Antigone

23/10/2019 19:28

Sophocles’ classic tragedy gave name to a newly created neighbourhood east of Montpellier’s old town; a reinterpretation of the architectural classicism that emerged in the late seventies from the Catalan architect Ricard Bofill’s workshop.

According to Greek mythology Antigone was sentenced to death for disobeying Creon, king of Thebes, by giving funeral honours to the body of Polynices, his brother. Antigone suffered the consequences of belonging to an unorthodox family, with a father, Oedipus, who had conceived four children with his own mother, Jocasta, sister in turn of Creon. Her two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles clashed to rule over Thebes’s throne, inspiring another tragedy picked up by Aeschylus in Seven against Thebes. Antigone was written in antiquity by Sophocles and also by Euripides and already represented in the fifth century BC. A work that would be reinterpreted in numerous occasions in literature, theatre and opera through the personal adaptations of Jean Cocteau, Margarite Yourcenar, Salvador Espriu, Bertolt Brecht, Schubert, Gluck or Carl Off, among others.

The influence of Hellenic mythology reaches architecture. In Sophocles’ second verse of the choirs, it speak about feelings for communal civic life, learning to escape the icy shafts of frost, volleys of pelting rain in winter storms, the harsh life lived under the open sky. Antigone is also the name chosen for Ricard Bofill studio urban project to completely urbanize an extensive area east of Montpellier's Écusson, not in vain were the lines of classical architecture reinterpreted in a style that could be qualified of neo-neoclassicism integrated into the postmodern line of Bofill’s workshop.

In 1978, the city council headed by the then socialist mayor George Frêche approved the development of the urban project for the 36 hectares of land that had belonged to the citadel barracks shooting and that connected the old town with the Lez River. A set of articulated housing and equipment was projected along an axis of almost a kilometre in length in which there are five large open spaces closed to traffic for which parking areas were planned. Seen from the air, the set of buildings recalls a key of disproportionate dimensions that ends, to the east, in an open amphitheatre. The implementation of line 1 of the tramway eased the connectivity of the new neighbourhood that wasn’t finish up completely until the turn of the millennium, when the construction of the major facilities was ended up: the Olympic Pool, the Émile Zola Central Media Library and the Hôtel of the Région, seat of the regional government. The apartments were divided between the Place du Nombre d'Or, where are 288, 350 were built in the Port Juvenal, a hundred in Le Parnasse and Le Capitol as well as offices in Les Echelles de la Ville, the Tour Europe and also a hotel.

From downtown Antigone is reached through Le Polygone shopping mall. The facade oriented to the east, to the Place de Paul Bec, gives the first view of the neighbourhood and is inspired by the gardens of Babylon with zigzagging staircases that ascend to the top floor. From there, and through the opening of the first block of buildings, can be seen the entire Antigone axis along its squares to the last building on the opposite bank of the Lez.

The first large module, which corresponds to the handle of the key, is made up of a score of blocks of housing buildings linked together encircling the first square in a quadrilobular shape, this is the Place du Nombre d'Or. Its name refers to the golden ratio or divine proportion that is harmonically repeated in the composition in art and in nature and that has also been applied in the urban design of the area. From the inside of the square can be seen how the buildings top forms a large overhang that protrudes and advances to the structure. In the centre there is a quadrangular fountain formed by jets of water that are projected from the ground at different heights and with different frequencies.

The second square is the Millénaire, a long space in the form of a Roman circus flanked by cypresses and occupied on both sides by apartments. At its eastern end a wide semicircular portico topped by an arch with a dome leads to the third square, that of Thessalie, bordered by two concave blocks. In the middle there is a circular base fountain with a central bronze basin and three statues of ephebes made of the same material. In the fourth square, that of Dionysus, there are the spectacular buildings of the Olympic Pool and the Media Library and a statue dedicated to the god of wine, Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele, grandson of Harmony and great-grandson of Aphrodite..

The longitudinal corridor crosses rue de Poséidon to end at the Esplanade de l'Europe, where a large building in the form of a columnar crescent opens onto the Lez River. The esplanade descends softly as if it were a lawn stand towards the area where restaurants and coffe shops are located between a large parking space and the Piraeus Avenue. Opposite, on the other bank, stands the building of the Council of the Region having the shape of a glassed arch of triumph and bordered by two office complexes.

Antigone decoration is complemented by statues of classical inspiration. Two replicas of the 5th and 3rd centuries BC Greek statues, Discobolus and Belvedere Apollon, have been installed next to the Polygone exit. The originals - actually copies from Roman times - are found in the Vatican Museums. In Zeus Square is Diana of Versailles, a copy of the hunting Artemis that is exhibited in the Louvre Museum, in Paris, where there is also the original of the Victory of Samothrace, here on the esplanade of Europe.

Likewise, the gazetteer of the adjacent streets has been fulfilled by the Hellenistic spirit with the streets dedicated to Athens, Epirus, Thebes, the squares of Marathon and Acadia, Piraeus Avenue and Kythira quays.

© J.L.Nicolas

 

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