Montpellier is the 8th largest, and fastest growing, city in France. Compared to Nimes and other towns in the region founded by the Romans or earlier cultures, it’s a relative newcomer, only being established in the 10th Century and coming to prominence in the 12th century as a trading centre.
When I arrived last Saturday, I had a few hours to explore before setting out to the match. Time was limited so I concentrated on have a look around the old town the old heart of the city, le quartier de l’Ecusson. Dating from Medieval times, its a maze of narrow streets with buildings that have been adapted and modified over the years. It’s largely car free, so is really easy and pleasant to explore on foot wandering through the narrow passageways and courtyards.
I entered the old town via la Tour de la Babote, a corner tower that used to form part of the old city walls which are long gone. In Occitan, the dialect of the Languedoc, babota means an insect larvae or a silk worm chrysalis. So I guess people used to think that’s what it resembled.
Only the lower part, built in the twelfth century, is original. After the destruction of the walls, the tower was saved, but at that time it was only about fifteen meters high. Its height was increased when an An observatory was installed in the eighteenth century by the Royal Academy of Sciences. (For more information see here).
This is what it looks like from inside the old town
This building is in la Place Saint Roch, opposite the old church. Look closely and see if you can spot what’s unusual about it
Well the windows, doors, plants and people on the right half of the building aren’t real – they’re painted on. Its a Trompe-l’œil.
This is the neo-Gothic church of Saint Roch, which is dedicated to the patron saint of Montpellier. Built in the 19th Century its been recently renovated. It was never actually finished – only the the nave , the aisles and choir were built.
There are lots of pleasant squares and typical French buildings
La Rue de la Loge runs from the Place de la Comédie, the city’s main square, to the centre of the old town. At the bottom end it’s the main shopping street full of shops and boutiques. At the top end it’s lined with rather grand, typically French, apartment blocks.
La Place Jean-Jaurès is roughly half way down la Rue de la Loge, near the covered market and is filled with cafes and bars. It’s a good place to stop and take a break.
In the centre of the square there’s a statue of Jean Jaures himself, the former leader of the French Socialist Party before the First World War. During the build up to the war, he argued for peaceful negotiations between the European governments and was assassinated on 31st July, 1914, by a young French nationalist who wanted to go to war with Germany.
There’s another monument to him in the park at the north end of la Place de la Comédie
At the very top of La Rue de la Loge thee’s a triumphal arch, similar to, but much smaller than, L’Arc de Triomph in Paris.
It stands at the entrance to La Promenade du Peyrou, a very French park created in the 17th Century.
In the middle of the park there’s a statue of the Sun King Louis 14th sat on his horse.
At the end, which is the highest point of the city there’s a building that looks like a mausoleum or something. It’s actually a water tower.
It was fed by an aqueduct, the design of which was based on the Roman Pont du Gard.
(picture source http://www.languedocfrance.com/montpellier/index.html)
La Place de la Comédie is Montpellier’s lively main square. It’s lined with cafés and grand buildings including the city’s Opera.