saint_denis03_canons_barachois_-_credit_irt_-_serge_gelabert_dts_12_2016_0.jpgPhotographePhotographe© Serge Gélabert
© Serge Gélabert

In the footsteps of the Governors

In the Land of Heritage, the history of Reunion Island is everywhere in the streets of Saint-Denis.

From the old Town Hall to the State Garden, iconic Creole villas punctuate rue de Paris, which used to be the main street and a royal thoroughfare. We have chosen a walking tour with a guide all the better to immerse ourselves in the Reunion of days gone by. A Reunion peopled by poets and artists, big names and timeless monuments.

We have arranged to meet Roméo who greets us today in front of theold Town Hall, which was inaugurated under Napoleon III but the first stone was laid under Louis-Philippe. Once we have introduced ourselves, our small group of history buffs steps into the magnificent building. Everything here takes us back to the splendour of the past: parquet flooring, coffered ceilings adorned with magnificent ceiling roses and gilding in the large hall… Roméo has made a good start with our first visit!

La Villa Déramond

Roméo could guide us down rue de Paris with his eyes closed – he knows it like the back of his hand. He has an anecdote for each house and each garden, often surprising, always fascinating. Visible from the street, a majestic pale green villa attracts our attention: this is Villa Déramond which belonged to the grandparents of Léon Dierx then those of Raymond Barre. With its garden featuring three fountains and its façade decorated with pilasters and columns, this house is one of the most beautiful examples of Creole architecture.

Time seems to stand still when we all come out and Roméo, visibly moved, recites some verses by Léon Dierx, the Prince of poets:

“There, on the side of a mountain crowned by mist,

Between two black ravines with their cool echoes,

Under the rippling warm air that lights up

Climbs an evergreen wood full of dark filaos…”

The most beautiful street in Saint-Denis

 

We recommence our tour of the most beautiful street in Saint Denis, “our very own Champs-Elysées”, jokes Romeo as we make a new stop in front of Villa du Département. This house with an impressive garden of palms and fruit trees was built at the request of Jean-Baptiste de Lestrac, the first Mayor of Saint-Denis.

Here, as in Paris, the magic works quickly. During our walk, superb Creole villas appear one after the other on this warm morning and the past seems to come to life. Now we are at no. 114, in front of Maison Carrère and its perfect lines. Our guide tells us that this house which used to belong to a rich sugar trader, Raphael Carrère, now houses the Northern Intercommunal Tourist Office. The history of Reunion Island becomes tangible.

 

 Arthothèque

 

After a few photos and numerous questions about the history of the former inhabitants, our small group takes a break. Before pushing on to admire the architecture of the Arthothèque, which houses a collection of more than 2,000 works and books about contemporary Creole art. Next comes the former Consulate of Great Britain followed by Villa du Général, recognisable by its traditional shingle roof and elegant friezes and lambrequins. It was formerly the home of the Commander of FAZSOI.

 Two hours have passed and the tour is coming to an end. We have reached the end of the street. Roméo concludes his guided tour emotionally but without any trace of nostalgia. As he himself says:

“The history of Reunion Island never stops…”

 

The story is just beginning

What will you do next ?