Friday, 29 January 2016

We visit Alfred Nobel's dynamite factory at Paulilles

I had never really given much thought to how Alfred Nobel
Mural at Paulilles 
- of Nobel Peace Prize fame - had made himself influential enough to have such an award named after him. It turns out that he is the man who invented dynamite and the massive site of his former French dynamite factory is just along the coast from our current campsite, nestled in a bay at Paulilles between Port-Vendres and Banyuls-sur-Mer. Nobel's French associate Paul Francois Barbe had the factory built in 1870 and production continued there, despite a number of serious and often fatal accidents, until 1984. In a twist of fate, this location which produced thousands and thousands of tons of destructive dynamite during its working years is now responsible for one of the few protected and undeveloped sections of coastline in the area. A few buildings have been restored to provide an idea of the former factory to visitors. However others have been deliberately destroyed or allowed to crumble and the bay designated a protected ecological area.

Vintage factory sign 
A large free car park is positioned near to the small visitor
Rails and tunnels at Paulliles 
centre. This contains a different style of exhibition to that which we had expected. Former factory workers have been interviewed and their brief stories are reproduced (in three languages) in board books under vintage photographs of the people and the factory operations. We discovered that the working site resembled a small village and included facilities such as a school. The workers felt privileged to be given free coal and water, and to have necessary repairs to their accommodations seen to promptly. Hoever, they also acknowledged the mortal danger of their employment - accidental explosions were a constant risk and some of the chemicals were also hazardous to health, especially without the benefits of the protective clothing that would be considered vital equipment today.

There is a small botanical garden next to the visitor centre
La Fleur du Mois 
where we admired 'La Fleur du Mois' - in January it is the stunning Cognassier du Japon which provides a vivid blast (pun intended) of colour that made the rest of the plants seem almost greyscale by comparison. A half-dozen or so artists were sat or stood around the garden sketching different plants and scenes.

Further away, the partially restored Dynamiterie Originelle has four chambers, each now open to the sky and each containing a different map of the site and the bay. We also strolled over to the boatmakers' shed where Catalan craftsmen continue to create boats in the traditional styles. The Sentier Littoral coastal walk passes through the Paulilles site too and we took the opportunity to set out across the beach towards the Phare du Bear lighthouse. We
Wartime barricades on Paulilles beach 
wondered at the heavy-duty concrete barriers across much of the beachfront and tried to understand how they would have been of use to the factory. A helpful placard informed us that they were actually Second World War remnants and had been constructed in 1944 by the Toldt company to prevent Allied tanks from landing. The barricades have been broken through now to allow swimmers access to the water, but they are still visible at Paulilles, on the Faubourg beach at Collioure, and on the Elmes beach at Banyuls.

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