Postcard: Saint-Gilles

For tourists, it is a perfect town of southern France. But for the French, Saint-Gilles is better known for its identity politics. Welcome to France's nationalist heartland

Stephane Remael / Oeil Public for TIME

Saint-Gilles's ethnic minorities live mainly in the segregated Sabatot housing projects.

Tourists have long admired Saint-Gilles for its ancient center: narrow streets, tightly packed stone buildings and 12th century monastery ruins. Its more recent political history, however, has given this Languedoc town a kind of ill fame across France. In 1989, Saint-Gilles became the first town to elect a mayor from the extreme-right National Front party. The National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a perennial loser in presidential elections, has consistently placed first in Saint-Gilles. In short, the town has voted for the kind of xenophobic zealotry that for many years was disavowed by polite French society. But the first round of...

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