Loyal readers will remember that, in 2012, Invisible Bordeaux reported on one of the most bizarre attractions in the area : the designa...

A new UFO has landed at the Ovniport d'Arès (part 1 of 2)

Loyal readers will remember that, in 2012, Invisible Bordeaux reported on one of the most bizarre attractions in the area: the designated waterfront landing pad for unidentified flying objects in Arès, the quiet resort towards the northern tip of the triangle formed by the Bassin d’Arcachon.

I was recently disconcerted to see that the flying saucer which had been positioned there had disappeared, but lately found out that in June of this year a brand new UFO had landed. In part 2 of this feature, I will be meeting the people who conceived and built the new spaceship (and no, they aren't aliens) and finding out what happened to the previous spaceship, but for now let's revisit the story behind the UFO landing pad.

The story began on August 15th 1976 when the so-called “ovniport” (OVNI: objet volant non-identifié) was officially inaugurated as one of the highlights of that year’s oyster festival. The idea, which at the time got extensive coverage in the media (most notably in the United States), had originally been dreamt up by a group of locals led by one Bob Cotten, a Mérignac airport employee who, as well as being a renowned expert in electronics, was a UFO enthusiast who claimed to be disgruntled by the lack of landing facilities for alien spacecraft.

Inside the spaceship which is permanently stationed in Arès.
A petition was drawn up and the group managed to garner the support of the town’s then-mayor, Christian Raymond, who in turn sought and gained approval for the proposal from the town council. 

For many years, the ovniport was little more than a paved area offering ample parking space for passing UFOs. Then, during the 2006 oyster festival, the town introduced the cylindrical column pictured below. Engraved in the marble plaque are pictures of planets and a flying saucer, a promise to offer “universal travellers” (“voyageurs de l’univers”) a warm welcome to our planet and a heartfelt reminder that the town’s citizens are still waiting patiently. For added dramatic effect, this is written in Gascon: “Que vos atendem totjorn”. 

That plaque in full.
In September 2010, during a UFO and alien-themed event called “Allo Arès, Ici Ovni” (Hello Arès, UFO calling) held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of aviation in the region, the town unveiled a cast iron sculpture in the shape of a flying saucer, said to have been inspired by the writings of Jules Verne. The spaceship, which was designed by an artist from Baurech, a small town 25 kilometres to the south of Bordeaux, proved to be a popular draw for children, who were only too pleased to clamber up into the craft and imagine they are careering through outer space.

Sadly though, the spaceship hadn't been designed to withstand the Earth's atmosphere for too long, and rust and corrosion set in. The installation became a potential safety hazard and was removed by the local authorities, and was therefore replaced this year by a more durable spaceship dreamt up by teams at bespoke trailer manufacturers Sud-Ouest Remorques. According to the people behind the design, this new model is "less Jules Verne and more Soupe aux Choux", in reference to a cult French comedy movie about aliens landing on Earth.

The initial 2010 spaceship (further pictures available here) and its 2016 successor.
Back to our ovniport though: there is actually a slightly more sinister backdrop to this unusual enterprise. In 1974, the town had become closely associated with Les Pèlerins d’Arès, a religious movement which was later classified as a sect. Its initiator was the physician Michel Potay whose book, “La révélation d’Arès”, was inspired by alleged apparitions at his home in Arès. Followers set up assemblies in around 20 towns and cities in France, subscribing to Potay’s take on faith: a combination of orthodox and “original Christianity” with oriental and esoteric leanings.

This may go some way to explaining why, in 1976, the town’s mayor was so keen to back a plan - however light-hearted and eccentric - which would show Arès in a new, media-friendly and tourist-friendly light. Forty years have passed and we are still talking about his and Robert Cotton’s ovniport endeavour (a world first that reportedly has so far only been reproduced in Brazil and Puerto Rico) and alien-themed postcards continue to sell well in Arès. Now, all that is really missing is a genuine UFO to come and make use of the landing pad! 

Enjoy a video visit of the Arès spaceship:

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