The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                PAGE FOUR
Le Corbusier
                                                                                                                       by Florence Chatzigianis

Cap MartinWhen you walk around Cap Martin, that exclusive stretch of land that pokes into the Mediterranean Sea between Monaco and Menton, you'll notice the village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin high above, the wide-angle views of the Mediterranean Sea below, the elegant villas that dot the cape behind tall fences, the private gardens that brim with the rubbery leaves of century plants, with lemon trees, with olive groves and swimming pools.

What you might not notice is 'le cabanon'. After all, the 'cabanon' cabin is a mere 3.66 square-meter cube tucked under the cape's footpath.

The little house sits behind a carob tree. Dark brown pine logs cover its outside walls and give it the appearance of a mountain shed. Don't let its diminutive looks trick you. This cabin is a castle.

"I have a chateau on the Côte d'Azur.  It's for my wife. 
It's extravagant in comfort and gentleness." - Le Corbusier

The cabin was architect Le Corbusier's holiday hideaway on the Côte d'Azur. The Swiss-born architect, possibly the best-known modern architect of the 20th century, loved the Mediterranean region. He often visited the French Riviera. For awhile he would stay in Eileen Gray's E1027 house on Cap Martin, enjoying the taste of fresh sea urchins at the nearby Etoile de Mer restaurant.

"I drew the plans in 45 minutes. They were final. 
Nothing much changed afterwards." - Le Corbusier

Le Cabanon - Le Corbusier

In 1951, on the side of the restaurant's table, Le Corbusier scribbled the plans for a beach-side cottage. They were rough plans, but Le Corbusier liked to say that the core of the cabin's design never changed much from those initial sketches.

"Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need 
 just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep." - Le Corbusier

Behind the chestnut wood door runs a narrow hallway. It leads to a room that feels large in comparison. All is laid out functionally within the open room: two beds arranged in a T, a hidden toilet, a large closet, storage space tucked in the ceiling, a table made of walnut wood, shiny and checkered like a chess board. A simple pillar separates the main room from the bathroom. Behind the pillar, a sink and a mirror. Three windows open up to three primal materials. Through the back window, set low to the ground, you see the cliff and its rusty rocks. Through the central window, a postcard view of the Mediterranean Sea and of  Monaco comes alive. By the bathroom sink, the carob tree hangs its branches in front of the third window.

"The home should be the treasure chest of living." - Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier was also a painter, in addition to architect and urban planner. The cottage's entrance walls and window shutters are painted with rounded human shapes in yellow, red and blue in a style reminiscent of Picasso's and Miro's. A coat of yellow paint covers the floor planks. The Etoile de Mer restaurant, with which the cottage shares a common wall, sports a painted mural signed by Le Corbusier with his hand and foot prints, set alongside those of restaurant owner and friend, Robert Rébutato.

Mural - Le Corbusier

"A house is a machine for living in." - Le Corbusier

The architect enjoyed taking his showers outside the little cabin, under the carob tree. He worked on the slick checkered table or under the shade of the tree. He ate with his wife next door at the Etoile de Mer. He walked the cape. He swam off the Cabbé and Buze beaches below.

"Our own epoch is determining, day by day, its own style. Our eyes, 
unhappily, are unable yet to discern it." - Le Corbusier

In all of its simplicity, the cottage encompasses most of Corbu's core design principles, his five points of modern architecture:

1. a construction supported by reinforced stilts
2. a façade of non-supporting walls that gave architects more design freedom
3. an open interior floor plan
4. windows that pull the exterior into the living space
5. a roof garden, although this principle wasn't applied in the cabanon given the lush scenery that surrounds the site

"I feel so fine here... this is likely where I will breathe my last breath." -Le Corbusier

On August 27, 1965, Le Corbusier swam off the coast of Roquebrune as he so enjoyed doing. He was found lifeless later that morning on the beach, likely a victim of a heart attack. He is buried alongside his wife in the village of Roquebrune in a tomb he designed himself after the death of his wife.


Le Corbusier's Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin can only be visited through organized group visits 
with the town's Tourism Office. Organized tours currently run on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 AM and last 
about two hours. Reservations must be made at the Tourist Information Office at least one day before the visit. 
See the Tourism Office web site (address below) for latest tour schedules, email and phone contacts for reservations.

Latest News

In January 2008, a collection of 23 of Le Corbusier's architectural and urban works spanning seven countries 
were presented to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for nomination as a World Heritage Site. 
Le Corbusier's Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin figures among the 23 works presented as a group for consideration.

Learning more

Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture, introduction by Jean-Louis Cohen, translated by John Goodman,
Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, 2007, 350 pages.  ISBN 978-0-89236-899-0

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin Tourism Office: (Web site in French, English, Italian)

La Fondation Le Corbusier (Web site in French and in English):

About the author:  Florence Chatzigianis is the author of 26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur, published by AzurAlive Press in 2008. 
When she isn't writing away, Florence walks along the hundreds of kilometers of waymarked footpaths that crisscross southeastern France. 
 She is a member of the French Hiking Federation (FFRP) and helps many visitors to southern France hop off the main corridors of attraction
and discover the region's lesser-known footpaths and cultural gems.

Visit their web site at

Order your copy of the book with just a click!


[Photo credits:  Florence Chatzigianis, AzurAlive. Copyright 2008.  All Rights Reserved.]


A Le Corbusier Treasure 

Notre Dame du Haut

In the quiet countryside of Franche-Comté near the village of Ronchamp is 
a masterpiece of architecture by Le Corbusier: Our Lady of the Height church. 
Not far from the N19 motorway, some 35 kilometers west of Belfort, 
this extraordinary building, completed in 1955, is considered one
of the finest buildings of the 20th century and is worth any detour. 

[Photo of Notre Dame du Haut Copyright Cold Spring Press 2008.  All rights reserved.]


                                                                                                               by George Ohanian

Charlemagne by Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)The Carolingians, a dynasty of Frankish rulers, was founded in the seventh century by Pepin of Landen. His direct descendants were Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, and Charlemagne, the great Medieval emperor.  Charlemagne, was of a Germanic bloodline ~ a Frank ~ born, it is believed, on April 2, 742.  Pepin the Short (known also as 'Pepin the Younger') the King of the Franks, was his father, and his grandfather was the great warrior, Charles Martel, head of the Frankish empire.  Pepin the Short deposed Merovingian king Childeric III in 751, with full approval of the Pope, and was subsequently consecrated a bishop of the Roman church. This family was, beyond any doubt, the royalty of Medieval Europe.  The stories of Charles Martel and Pepin are fascinating in their own right, but we will focus on Charlemagne who had a profound influence on every part of Medieval life in the empire he came to rule.

Following the death of Spanish-born Theodosius I, the last Emperor of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, in 395, and, subsequently, when Odoacer, a Barbarian, deposed the last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 476, Europe plunged into the Dark Ages.  It was a time of superstition, illiteracy, plague, invasions and wars, and many historians believe it lasted 400 - 500 years.  It was in the latter half of this period that Charlemagne's family emerged.

Pepin had divided his kingdom between his two sons, Charlemagne and Carloman,  but by the time Charlemagne reached age 29 he had become the sole King of the Franks at Aachen.  He proceeded to unify Europe by personally waging over fifty campaigns against Bavaria, Saxony, the Avars, the Saracens, the Moors of Spain, and others.  His goal was to convert everyone to Christianity.  At the age of 63, after 34 years of battles, he had also subdued the Slavs, the Basques and the Lombards.  Pope Leo III rewarded Charlemagne for his commitment and devotion by crowning him Emperor on Christmas Day, 800 AD.  That empire included what is now France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Northern Italy and parts of Austria and Spain.

But, Charlemagne was more than a warrior.  He became a concerned and wise ruler.  He was appalled at the illiteracy of his people and the lack of educators and books.  With the submission of the pagans and because of his overwhelming zeal, Charlemagne knew that to maintain control and to strengthen his empire he must educate the illiterate.  He encouraged scholars and teachers to come from Italy, England and Ireland to create and support centers of culture and learning.  He single-handedly began to invigorate the ascent from the Dark Ages. 

Charlemagne established one currency for his empire to improve trade, and his soldiers were rewarded with land instead of money to encourage them to defend the empire in times of attack.  He created laws governing agriculture, education, finance, religion and the government.  He fostered commerce; prices, weights and measures were well regulated, and he taxed the wealthy to provide assistance to the poor. And, there was a boom in the construction of churches and monasteries, which increased Papal power along with his own.

How did this man influence architecture?  Early Romanesque architecture began to evolve following his unification of western Europe.  The growth of the church and the stability of Charlemagne's Christian empire prompted the construction of religious buildings.  Two existing examples are the gatehouse in Lorsch in the Rhineland which was built in 800 AD (now a World Heritage Site), and the monastic church of Saint Michael in Hildesheim, with twin transepts, double aisles, double apses, and massive piers, walls and arches. 

Carolingian architecture, named for Charlemagne's family dynasty, extended into the 10th century.  This architecture did away with Merovingian era buildings that were small and shaped like boxes and in their place erected basilicas intersected by vast transepts and semi-circular central naves. Carolingian builders gave emphasis to the western extremity of the church, which would be flanked by symmetrical towers or they made the western exterior the focal point of the building.

Charlemagne was impressed by San Vitale of Ravenna, an early basilican style Romanesque church, built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian.  The Palatine Chapel (786-787) at his court in Aachen, was built with his own money, and is an octagon with a two-story sixteen-sided polygon, now surrounded by the Aachen Cathedral.  The marble for the columns was imported from Italy by Charlemagne with permission from Pope Hadrian, and his throne is in the cathedral today.  Charlemagne's preferred style, that of   San Vitale, became the preferred style of later Holy Roman Emperors, and it survived well into the 12th century throughout northern Europe.

There is no definitive explanation for Charlemagne's death at the age of 72, but some believe he developed a fever and was ill for about a week before dying.  Others say his heart was broken from the loss of his two sons and that he just could not go on.  He was buried beneath the Cathedral dome in Aachen, Northern Germany, on the same day that he died.  In 1978 the Cathedral was declared a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.  There is a gilt arch over his tomb with his image and an inscription which reads (although putting his age in dispute):  "In this tomb lies the body of Charles, the Great and Orthodox Emperor, who gloriously extended the kingdom of the Franks, and reigned prosperously for forty-seven years. He died at the age of seventy, in the year of our Lord 814, the 7th Indiction, on the 28th day of January."


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