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19.11.03

Taking Apart the French Patrimony

Considering my admiration for the French government's protection of its national patrimony (see post on August 6, The Idea of a National Patrimony, about Prosper Mérimée), I have been shocked to follow the plans of the present right-wing government to release control of a number of historical monuments to local governments. See Marie-Douce Albert, Monuments de l'État: avis de décentralisation (November 18 in Le Figaro); Françoise Monnet, Monuments historiques: le grand marché (November 18 in Le Progrès); and Vincent Noce, L'État caseur de pierres (November 18 in Libération). René Rémond, President of the Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, submitted the official report on this subject to the Minister of Culture on November 17; you can also consult this overview of the proposed changes published in Le Figaro.

If I understand correctly, only 298 of the total of 442 sites controlled by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux were even up for consideration of decentralization. The 87 historic cathedrals (those of Paris, Chartres, and Reims, for example) would remain under national control, with the single exception of the cathedral of Ajaccio in Corsica, which had already been released back to the Corsican government. Cathedrals may be the most important type of monument in the commission's eyes, since it also recommended that the national government actually take over the cathedrals in Laon and Noyon. The Château of Versailles, of course, will remain a national property, as will the Palais-Royal, present home of the Ministry of Culture. Also important enough to keep in national control: the Château of Villers-Cotterêts, where François I named French the official administrative language of his government; most national cemeteries; the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde in Paris; Voltaire's home in Ferney; and several important abbeys, such as Cluny and Fontevraud; and sites of paleolithic cave painting, such as Lascaux. Most of the most famous sites, the Château of Compiègne, Mont-Saint-Michel, the Château of Azay-le-Rideau, and most of the monuments of Paris, like the Panthéon and the Grand Palais, will remain national property.

Of those it was asked to consider, the scientific commission recommends that the national government turn over to local governments about one-half. The article in Libération calls the official report "a dissertation in political philosophy, all in nuances." Of 298 sites, 136 would remain under national control, while 162 would be released to the control (and therefore financial responsibility) of local governments. Most of the sites affected appear to have strong local importance, like the fortifications of old cities, the towers of La Rochelle, and the Château of Haut-Koenigsbourg in Alsace.

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