|Martigny : the town|
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Just behind Place Centrale and the tourist office is the Église Notre-Dame-des-Champs, completed in 1687, with magnificent carved doors but a modest interior. From Place Centrale, if you follow Rue Marc-Morand north, you’ll come to an old covered wooden bridge over the Dranse river; this is an 1818 replacement of the 1350 original, and leads to a winding path climbing to the semi-ruined thirteenth-century Château de la Bâtiaz, its lofty round tower visible from all parts of the town, and especially dramatic when floodlit at night beside the meandering tail-lights of cars on the tortuous switchback road to Chamonix. The château is rarely open, but the views are worth the climb. Below the château is the small Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Compassion, built in the 1620s with a Rococo altar added more than a century later. Its most remarkable feature is a huge collection of ex voto paintings dating back 200 years and more.
Fondation Pierre Gianadda
The main focus is the changing series of top-flight art exhibitions staged in the main gallery area – recent major shows have included Chagall and Modigliani retrospectives, an overview of Kandinsky’s work and, until November 2000, a Van Gogh exhibition. The gallery space itself is not huge, but the quality of works brought in from around the world is always very high. The upper level of the gallery is given over to the Musée Archéologique Gallo-Romain, an interesting collection of statues, coins, pottery, jewellery and other bits and bobs garnered from digs around Martigny. Prime exhibit, which serves as the Foundation’s mascot, is an impressive bronze head of a bull, dating from the first or second century AD. The whole building is built around the remains of a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Mercury, the inner-sanctum walls of which have been left intact in the middle of the museum’s floorspace. In a back area off the gallery is the small permanent exhibition of fine art, the Salle Franck, ten modernist works donated from a private collection, including Picasso’s Nu aux jambes croisées (1903), produced at the height of the artist’s blue period. The smell of motor oil and rubber prelude the subterranean Musée de l’Auto, displaying fifty-odd vintage cars including a Model T Ford (1912), and a dashingly elegant Lagonda (1936). Outside is the Parc des Sculptures, an open area of green overlooked by Martigny’s wooded slopes and dotted with works by Rodin, Moore, Miró and Brancusi’s celebrated Le Grand Coq (1949), a striking zigzag of gleaming metal, amongst many more. Alongside the café at the rear of the park is the Vieil Arsenal, which stages temporary shows of photography or modern art.
Finally, you should call the Foundation – or check its Web site – for details of its cycle of classical concerts, twelve or fifteen a year, which give the unique opportunity to see stellar world-class artists performing at close quarters in the intimate gallery space: tickets (Fr.20–100) are very limited.
Within a few hundred metres of the museum, to the south beyond the train tracks, lies Martigny’s Roman amphitheatre, dating from the second-to-fourth centuries AD and now restored to seat 5000 spectators. It comes into its own as the venue for the annual cowfighting championships in early October, but otherwise it’s a quiet, grassy corner from which to survey the wooded slopes all around.
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