The roofs of the imposing castle of Villers-Cotterêts (Aisne) shine with new slates, the balcony of honor proudly awaits visitors… The restoration of the monument is coming to an end. Within it, the International City of the French Language can now see the light of day. This major presidential project, carried by Emmanuel Macron who will inaugurate it on October 30, aims well beyond the rescue of the symbolic place where François I signed, in 1539, the famous “ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts”, formalizing French as state language. But 75 km from Paris, in the heart of a town of 10,000 inhabitants surrounded by the Retz forest, will such ambition meet its audience? As if to respond to this fear, Paul Rondin, the director of the Cité lists the rich programming for this fall: temporary exhibition on French song, activities and shows, first artist (Quebec videographer) in residence…
In the royal apartments, the permanent, fun journey has turned to new technologies. It immerses visitors in the language on a global scale, dissects its functioning and its evolution, tells the history of French… “With these interactive devices, we target all audiences: schools, families, residents of Hauts -de-France and Parisians, but also national and international visitors,” specifies Paul Rondin. In order to encourage families in the region, the first to be targeted by this new setting, entry is €9 per adult and free for those under 26.
A second wind for the city
“For once a presidential project is not located in Paris, we must seize it! » enthuses Bettina Caignault, president of the Society of Friends of the Château de Villers-Cotterêts. In this city where Alexandre Dumas also lived – a museum is dedicated to the writer – associations and elected officials had already worked, upstream, around the language of Molière. Drawing on its experience, the Society of Friends – like 80 other structures – became a partner of the City: “We organized parties in the park and went to schools to explain the project. We recorded 10,000 visitors during an exceptional visit to the site during Francophonie Week last March. The inhabitants are proud to see their castle revived and want this City to irrigate our city. »
Thus, passers-by can cross the Jeu de Paume courtyard, under the glass roof where French words, old-fashioned or modern, sparkle, to reach the park. In doing so, they pass the spaces hosting local associations, whose activity is linked to language, the office of a public writer, the bookstore-café, etc. “The transplant must take place, it’s a fantastic opportunity and we are doomed to succeed,” confirms Mayor Franck Briffaut (RN), even if he deplores not having been consulted enough on the location of the parking lots and the layout. of the roads. He is also worried about the second part of the project: the installation, in the renovated outbuildings, of a luxury hotel. For the moment, the candidates are not jostling each other. Likewise, in the city, the catering offer is still very limited. However, the City has already attracted some 600 workers and craftsmen to the town during the four years of work, many of them in workshops and integration projects. And 43 jobs should be created to manage future activity.
In the opinion of Nicolas Rébérot, departmental advisor (DVD) in charge of cultural action and heritage, “the City will attract investors, artists and tourists if we know how to build networks at all levels”. He mentions the Paroles festival, the fruit of four communities of municipalities, which will be renewed in 2024 with, in particular, Thomas Fersen in concert. At the same time, the City and the departmental library are carrying out joint work on IT tools to combat illiteracy.
Also underway is a road bike project to connect Villers-Cotterêts to three other castles: La Ferté-Milon, Pierrefonds and Compiègne, passing through the Retz forest. Enough to boost green and heritage tourism! Other studies concern the improvement of road, rail and airport links with Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle. A proximity opening to the international, hope all the actors. With a meeting already recorded in November 2024 for the Cotteréziens: the 19th Francophonie Summit which will bring together more than fifty heads of state and government.