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The town most people pass by.

Béziers is often looked on as a poor town, and not worth the visit by many tourists. It is true that its past has been a tragic one at times, but all the same, it has a long and interesting history.

cathedral Beziers

The city has a very long tradition of citizens who fought for the right to live and believe in freedom.

map via domitia

Map of the Via Domitia and Béziers


Source:
www.midi-france.info/100401_ viadomitia.htm

 

Béziers has been a town since 500 BCE, and is nearly as old as Marseille. many people think it was a Greek settlement. It was settled later by the Romans and became famous for its white wine, which was exported to Rome. 

béziers_amphitheatre

There are the remains of a Roman arena in Béziers, which used to hold nearly 14,000 spectators.  Unfortunately, it became a great source of building stone for the locals for many hundreds of years. This is all that remains of it today!

During the Middle Ages, Béziers was a key centre, controlling the East West land route of the Via Domitia which ran from Italy to Spain. It was also a centre for the Cathars - a religious group   declared as heretics by the Church. 

In 1209 the Church undertook a Crusade to rid the southern part of France of Cathars.  However, when the Crusaders arrived at the town gate of Béziers and demanded that the city hand over the Cathars, the townsfolk refused.  The Pope's Legate (or representative) gave the order to storm the city and kill all the Cathars.

Cathars and Crusaders

One of the Crusaders expressed concern that it would be difficult to distinguish between who was a Catholic and who a Cathar.  He was told by Pope’s representative: “Kill them all;  God will recognise his own”.    

There was a dreadful massacre, led by Simon de Montfort - not a single person in the city was spared;  twenty thousand people were put to the sword, and those who sought sanctuary in the church were burned alive.  Then the whole city was burned to the ground.  

It took nearly three hundred years to rebuild the city across sad periods marked by famine, invasions and the Black Death.  But it was the construction of the Canal du Midi which passes through the city that revitalised the region. Visit the Canal du Midi page to find out more, and discover the incredible Pierre Paul Riquet, a native of Béziers, the self taught engineer and builder of the canal.

 

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