Things to See in the Languedoc: Historic
Cities: Béziers (
is a city (and commune and sous-préfecture) in the
département, in the Languedoc, with a population
of around 70,000. Inhabitants of Béziers are called
Biterrois (m) or Biterroise (f).
The city is located on a bluff above the River
Orb, near the
coast some 10 km from the Mediterranean
Sea. The A9 autoroute passes through it.
Béziers is an easy drive to the nearby mountains.
All around are valleys and streams, typical Languedoc villages,
Romanesque churches and abandoned castles, forests and springs,
caves and grottoes.
The site has been occupied since Neolithic
times. The Celts
founded or usurped a settlement here which became a Phoenician
city. Béziers probably owes its name to the Celts.
The name was adopted by the Romans
when they arrived and rebuilt the city as a new colony for
military veterans in 36 BC. They called it Colonia Julia Baeterrae
Septimanorum, Baeterrae for short, which helps explain
why inhabitants are called Biterrois.
is sited on the original Herculean Way, later the Domitian
Way (Via Domitia), a Roman road that linked Italy with
Iberia. White wine from Béziers is known to have been
exported to Rome; A dolium discovered in excavations near
Rome is marked "I am a wine from Baeterrae and I am five
years old". Another is marked "white wine of Baeterrae".
Stones from the Roman amphitheatre here were used to construct
the city walls during the 3rd century. Béziers later
became one of the seven cities of Septimania, along with Agde,
Lodeve, Maguelonne, Nîmes,
During the 10th to the 12th centuries Béziers was
the capital of a Viscounty of Béziers. The viscounts
of Béziers ruled most of the coastal plain around the
city, including also the city of Agde. They also controlled
the major east-west route through Languedoc, broadly following
the old Roman Via
Domitia, with two strategically important bridges, one
over the River
Hérault at Saint-Thibéry and the other over
Orb at Béziers.
After the death of Viscount William around 990, the viscounty
passed to his daughter Garsendis and her husband, Count Raymond-Roger
of Carcassonne (d. c1012). It was then ruled by their son
Peter-Raymond (d. c1060) and his son Roger (d. 1067), both
of whom were also Counts of Carcassonne. Roger died without
heirs and Béziers passed to his sister Ermengard and
her husband Raymond-Bertrand Trencavel. The
House of Trencavel held Béziers, Carcassonne, Albi
and the Razès as vassals of the Kings of Aragon.
Béziers became a stronghold of Cathar
Belief in the Languedoc, which the Catholic Church condemned
as a heresy. It was against the people here that Innocent
III called a formal Crusade in 1208, a holy war known
as the Cathar
War or the Albigensian Crusade. Béziers was the
first city to be sacked during the Crusade, on July 22, 1209.
In the ensuing massacre no one was spared, including those
who had taken refuge in the churches. It was here at Béziers
that the Abbot Arnaud
Amaury, the military commander famously gave the order
"Kill them all, God will know His own".
The town was pillaged, and burnt. According to contemporary
sources everyone was killed, just as the abbot had commanded.
Click on the following link to find out more about the massacre
Béziers was a centre of the revolt by the Duke of
Montmorency en 1632, as a consequence of which the King suppressed
the privileges of the province by the Edict of Béziers
in October 1632. They were re-established in 1649.
Béziers served as a military base during wars into
modern times, for example the wars against the Habsbourgs
It was never seriously threatened except during the wars of
the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) when the British landed
and advanced almost as far as Béziers.
The town prospered in the Eighteenth century mainly as a
result of the wine making industry.
At the French Revolution Béziers aligned itself with
the Federalists, but in 1851 it was one of the few cities
to revolt against the coup d'État of the Prince-Regent
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. In the repression following
the coup d'état, troops fired on and killed Republican
protesters . Others were condemned to death or transported
to Guyana, including a former mayor of Béziers. In
the Place de la Révolution a plaque and a monument
commemorates these events.
During the course of the Nineteenth century the population
expanded from 15,000 to 50,000. Arenas were constructed
and arterial roads built. A parc à l'anglaise
(le Plateau des Poètes) was created and numerous
châteaux were built by local vignerons in the
area. Béziers saw its golden age at the beginning
of the Twentieth century, though it was soon threatened
by problems in the wine industry. It did not suffer
too much as a result of phylloxéra as the disease
arrived later than elsewhere in France after a remedy
had been developed. In 1907 Béziers was the centre
of a revolt by vignerons. The army was sent in to quell
the revolt but the soldiers mutinied.
The early twentieth century was otherwise uneventful,
though Béziers was bombed by the 15th USAAF on
5th July 1944.
The town declined after the second World War, a result
of the fall in wine prices combined with the steady
decline of traditional industries. By the Nineteen seventies
the population had declined to 75,000. Today it is becoming
something of a tourist centre. Today Béziers
is still a principal centre of the Languedoc viticulture
and wine making
Growers Riot at Béziers Against Doctored
Canal du Midi at Béziers
Béziers lies on the Canal
du Midi, built by Pierre-Paul
Riquet a notable
Languedoc resident. The Canal is popular for boating
holidays and through France's
extensive canal network provides a way to get to the Languedoc
from the Atlantic Ocean, Northern France and Mediterranean
Canal du Midi
spans the river River
Orb as an aqueduct called the pont-canal ('canal bridge').
You will find a statue here to Pierre-Paul Riquet a local
hero, who was born in the city. He was almost wholly
responsible for the construction of the The
Canal du Midi
- concept, design, engineering, building and financing, any
one of which would have been a remarkable achievement in itself.
Béziers-Agde-Vias Airport, owned by the local Chamber
of Commerce and Industry, one of many Languedoc
airports, provides daily direct flights to Paris, Orly.
Béziers Travel Centre
car hire (ciry and airport)
Google Map of Béziers (showing the airport)
Béziers Attractions &
Sea jousting tournaments (Joutes Nautiques) from April to
September. Click on the following link for more about these
A modern arena hosts bull-fights; as well as popular entertainers
and orchestras. During the early part of August the Béziers
offers five days of festivity each summer centred on Bullfighting
Attractions include a Fine Arts Museum and a Folklore Museum
(Musée du Vieux Biterrois).
many towns and cities in the Languedoc Béziers fields
a rugby union team (AS Béziers). They were founded
in 1911. They have won twelve French championships. The side
was a major force in French rugby in the 1970s and 1980s.
At the end of 2004-05 season they were relegated to Pro Division
2. They play at Stade de la Méditerranée (capacity
20,000). Club colours are blue and red.
was the birthplace of Pierre Paul Riquet (1609 or 1604-1680),
responsible for the construction of the The
Canal du Midi.
There is a statue of him in the town.
Moulin (1899-1943), a hero of the French Resistance in the
World War. Jean Moulin was arrested June 21, 1943. He
was interrogated by Klaus Barbie, head of the Gestapo in Lyon.
He did not reveal any information to his captors and eventually
died under torture.
Flower Market (Allées Paul Riquet) - Friday from 6am
Marché du Champ de Mars (Place du 14 juillet) - Friday
from 7am to 1pm (all produce)
Marché Place David d'Angers - Friday from 7am to 1pm
Marché de la Devèze - Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday,
from 7am to 1pm (all produce)
Marché au Bois (Place du 11 Novembre) - Monday, Wednesday,
Saturday, from 7am to 1pm
Marché Emile Zola (place Emile Zola) - Tuesday from
7am to 1pm (food)
Marché de l'Iranget (Place de l'Iranget) - Wednesday
from 7am to 1pm
Marché du Pourtour, Les Halles - Tuesday, Sunday from
7am to 1pm
Marché de la Place de La Madeleine - Sunday from 7am
to 1pm (car boot sale)
Marché de la Place de la Madeleine - Saturday from
7am to 1pm ("Marché paysanne" - local produce)
Secondhand Market (Allées Paul Riquet) - Every 1st
Sunday of the month
Ecclesiastical History of Béziers
has an ecclesiastical history typical of the area, artfully
mixing myth with actual events. According to local tradition
the first Bishop of Béziers was the Egyptian saint,
Aphrodisius, who supposedly sheltered the Holy Family at Hermopolis.
He is said to have accompanied Sergius Paulus to Gaul to found
the Church of Narbonne, but died a martyr at Béziers.
St. Aphrodisius supposedly arrived at Béziers mounted
on a camel, hence the custom of leading a camel in the procession
at Béziers on his feast day. The custom died out during
the French Revolution.
The first known bishop is Paulinus mentioned in 418; St.
Guiraud was Bishop of Béziers from 1121 to 1123; Saint
Dominic refused the bishopric of Béziers in order
to devote himself fully to supporting the extirpation of the
Among the fifteen synods held at Béziers was that
of 356 held by Saturninus of Arles, an Arian archbishop. This
synod condemned St. Hilary. Later synods of Béziers
in 1233, 1246 and 1255 condemned the Cathars.
A Papal Brief of 16 June 1877, authorised the bishops of
Montpellier to call themselves bishops of Montpellier, Béziers,
Agde, Lodève and Saint-Pons, acknowledging the different
dioceses united in the present Diocese of Montpellier.
Churches in Béziers worth visiting include:
St. Aphrodise's, named after the city's evangeliser
St. Nazaire, a fortified church desecrating the
site of the Temple of Augustus
St. Jacques, the construction of which is credited
St. Mary Magdelene, the site of the apallling
massacre by French Crusaders in 1209
It was in the church of St. Mary Magdelene that, on the 22nd
of July 1209, Roman Catholic Crusaders
under the command of a papal legate (the Cistercian
Amaury) massacred the thousands of men, women and children
that had sought refuge there. You will find not the
least hint of regret in this or any other church, nor even
any mention of the atrocity, though Inquisitors
are proudly remembered by inscriptions on a number of monuments.
Only a civil plaque opposite the cathedral commemorates the
'Day of Butchery' by the French Catholic forces.
A few parts of the Romanesque cathedral St-Nazaire survived
the sacking in 1208 by Catholic Crusaders, and repairs started
in 1215. The restoration, along with that of the rest of the
city, continued until the 15th century.
To See Near to Béziers
at Enserune is an important archaeological site. Click
on the following link for more about Languedoc oppida.
de Montady (right next to the Oppidum
at Enserune), is a marsh drained in 1247. It is a unique
field and irrigation system: plots radiate out from the centre.
Channels drain the land into a collector. The water is carried
away by an aqueduct that passes under the hill to the floor
of the old Capestang lake, itself drained in the 19th century.