On my way to Marseille from Toulon a few months ago (2013), I decided to take the scenic route along the most westerly part of the stunning Côte d’Azur coastline. This area may not be as chic nor as sophisticated as neighbouring Nice, Cannes or St Tropez in the east, but in comparison it certainly has its own charm, raw beauty and quirky sense of humour:
One of the highlights of this journey was passing through the coastal town of La Ciotat, halfway between Toulon and Marseille, around 30 km from either city. The town itself is just like any other coastal town along this stretch of the South of France …
… but what makes this town remarkable is its train station.
This typical Provence-style train station is arguably the birthplace of cinema. In 1895, brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière filmed a train coming into this station and then screened the piece to a paying audience in Paris turning it into one of the first ever commerically screened cinematic movies. Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat also gave rise to the legendary story (although many doubt it is actually true) that those first paying audiences ran out of the screenings in terror believing the train was real and heading straight towards them.
The movie may not be a blockbusting dramatic feast by today’s standards, but it remains one of the most important, iconic and charming movies in cinematic history.
(this embedded footage is via YouTube, under standard YouTube licence)
Of course I couldn’t resist my own remake, but unfortunately I was only equipped with a stills camera at the time of my visit. If one whizzes down the next three photos fast enough, they may well merge into one and appear to move just like images in a flip book.
It was a shame that the station didn’t shout about its historical credentials a lot more than it did. Apart from a plaque …
… and a couple of sun-bleached photographs along the opposite platform …
… very little else in and around the station suggested that this was indeed the location for one of the first cinematic movies ever filmed.
It would appear that I wasn’t alone in wanting more commemoration at the station. Outside in the carpark a local artist had created his own fitting tribute:
La Ciotat station is actually quite a few kilometres outside La Ciotat town itself, but local transport buses (though few and far between) do connect the station with the coastal town. I popped into La Ciotat afterwards in the hope that the town embraced its place in cinematic history more obviously than its station did. The local cinema does pay homage, albeit in name only …
… and the home of the brothers, east of the town (although I couldn’t find it as there were no signposts for it anywhere) is presently (2013) being renovated into a cinema museum.
Well, it’s a start.