Forcalquier boasts nearly 5,000 inhabitants and while I wasn’t anxious to visit a town that by all appearances seemed far too busy for producing an independent film, once inside this former capital of Haute-Provence, I was in love with it. Forcalquier derives its name from the Latin furnus calcarius, from the lime ovens used in Roman times. A Roman bridge still stands in the valley just south of town. In the 11th Century, a family of the Counts of Provence created the comté de Forcalquier that remained an independent state through the 12th Century. Forcalquier was an important epicenter that minted its own currency, and its church was elevated to the status of a “concathedral”.
Forcalquier was built around the slopes of a steep conical hill, crowned by the Notre Dame de Provence, where the medieval citadel once stood. The citadel was destroyed in 1601 and the chapel with its panoramic view was built in 1875. It has a carillon that can be heard every Sunday morning during the summer. The oldest part of town is the area around the Place Saint-Michel, a Renaissance fountain built in 1511. Narrow side-streets display many doorways dating from the 12th to 16th Centuries. Below the Place St. Michel is the Place du Bourguet, the present commercial and social center of town. Nearby is the Cordeliers Convent, built in the 13th Century by Franciscans named “cordeliers” because of their rope belts. This convent was occupied by monks continuously until the French Revolution and now houses the Université Européenne des Senteurs and Saveurs (European University of Scents and Flavors), a private university that specializes in the study of natural aroma compounds, cosmetics and flavorings. Seriously.
I found Forcalquier to be both colorful and charming. Our lovely guide Martine took us up and down several alleyways and narrow paths, and into an art gallery with a subterranean basement built centuries ago that is now used as an exhibition room. There’s an artist’s compound in the old village, as well as the headquarters for the Alpes de Lumière, a charity organization founded by Pierre Martel, a French priest who dedicated his life to the preservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage of Haute-Provence. “I am one of those thousands of people who want greater freedom of expression” is a quote of his that we found pasted on a door nearby. Down the lane, the fountain of Joan of Arc, the town’s main water source centuries ago, stands tucked into the Place Jeanne d’Arc. A kitschy cinema memorabilia shop occupies a space in the old town square in Forcalquier, where a musician was serenading patrons at one of several local cafés. The old streets of Forcalquier are lined with galleries and shops of almost every influence. At the center of it all and towering over the town is the Forcalquier Cathedral, erected in the 12th Century as the second seat of the Bishop of Sisteron, a modern bronze vulture overseeing its courtyard. Obviously, there was much more to Forcalquier than I had initially anticipated.
Shooting a film here is entirely possible, and there’s no lack of facilities. Several hotels and restaurants thrive in the area and housing a cast and crew would be no trouble. Is it the village I imagined in my screenplay? Not exactly, but it contains a wealth of interesting possibilities. I certainly wouldn’t knock it off the list for its size or its traffic, and I got the sense that Martine and Haute-Provence would welcome us with open arms.