Montpellier (Occitan Montpelhièr) is a city in the south of France.
It is the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon région, as well as the préfecture
(administrative capital) of the Hérault département.
The population of the city (commune) of Montpellier at the 1999 census was 225,300,
whereas the whole metropolitan area (in French: aire urbaine) had a population
of 459,916 in 1999.
In February 2004, it was estimated that the population of the city of Montpellier
had reached 244,700, an increase of 8.6% since 1999.
In 2007, the estimated population of the metropolitan area was 531,000.
read full wikipedia reference about Montpellier, France
A thousand years of trade
and intellectual activity have made MONTPELLIER a teeming,
energetic city. Benjamin of Tudela, the tireless twelfth-century
Jewish traveller, reported its streets crowded with traders,
Christian and Saracen, Arabs from the Maghrib, merchants from
Lombardy, from the kingdom of Rome, from every corner of Egypt, Greece, Spain, Genoa and Pisa.
A few hiccups - like being
sold to France in 1349, almost total destruction
for its Protestantism in 1622, and depression in the wine trade
in the early years of this century - have done little to dent
this progress. Today it vies with Toulouse for the title of most dynamic
city in the south. The reputation of its university especially,
founded in the thirteenth century and most famous for its medical
school, is a long-standing one: more than 60,000 students still
set the intellectual and cultural tone of the city - the average
age of whose residents is said to be just 25.
Montpellier's city centre
- the old town - is small, compact, architecturally homogeneous,
full of charm and teeming with life, except in July and August
when the students are on holiday and everyone else is at the
beach. And the place is almost entirely pedestrianized, so you
can walk the narrow streets without looking anxiously over your
At the hub of the city's
life, joining the old part to its newer accretions, is place
de la Comédie, or "L'Oeuf" to the initiated.
This colossal, oblong square, paved with cream-coloured marble,
has a fountain at its centre and cafés either side. One
end is closed by the Opéra, an ornate nineteenth-century
theatre ; the other opens onto the Esplanade , a beautiful tree-lined
promenade which ends in the Corum concert hall , dug into the
hillside and topped off in pink granite, with splendid views
from the roof. The city's most trumpeted museum, the Musée
Fabre (Tues-Fri 9am-5.30pm, Sat & Sun 9.30am-5pm), is close
by on boulevard Sarrail and contains a large and historically
important collection of seventeenth- to nineteenth-century French,
Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Flemish and English painting, including
works by Delacroix, Raphael, Jan van Steen and Veronese.
From the north side of
L'Oeuf, rue de la Loge and rue Foch , opened in the 1880s in
Montpellier's own Haussmann-izing spree, slice through the heart
of the old city. Either side of them, a maze of narrow lanes
slopes away to the encircling modern boulevards. Few buildings
survive from before the 1622 siege, but the city's busy bourgeoisie
quickly made up for the loss, proclaiming their financial power
in lots of austere seventeenth- and eighteenth-century mansions.
Known as "Lou Clapas" (rubble), the area is rapidly
being restored and gentrified. It's a pleasure to wander through
and come upon the secretive little squares like place St-Roch,
place St-Ravy and place de la Canourgue.
First left off rue de la
Loge is Grande-Rue Jean-Moulin , where Moulin, hero of the Resistance,
lived at no. 21. To the left, at no. 32, the present-day Chamber
of Commerce is located in one of the finest eighteenth-century
hôtels , the Hôtel St-Côme, originally built
as a demonstration operating theatre for medical students. On
the opposite corner, rue de l'Argenterie forks up to place Jean-Jaurès
. This square is a nodal point in the city's student life: on
fine evenings between 6pm and 7pm you get the impression that
the half of the population not in place de la Comédie
is sitting here and in the adjacent place du Marché-aux-Fleurs.
Through the Gothic doorway of no. 10 of place Jean-Jaurès,
is the so-called palace of the kings of Aragon, who ruled Montpellier
for a stretch in the thirteenth century. Close by is the Halles
Castellane , a graceful, iron-framed market hall.
A short walk from place
Jean-Jaurès, the Hôtel de Varenne, on place Pétrarque,
houses two local history museums of somewhat specialized interest,
the Musée de Vieux Montpellier (Tues-Sat 9am-noon &
1.30-5pm; free), concentrating on the city's history, and the
more interesting, private Musée Fougau on the top floor
(Wed & Thurs 3-6.30pm; free), dealing with the folk history
of Languedoc and things Occitan. Off to the right, the lively
little rue des Trésoriers-de-France has one of the best
seventeenth-century houses, the Hôtel Lunaret , at no.
5, while round the block on rue Jacques Coeur you'll find the
Musée Languedocien (Mon-Sat 2-5pm), which houses a very
mixed collection of Greek, Egyptian and other antiquities.
On the hill at the end
of rue Foch, from which the royal artillery bombarded the Protestants
in 1622, the formal gardens of the Promenade du Peyrou look out
across the city and away to the Pic St-Loup, which dominates
the hinterland behind Montpellier, with the distant smudge of
the Cévennes beyond. At the farther end a swagged and
pillared water tower marks the end of an eighteenth-century aqueduct
modelled on the Pont du Gard. Beneath the grand sweep of its
double tier of arches there is a pretty fruit and veg market
(daily) and a huge Saturday flea market . At the city end of
the promenade, a vainglorious triumphal arch shows Louis XIV-Hercules
stomping on the Austrian eagle and the English lion, tactlessly
reminding the locals of his victory over their Protestant "heresy".
Lower down the hill, on
boulevard Henri-IV, the lovely but slightly run-down Jardin des
Plantes (July & Aug Mon-Sat 8.30am-noon & 2-6pm; rest
of year Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; free), with alleys of exotic trees,
is France's oldest botanical garden. In the words of the poet
Paul Valéry, this is where "the pensive, the careworn
and talkers-to-themselves come towards evening". Across
the road is the long-suffering cathedral , with its massive porch,
sporting a patchwork of styles from the fourteenth to the nineteenth
centuries. Inside is a memorial to the bishop of Montpellier
who sided with the half-million destitute vine-growers who came
to demonstrate against their plight in 1907 and were fired on
by government troops for their pains. Above the cathedral, in
the university's prestigious medical school on rue de l'école-de-Médecine,
the Musée Atger (Mon, Wed & Thurs 1.30-5.45pm; free)
has a distinguished academic collection of French and Italian
drawings, while the macabre Musée d'Anatomie (daily 2.30-5pm;
free) displays all sorts of revolting things in bottles. Close
by is the pretty little place de la Canourgue, and, beyond, down
rue d'Aigrefeuille, the old university quarter, with some good
bookshops on rue de l'Université.
South of place de la Comédie
stretches the controversial quarter of Antigone , a chain of
postmodern squares and open spaces designed to provide a mix
of fair-rent housing and offices, aligned along a monumental
axis from the place du Nombre-d'Or, through place du Millénaire,
to the glassed-in arch of the Hôtel de la Région.
It's more interesting in scale and design than most attempts
at urban renewal, but it has failed to attract the crowds away
from the place de la Comédie and is often deserted. The
enclosed spaces in particular work well, with their theatrical
references to classical architecture, like oversized cornices
and columns supporting only sky. The more open spaces are, however,
disturbing, with something totalitarian and inhuman about their
scale and blandness.
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