La Chartreuse de Villeneuve lez Avignon is one of the largest Carthusian monasteries in France. Labelled as a CCR (heritage site for culture) in 1975, it is also home to the National Playwriting Centre, earning it a national and international reputation in the field of dramatic writing.
THE HERITAGE SITE
At the time of the Avignon papacy (1305-1376), Villeneuve lez Avignon was one of the vacation residences of the papal court. Cardinal Aubert had his private residence there, and on becoming Pope Innocent VI he enlarged the palace and its grounds, added a chapel and created a Carthusian community. By the middle of the 17th century, La Chartreuse du Val de Bénédiction was the richest monastery in France, housing 24 fathers and 30 lay brothers along with numerous domestic workers and labourers. The French Revolution saw the end of this prosperous period, with the departure of the monks in 1792 and the site being parcelled up and sold in 1794. Local inhabitants moved in, and La Chartreuse was effectively part of the town of Villeneuve for almost two centuries. It was thanks to the actions of Prosper Merimée (Inspector of Historical Monuments) and the architect Jules Formigé that the government began a process of acquisition of the site which lasted nearly 80 years.
THE CULTURAL PROJECT
The process of buying back the site accelerated in 1971, driven by Jacques Duhamel. Jean Salusse and Jacques Rigaud encouraged the creation of a cultural centre, and the restoration of the site was from that point guided by the requirements of this ambitious project. Since 1973, the organisation CIRCA (International Centre for Animation, Creation and Research) has been responsible for managing the cultural activities of La Chartreuse under an agreement with the State. Its first director Bernard Tournois developed a major multidisciplinary project, and in 1990 La Chartreuse became the National Playwriting Centre (Centre national des écritures du spectacle, CNES). It went on to embrace the digital arts and in 2008 CIRCA took over the management of the site itself from the CMN (National Centre for Monuments). Today, CIRCA continues in this dual heritage and cultural role, and the current project continues the role of La Chartreuse as the National Playwriting Centre and an international centre for creation and research.
La Chartreuse is one of the largest artists-in-residence venues in France, dedicated to French and international dramatic writers, and to creation and research in the field of live performance. Its year-round activity includes large-scale annual events (the summer festival Rencontres d’éte, European Heritage Days, Rendez-vous aux jardins, Architecture en Fête, Festival du Polar), as well as public lectures, rehearsals, laboratories, training courses, study days and professional seminars.
A LOCAL AND REGIONAL PRESENCE
From the outside, it is impossible to gauge the extent of this magnificently restored 14th-century monastery, which covers an area of over 17,000m2. Previously dedicated to the Carthusian principles of silence and solitude, today it is an integral part of the town. Its presence at the heart of a popular tourist area, in a protected environment and with its dual mission in heritage and culture, confers on the site a unique position in the cultural and touristic landscape of France. Thanks to the digitisation plan put in place with the help of the culture ministry, La Chartreuse today offers to its artists and visitors 3D reproductions of the church and the chapel – a perspective which is at once scientific, artistic and accessible to all.