ITS size and splendour has goose bumps springing out all over the arms, yet it is easy to drive past this remarkable experience and miss it.
The Cathedrale D’Images, or Cathedral of Images in Les Baux in the South of France is actually a massive disused bauxite mine.
Inside the lofty expanse of the mine in a series of immense connecting galleries, gigantic images are projected onto the walls, the ceiling, the floor to present a slide-show so theatrical it saps the breath.
Inside the chilly air of the mine, the visitor is enveloped in an enchanting world of constantly changing images.
Colour flashes and shimmers; stirring music soars and rises. Within seconds the senses begin to reel. All you are capable of at this stage, is a loud gasp.
We have paid annual homage to the Cathedral of Images for four years now and each year a different projection show has enthralled us. We have stepped inside the huge mine to find ourselves walking on the water of the canals in Venice.
As we clutched each other against the dizzying effect of water swirling beneath our feet, we staggered like drunks, bewildered but captivated. It takes a few minutes for the senses to adjust: the eyes must attune to the flashing; the ears must adjust to the sounds.
But after a few minutes orientation comes and by holding on to your mate (or a stranger if need be) it becomes easy to walk and take in the joy inside this mine/cathedral.
That first year we were taken into the cobbled streets of Venice to walk by the Grand Canal and sail romantically on gondolas. The next year we were treated to an arresting show by Picasso.
With the drama of orchestral music and the Picasso cubist images above, below and all around us, we were bedazzled, and eventually came out into the sunshine tottering with awe. Another year Van Gogh’s sunflowers and irises flashing massively around us had the same staggering affect.
As much as we enjoyed Venice, Picasso and Van Gogh, it was this year’s theme at the Cathedral of Images that thrilled us to the core: Australia.
Once again into the chilled darkness of the quarry we strolled to be assailed by gigantic images of the Opera House and the famous bridge. Wobbly from the glimmering pictures and thrilling music, we linked arms, held on and strolled carefully around the vast space.
We stood before giant walls of curious koalas perching on stately gum trees, kangaroos bouncing over dry red earth. Then came colourful rock paintings dating back to the mists of time, then Aboriginal dancers stomping to the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo.
Then the scene changed and suddenly we were in the depths of the tropical rainforests standing small and humble before giant palms and gushing waterfalls.
The feeling of pride was strong. To see our great land so gorgeously depicted in this unusual place in the South of France was almost surreal.
We eavesdropped on flattering comments as we wandered slowly around the immense chambers and vast galleries, our necks cricking from looking up the towering walls to the colossal ceiling and back down to the wide sprawl of floor.
Then we were walking on the coral of the Great Barrier Reef, flying over the warm colours of the Kakadu marches and suddenly plunged into the solitude of the immense outback before the veil of night descended and we were surrounded just by the sounds of frogs and owls.
“Why do so few Australians know about this incredible place?’’ we quietly asked each other without expecting an answer.
The concept for the Cathedral of Images came from French photographer Albert Plecy whose passion for an understanding of photography led him to search for a space where images could be fully liberated.
In 1975 he found the perfect location in the disused bauxite mine at Les Baux de Provence. After his death two years later, his wife Anne Plecy continued to evolve her husband’s dream of taking the visitor into the depth of an image.
Now, the Cathedral of Images attracts visitors from all over the world who seek its hidden presence at the foothills of the Les Baux village for an experience of a lifetime.
In 2011, it is to be Leonardo Da Vinci featuring in the Cathedral of Images and I believe to see the Mona Lisa portrayed in gigantic magnificence would alone be worth a visit to the South of France.
If you go:
- Cathedrale D’Images
- Route de Maillane,
- 13520 Les Baux de Provence
- Wheelchair access.
- Les Baux de Provence is about an hour by car from Avignon.
Fast trains will take you from Paris to Avignon in just over two hours.
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