Rivesaltes Memorial and Museum
The Rivesaltes Memorial (French: Memorial du Camp de Rivesaltes) is a museum, located near the Spanish border in southern France, commemorating the victims of the Camp of Rivesaltes, a detention camp from which over 2,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz during WWII. The award-winning building of the memorial/museum was designed by French architect Rudy Ricciotti.
Cover image: an aerial view of the Rivesaltes Memorial. Photo © M. Hédelin.
The Camp of Rivesaltes
Also known as Camp Joffre, the military camp of Rivesaltes, not far from Perpignan in the Languedoc-Roussillon Region (now Occitanie), was used from 1938 to 1945 first to intern Catalan refugees escaping from Spain after the Spanish Civil War, and then to detain gypsies and Jews living in the territory of Vichy France, most of whom were subsequently sent to nazi extermination camps in Germany and Poland. After WWII, the camp contained German prisoners of war, Harkis (Muslim Algerians who had fled the country because of their support to France during the Algerian War of Independence), and foreign immigrants until it was closed in 2007.
Exterior view of the museum/memorial building. Photo © Kevin Dolmaire.
After its closure, the former military camp has been gradually transformed into a site of memory to commemorate the thousands of people, whose living conditions were notoriously hard, who suffered for being detained in it with a special focus on the French Jews, including 110 children, who were deported from Rivesaltes to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp between August and November 1942.
In 2015, the new Rivesaltes Memorial and Museum building, designed by Rudy Ricciotti and Passelac & Roques Architects, was inaugurated by French prime minister Manuel Valls.
The 4,000-square-meter building consists of a 240-meter-long single-story sunken volume, mostly made in ochre-colored concrete, whose monolithic aspect is broken, from time to time, by three narrow patios. Internally, the Memorial is an introverted tunnel-like space with no views on the outside, except for the sky visible through a few roof windows and the patios; a long corridor runs on one side of the building and gives access to the main exhibition hall. Ricciotti purposely avoided any vegetation around the building; the concrete volume of the museum is also completely encircled on all sides by a continuous trench which emphasizes its tectonic geometry and the slight inclination of its large flat roof.
A narrow ramp leads the public to the museum’s entrance from the visitors’ car park. Photo © Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Rivesaltes Memorial, plan and longitudinal section; images courtesy of Rudy Ricciotti Architecte.
One of the three patios of the museum. Photo © Kevin Dolmaire.
The permanent exhibition
Installed in the main gallery, the permanent exhibition of the Rivesaltes Memorial consists of a 30-meter-long interactive table featuring videos, interviews, maps, documents and objects which present the events occurred at the Rivesaltes Camp and other 100 internment camps in France, together with the personal stories of those who were secluded there; additionally, several archive videos, projected on the perimeter walls of the hall, help to historically contextualize the exhibits and the events they represent.
Some abandoned barracks and structures of the former camp stand near the museum’s building and are an integral part of the exhibition; they give an idea of the harsh everyday life of the people interned in the camp.
The topics presented in the permanent exhibition are explored further through temporary exhibitions, film screenings, lectures, and live performances taking place in the museum’s 145-seat cinema/auditorium.
Two views of the permanent exhibition of the Rivesaltes Memorial, and a view of the disused barracks of the old camp. Photos © Kevin Dolmaire and © Jean-Pierre Dalbéra.
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More in Southern France, from Marseille to the Spanish border
Southern France, from Marseille to the Spanish border
copyright Inexhibit 2021 - ISSN: 2283-5474