Old Montpellier

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.

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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

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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

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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.

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There are lots of pleasant squares and typical French buildings

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There’s another monument to him in the park at the north end of la Place de la Comédie

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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La Place de la Comédie is Montpellier’s lively main square. It’s lined with cafés and grand buildings including the city’s Opera.

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Catalans v Wigan in Montpellier

Last Saturday I caught the TGV from Nîmes to Montpellier to go and watch Wigan play the Catalans Dragons at the Stade de la Mosson. Although the Catalans are based in Perpignan, which is about 100 miles further west close to the Spanish border, they take some of their home games “on the road” to try get some more publicity for Rugby League in the South of France and “spread the word”.

The high speed  double decker TGV arrived on time

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and just over 20 minutes later, after a very smooth, comfortable ride, I was in Montpellier.

I had a few hours to look round before making my way to la Place de la Comédie, the main focal point of the city, where the fans from both sides were gathering ready to catch the tram over to Stade de la Mosson which is on the outskirts of the city.

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Rugby League is a family sport and crowd trouble is very rare (although not completely unknown). So there was no segregation at the stadium and the fans mingled freely both before and after the game.

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Although Perpignan is in France, the locals generally consider themselves to be Catalans first and are very proud of this. Here’s the Catalans flag being displayed on the pitch before the match.

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The Catalans’ mascots.

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Wigan fans in the stands ready for the match to start.

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The final score.

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The match was perhaps a little closer than the score suggests. Catalans bombed a couple of good chances- but Wigan were definitely the better team on the day, playing some good, flowing rugby and scoring some excellent tries, two of them when they were down to 12 men when Gil Dudson was in the sin bin for 10 minutes.

Even though they’d lost, the Catalan fans were gracious in defeat and were very friendly. A number of them came over and shook my hand congratulating me for my team’s win.

They always organise a party after the game . There was a band and fans of both sides were mingling and dancing.

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Here’s a couple of friendly Catalan fans.

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and another two.

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Waiting for the tram back to the city centre.

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On the tram I got talking to a Catalans fan from Perpignan. We managed to communicate to some extent, talking about the game and the state of Rugby League, despite his limited English and my poor spoken French. About 25 years ago I took an A level in French at night school and got reasonably good. But the saying “if you don’t use it you lose it” is definitely true with respect to languages. Although I can still make a good stab at reading French, I struggle with  conversation, which is a more difficult skill. But we managed to make each other undertood, I think, at least to some extent!

When I got back to the city centre I stopped for a café crème  in a café in the market square to perk me up before I headed down to the station to catch my train back to Nîmes.

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