Montpellier  

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"Montpellier — This Town, anciently called Agathopolis and supposed to contain 33,000 inhabitants, has long been famed for its climate; which, though unfavourable to weak lungs, is in other respects salubrious. Rain seldom falls here: snow and fogs are equally uncommon; but the marin or sea-wind, produces damp: and the vent de bise which continually visits Montpellier, is of all winds the most piercing. The principal Hotels are Le Cheval blanc, l'Hotel du Midi, Le petit Paris and Le Palais Royal: but persons who purpose to reside any length of time at Montpellier should hire a ready-furnished apartment, and have their dinner from a Traiteur, Here are a Theatre, an Aqueduct, and several pleasant Promenades. Montpellier and Grasse are famous for the best perfumes in France. The Mason-Spider is an extraordinary insect, which Naturalists report to be found only near Montpellier." --Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent by Mariana Starke


"Together Montpellier and the surrounding country comprise the most varied and exciting region in Languedoc. The city is a capital in every sense of the word — a zesty centre of government, education, culture and economy for the whole of Languedoc-Roussillon region and, best of all, it is minutes from the beach." --The Rough Guide to Languedoc and Roussillon (2004) by Brian Catlos

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Montpellier (Occitan: Montpelhièr) is a city in southern France. It is the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, as well as the Hérault department. Montpellier is the 8th biggest city of the country, and is also the fastest growing city in France over the past 25 years.

Contents

History

Medieval period

In the Early Middle Ages, the nearby episcopal town of Maguelone was the major settlement in the area, but raids by pirates encouraged settlement a little further inland. Montpellier, first mentioned in a document of 985, was founded under a local feudal dynasty, the Guilhem, who combined two hamlets and built a castle and walls around the united settlement. The name is from medieval Latin mons pislerius, referring to the woad used for dying locally. The two surviving towers of the city walls, the Tour des Pins and the Tour de la Babotte, were built later, around the year 1200. Montpellier came to prominence in the 12th century—as a trading centre, with trading links across the Mediterranean world, and a rich Jewish cultural life that flourished within traditions of tolerance of Muslims, Jews and Cathars—and later of its Protestants. William VIII of Montpellier gave freedom for all to teach medicine in Montpellier in 1180. The city's faculties of law and medicine were established in 1220 by Cardinal Conrad of Urach, legate of Pope Honorius III; the medicine faculty has, over the centuries, been one of the major centres for the teaching of medicine in Europe. This era marked the high point of Montpellier's prominence. The city became a possession of the Kings of Aragon in 1204 by the marriage of Peter II of Aragon with Marie of Montpellier, who was given the city and its dependencies as part of her dowry.

Montpellier gained a charter in 1204 when Peter and Marie confirmed the city's traditional freedoms and granted the city the right to choose twelve governing consuls annually. Under the Kings of Aragon, Montpellier became a very important city, a major economic centre and the primary centre for the spice trade in the Kingdom of France. It was the second or third most important city of France at that time, with some 40,000 inhabitants before the Black Death. Montpellier remained a possession of the crown of Aragon until it passed to James III of Majorca, who sold the city to the French king Philip VI in 1349, to raise funds for his ongoing struggle with Peter IV of Aragon. In the 14th century, Pope Urban VIII gave Montpellier a new monastery dedicated to Saint Peter, noteworthy for the very unusual porch of its chapel, supported by two high, somewhat rocket-like towers. With its importance steadily increasing, the city finally gained a bishop, who moved from Maguelone in 1536, and the huge monastery chapel became a cathedral. In 1432, Jacques Cœur established himself in the city and it became an important economic centre, until 1481 when Marseilles overshadowed it in this role.

After the Reformation

At the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, many of the inhabitants of Montpellier became Protestants (or Huguenots as they were known in France) and the city became a stronghold of Protestant resistance to the Catholic French crown. In 1622, King Louis XIII besieged the city which surrendered after a two months siege (Siege of Montpellier), afterwards building the Citadel of Montpellier to secure it. Louis XIV made Montpellier capital of Bas Languedoc, and the town started to embellish itself, by building the Promenade du Peyrou, the Esplanade and a large number of houses in the historic centre. After the French Revolution, the city became the capital of the much smaller Hérault.

Modern history

During the 19th century the city thrived on the wine culture that it was able to produce due to the abundance of sun throughout the year. The wine consumption in France allowed Montpellier's citizens to become very wealthy until in the 1890's a fungal disease had spread amongst the vineyards and the people were no longer able to grow the grapes needed for wine. After this the city had grown because it welcomed immigrants from Algeria and other parts of northern Africa after Algeria's independence from France. In the 21st century Montpellier is between France's number 7th and 8th largest city. The city had another influx in population more recently, largely due to the student population, who make up about one-third of Montpellier's population. The school of medicine kickstarted the city's thriving university culture, though many other universities have been well established there. The coastal city also has such developments as the Corum and the Antigone that have attracted an increasing number of students.

Lords of Montpellier

Sights

  • The main focus point of the city is the Place de la Comédie, with the Opéra Comédie built in 1888.
  • The Musée Fabre.
  • In the historic centre, a significant number of hôtels particuliers (i.e. mansions) can be found. The majority of the buildings of the historic centre of Montpellier (called the Écusson because its shape is roughly that of an escutcheon) have medieval roots and were modified between the 16th and the 18th centuries. Some buildings, along Rue Foch and the Place de la Comédie, were built in the 19th century.
  • The Rue du Bras de Fer (Iron Arm Street) is very typical of the medieval Montpellier.
  • The mikve, ritual Jewish bath, dates back to the 12th century and is one of very few in Europe.
  • The Jardin des plantes de Montpellier—oldest botanical garden in France, founded in 1593
  • The La Serre Amazonienne, a tropical rain forest greenhouse
  • The 14th-century Saint Pierre Cathedral
  • The Porte du Peyrou, a triumphal arch built at the end of the 17th century, and the Place Royal du Peyrou built in the 17th century, are the highest point of the Ecusson.
  • The Tour des Pins, the only remaining of 25 towers of the city medieval walls, built around 1200.
  • The Tour de la Babotte, a medieval tower which was modified in the 18th century to house an observatory.
  • The Saint Clément Aqueduct, built in the 18th century.
  • The Antigone District and other housing projects have been designed by the architect Ricardo Bofill from Catalonia, Spain
  • A number of châteaux, so-called follies, built by wealthy merchants surround the city
  • Nearly 80 private mansions were built in the city from the 17th to 19th century, and some of their interior courtyards are open





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