Situated on the Mediterranean coast of France, Perpignan is a convention city, university town, and business center that has close contacts with the richest regions of Spain. Like Sarasota, it is a cultural mecca, and features numerous monuments, churches, castles and manors, all of which are elegant witnesses to the rich history of this sunny coastal town. It became a sister city to Sarasota in the fall of 1994.
Perpignan is the capital of the département of Pyrénées-Orientales. It is located on the Têt River, 8 miles (13km) west of the Mediterranean and 19 miles (33km) north of the modern Spanish border. Catalonia straddles the border, so Catalan culture strongly influences the language and cuisine. Perpignan was the capital of the old Catalan province of Roussillon under the Counts of Roussillon.
In 1172 it became the possession of Jaime (James) I, King of Aragon. When he died, his realm was divided between his sons. His younger son, also called Jaime, inherited the Kingdom of Majorca, which included Roussillon, Majorca and other Mediterranean possessions.
Jaime I was the first of three hereditary kings of Majorca. They made the city their capital between 1276 and 1344. Perpignan was a stronghold town throughout the middle ages.
In 1659 Perpignan became French as result of the Treaty of the Pyrénées. Sadly, the town walls were dismantled towards the end of the nineteenth century. During and after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the city received Spanish Republic refugees. After Algerian independence was conceded in 1960, it became a refuge again, this time for French settlers from North Africa. In 1971, the University of Perpignan was established.
The city has long been a flourishing market center for wines, fruit, and vegetables. Most produce comes from the rich plain on which the city is located. These plains are alluvial, with plenty of sunshine and water from the Pyrénées. They are also the furthest south in all of France, so historically Perpignan has provided the rest of France with the earliest fruit and vegetables each year.