The train gradually slows as it nears the long awaited destination. Passengers huddle around the doors and with each moment, a small but growing momentum urges the crowd forward until the train doors open to release a wave of rushed travelers. Luggage slams into shins, children get lost in the crowds and young friends sprint to catch the closing train doors.
This turmoil arrives with each train at the La Gare de Perpignan, the Perpignan train station. Vacationers, residents, businessmen and drifters from around the globe meet in this commotion every day of the week. The frenzied energy that is constantly present in the station inspired Salvador Dali to declare that the train station serves a universal purpose.
Salvador Dali was an eccentric Catalan artist of the Surrealist movement. His persona was as unruly and unconventional as the art he created. Born in Figueres, Spain, not far from the French border, Dali developed a deep love for Catalonia during childhood. Dali traveled throughout the world, but had an interest in the city of Perpignan because of its evident Catalan roots. Dali used to claim that he gained the most inspiration simply by sitting in the train station’s lobby.
On August 27, 1963 Dali made a proclamation that changed the reputation of La Gare de Perpignan. “It all became clear in a flash: There, right before me, was the center of the universe,” Dali said. Dali publically declared that the Perpignan train station was the “centre du monde,” the center of the world.
Dali later created a painting entitled “La Gare de Perpignan.” The work of art is considered to be an exceptional example of the Surrealist movement. The piece, which features a small image of the train station amid figures of rural farm workers, is intensely symbolic of Dali’s obsessive concern with immortality.
Lluis Colet, a local historian and Dali expert, believes that there are numerous reasons Dali chose Perpignan’s train station as the center of the world.
“In an emotional way, in a historic way and in a scientific way, many things can show that Perpignan is the centre of the world,” said Colet. “For all those reasons the master thinks the center of the universe is here.”
Dali’s curiosity for the train station stemmed from his belief in the philosophy of cosmogony. Cosmogony is the theory there is a single universal origin from which all existence and reality emerged. It is said that when this origin is found, one may come to understand the meaning of existence.
In order to name a location a cosmogony, Colet said, there must be many different energies surrounding that place. Perpignan’s geographical location invites many of the world’s civilizations to gather there, which creates an undeniably unique energy. Perspectives of life and creation, existence and reality meet when passing through the seemingly insignificant train station, according to Colet.
Today arriving at La Gare de Perpignan is like entering the center of Salvador Dali’s psyche. The ceilings are painted in large swirls of bright yellows, oranges and blues in a fashion that makes one question if there is such a thing as too much color. The swirls create enormous butterflies, an homage to Dali’s art, and tempt the imagination to see how many butterflies can be found among the flurry of color. The boarding platform displays the words “Perpignan Centre du Monde” painted in chalky white paint across the black pavement.
Travelers do not seem to notice the references to Dali or note the station’s immeasurable importance to the great artist. They hurry through the center of the world in a flash.
Dali did not contribute any art to the station, but with his declaration he transformed La Gare de Perpignan into his personal masterpiece.