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Montpelier is located about 10 km inland from the nearest sea.  While it does not seem to have had any early settlement, the Roman road -the Via Domitia - ran close to the location of the present city. 


The Via Domitia was used as a trading route between Spain and Italy, and when established, the early city became a centre for spices and other trades goods.  It was also a stop off point for pilgrims on their way to Compostella in Spain.   In fact Roman roads like the Via Domitia continued in daily use well up to the 19th and 20th centuries when modern roadmaking techniques and rail travel took over. 

map via domitia

Map of the Via Domitia


Source:

www.midi-france.info/ 100401_viadomitia.htm

 

The spice trade in the small town of Montpellier also brought the importation of the knowledge and use of spices and herbs for medicinal use and the techniques of Arab medicine.    By 1000 AD these were being taught in the city by Jewish and Arabian traders. 

Montpellier really began to thrive during the 12th and 13th centuries because in 1181, its ruler signed a surprising and far-reaching decree allowing anyone, regardless of their religion or background, to teach medicine in Montpellier... consequently, at the end of the 12th century, the oldest school of medicine in the western world was created by Jewish and Arab doctors fleeing from Spain. The Faculty of Medicine is located in the ancient halls of a medieval monastery and the Bishop’s palace.

School of Medicine
School of Medicine


The School of Medicine gave the city an exceptional international influence and by 1340, the University founded an anatomy course, which attracted students from all over Europe. In the 16th century, the College was the first in France to have a lecture theatre dedicated to dissecting corpses.  Contemporary engravings in the College's anatomy museum show students being taught, with scenes of dissection being carried out in front of them.

 

The 14th century cathedral was a gift to the city from the pope and has a very unusual entrance through its high towers.   Don't miss the impressive canopy porch supported by two monumental cylindrical pillars (4.55 m in diameter!), which look a little like space rockets.

Cathedral montpellier
Cathedral of St Pierre, Montpellier

After the Reformation in the 16th century the city became a Huguenot – or Protestant – stronghold.  It was besieged and taken by the Catholic king Louis XIII.  Louis XIV rebuilt and strengthened the city’s defences.  The Place de la Comédie, the Arc de Triomphe and the Esplanade de Peyrou date from this time. 

 

Place de la Comedie
Place de la Comédie


During the 19th century the Parisian makeover by Baron Haussmann inspired the city fathers to undertake the creation of large avenues in the city centre, spacious parks and administrative buildings. There were even horse trams at this time which were later replaced by electric ones.  However, due to lack of maintenance during World War II, the system was closed down just after the war.

 

During the 1990s the city became infamous as one of the most polluted cities in France.  The council took action, banning most vehicular traffic from the city centre in 2004.  Today it is fully pedestrianized.  Don’t even attempt to bring your car into the city! 

tram

There is a very efficient tram system linking the centre to the suburbs and a successful program has been undertaken to clean and restore monuments damaged by pollution.

Old city
The old city is fully pedestrianised.

 

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