rouges, des casquettes rouges. Les femmes même avaient soin de faire dominer le rouge dans leurs vêtements. Les danseurs n’ont pas tardé à prendre une attitude provoquante vis-à-vis des deux commissaires de police qui les surveillaient.» One woman was arrested for brushing by one police agent and hissing, «A la guillotine!», and a tumult followed.

11It is much easier to document the decades of conflict between the quartiers than to account for the origins of the rivalry, which remain obscure. Although one historian, in passing, explained the political tradition of St-Mathieu as resulting from the concentration of rural laborers in that quartier, it is clear that this was a characteristic of both neighborhoods; there were considerably more brassiers in St-Jacques, but many more in the latter quarter in 1846 than in 1820. There were many jardiniers in St-Jacques, but exceptionally few in St-Mathieu (six counted in 1820, and but one in 1846). This may be a factor, for jardiniere are believed to have retained many of their religious traditions (St-Fiacre, etc.). And all evidence points to an entrenched anti-clerical tradition in St-Mathieu (for example, events after the Revolution of 1830). Perhaps the preponderance of agriculteurs in St-Mathieu as opposed to St-Jacques may be significant; perhaps the rural laborers of St-Jacques were under the domination of Legitimist landlords (such as those who organized the St-Michel association in 1850 in St-Jacques parish to counter La Fraternité). The relationship to the land (competition between the brassiere of the two quartiers for work, those who owned land versus those who did not, etc.) obviously may be essential and must be studied further. It may, however, turn out that there is no more sophisticated explanation than the collective memory of the past (Jacobin St-Mathieu during the Revolution, St-Jacques’ revenge during the Restoration, and so on). But it is clear that neighborhood solidarities of a villageois nature in an «openair» society with close ties to the land persisted in Perpignan. Those of St-Mathieu may help explain the ardour with which the laboring poor of Perpignan, rural workers as well as artisans and the growing number of journaliers, embraced democratic-socialism during the Second Republic. This allegiance was embedded in Catalan popular culture as well as in the traditional hatred of St-Mathieu for the blancs of St-Jacques. In this way, the Republic truly came to the «village», not only in the Rousillon countryside but in the walled town of Perpignan itself. The irony was that both the rouges and the blancs lost out to the police state of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the third party with little support in Perpignan. The quartiers were relatively quiet during the Second Empire. Yet in 1870, as waves of organization, protest and strikes among the laboring poor swept France, local authorities once noted that it was the quartier of St-Mathieu, faithful to its traditions and collective memory, that first stirred in Perpignan again.

PERPIGNAN: STRUCTURE SOCIALE, 1820 (A.M. Perpignan, recensement)




Marchands, négociants, fabricants






Employés (commis, huissiers, clercs)




Professions libérales









Ouvriers, ouvrières













Autres (bergers, agriculteurs, métayers, etc.)




Militaires (actifs, retirés)














Divers (mendiants, réfugiés espagnols, autres)








Table des illustrations

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© Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1984

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