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Villa Arnaga: Basque dream of Edmond Rostand

March 13 category:Books
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Come recovering the Basque Country, the author of Cyrano de Bergerac is in love with the area, and there built a stunning, traditional and modern at once, who invents a new style. One house, two gardens: the masterpiece of a poet who knew rhyme walls and trees ...

Autumn is already spicy, the Basque Country, in November 1918. As he prepares to win Paris, to attend the celebrations of the armistice, Edmond Rostand offers a last walk in the garden Arnaga of its property. On his arm, his mistress, the young actress Mary Marquet - his wife, Rosamond Gerard, was "remote" there three years ...

Suddenly, near the orangery, a frightful spectacle captures the couple: the hundreds of white pigeons which occupied a large aviary are scattered on the floor, all the birds died. Rostand, very sorry, hurries toward the house, when suddenly a last pigeon, a survivor, comes to die at his feet. Mary Marquet, very shocked, concerned that this mysterious carnage is a "bad omen." Three weeks later, Edmond Rostand died at his home in Paris, felled by the Spanish Flu ...

Ended with a disease, the love story between the poet and Arnaga begins with another: in 1900, Edmond Rostand suffered during rehearsals for her new play, L'Aiglon, dedicated to the tragic fate of the son of Napoleon.

Despite the presence in the poster of Sarah Bernhardt and Constant Coquelin - the creator, in 1897, the character of Cyrano - the playwright is not satisfied with the work of the actors. One day, exasperated, he wins, sweating, finally catching a pleurisy, and his health deteriorated. After the first, held on March 15, Rostand must stop all activity for treatment. His recovery, difficult, Dr. Grancher despair, his doctor, who ends up recommending him one of his colleagues Gustave Hamlet, based in Cambo-les-Bains, in the Basque Country, and already famous for his work on the virus.

In July, the family thus takes its summer quarters in the small spa town: Rosemonde Gerard, poet and poet wife rented the villa Etchegorria. With air and Basque waters, Rostand heals quickly and also quickly falls in love with the Basque Country, its changing light and its luxuriant nature. At the option of a walk, he falls in love specifically extensive grounds on a hill near which flows the stream Arraga - "water flowing over stones" in French. In October, the author bought the land, but it remains too fragile to start a project: elected to the French Academy in 1901, he can not also enter in 1903, once its fully restored health.

Villa Arnaga: Basque dream of Edmond Rostand

Edmond Rostand in academician clothes

Wikimedia Commons

And it was also in 1903 that launched the construction of this house, destined to become the new principal residence of the family, away from the Parisian chaos. The ear irritated by the harsh sound of two "r", it simply changes in Arraga Arnaga.

English, Pekingese, First Empire or Louis XVI

Site management is entrusted to Joseph-Albert Tournaire, Nice great architect living in Paris. Tournaire, Grand Prix de Rome in 1888, is a renowned professional, but Rostand is not a man to leave his house in his hands alone. It engages in the work of Arnaga with surprising detail, until their completion in 1906. Assisted by Rosamond, he commanded many fine materials in Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse and England, and brought from China old and rare Coromandel lacquer panels, which will line the walls of the Chinese Room, the most valuable of this show building.

Rostand is attentive to detail and nothing, not even the degree of flaring the top of the columns of the entrance, nor the width of the hearth of the fireplace is left to chance. The poet wishes for the impeccable Arnaga, which is his "heterotopia", his imaginary world within the real.

For Arnaga beautiful is the image of its owner: this house is a work of Rostand, a "piece parts." Every room, every space of the house fascinates with its uniqueness, referring to a particular culture, or a stage set, or the author of a reverie. The styles are mixed without restraint - English, Pekingese, First Empire or Louis XVI. In fact, it's Rostand's life is going to play here, and inspiration that builds its decor.

40 rooms covering 600 square meters of floor space on four levels. On the ground floor, arranged around the large living room, there are the rooms where Rostand (Edmond, Rosamond and their two teenagers, Maurice and John) live most of their time during the day. The first is for family rooms and guests, while the second is only accessible by a service stairway, is vested in the domestic.

The house is also characterized by its modernity - no question of living in a farm, even comfortable. In 1900, when he bought his land, Rostand is reeling inventions discovered at the Universal Exhibition, or already in vogue in Paris: electricity, hot water, telephone, central heating ...

The electricity is installed throughout the house, including in the rooms of the servants, and even up to the barn ... where Rostand up a fan! The electrical panel of Arnaga tells the visitor that the villa worked with 350,000 watts: "Such power today would illuminate a stadium!" cried Beatrice Labat, curator of the place.

By far Arnaga offers powerful and angular profile firm of Labourd, adorned with studs and uneven roof areas, as it is customary to add over time extensions to the main building. Studs are dark red, like those Rostand used to see around and around the wide beams, slightly ocher white plaster reflects the "yellow light" of the Basque Country. Arnaga, who quickly arouses curiosity and inspiration, gives birth to a new architectural movement, called "néobasque".

Villa Arnaga: Basque dream of Edmond Rostand

The two French gardens and Villa Arnaga of English are remarkable. One extends in front of the house and pergola (here), the other behind it.


But "the highlight of the property are the gardens," Justice Michel Fenasse-Amat, director and initiator of Arnaga festival, organized every year in situ in May. Edmond Rostand, in fact, decided to equip its field of two very different gardens. At the entrance, a huge audience to the French, to the perfect perspective opens with a beautiful pergola, overlooking beds of flowers extended by several basins in which is reflected the majestic silhouette, beautiful and right, the villa . A geometric space that surrounds the poet of a forest: refusing to plant shrubs, which he calls "dusters" Rostand is already moving dozens of large trees.

If the French garden symbolizes the perfect metric of the Alexandrian his counterpart to the English, camouflaged behind the house evokes the tormented soul of the poet. Charming, this green mess is undoubtedly at the origin of the passion of Jean Rostand for the natural sciences. Arrived at Arnaga at the age of 11 years ago, it is a boy who likes neither worldliness, nor his velvet suits, a "little savage" who scampers relentlessly in search of some new insect pin in his collection, and meticulously pierces his future trousers famous biologist.

In the great hall of the villa, a table shows the teen-length hair out of his cap in battle - he wanted to cut his mother could not bring himself ... - with his left hand in a butterfly prisoner. An image of the own happiness to children, transcended by the small paradise Arnaga, where the stars of the Parisian theater come on holiday for more than ten years. To these visitors Edmond Rostand address on the threshold a welcome message and warning: "You who come to share our light blonde / And sit down to the feast changing horizons, / Do not enter with your heart, brings nothing of the world, / And do not tell what people say. "

Edmond Rostang, production designer

In 2004, the descendants of the architect Joseph-Albert Tournaire donate at Edmond Rostand museum of his correspondence with the writer during construction of Arnaga: thirty letters with sketches - Rostand drew all the plans home and gardens, Tournaire undertaking to "put things together." So this letter in February 1904, dedicated to the great staircase, "What's to stop to have a very simple stone ramp, in which there would be every two meters, a vase or a hollow where one would a plant, small ball carved laurel, azalea, etc.?

The more I think, the more this idea, any rational in short, would provide the perfect originality of the stairs. Our ramp, along which it would be spread, depending on the season, small shrubs, flowering white chamomile, pink azaleas, hydrangeas, and everything that blooms into a ball, would be wonderful; extremely well heated in winter by your stove, room, real living-greenhouse with a staircase, could have camellias and all kinds of flowers; and like the staircase only goes to the first, it would not be difficult for the gardener to change the content of the jars. Enclosed three hasty sketches with which I feel you will do wonders. [...] "

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