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The Cathedrale S:t Pierre
E15, A9, 2 km west of exit 29 Montpellier est.
Montpellier is a really interesting city, modern and old at the same time. The older part of the town is steeped in history and the new, Antigone, impresses with its modern architecture.
Strictly speaking, Montpellier is too large a town to qualify for a mention as “wild strawberry patch” – or a cherry to pick along the side of the motorway – but in the modern part, Antigone, there are good hotels and many restaurants to choose from close to and easily accessible from the motorway. The exit at junction 29 will lead you straight into this part of the town. This quarter is quite the little Utopia, built along the Greek model but in modern dress, so to speak. They have managed to create a very interesting living environment in neoclassicistic style with grand avenues and splendid open squares. Exciting perspectives open up as you stand in one or other of the different squares and let your eye roam over the open spaces with their fountains and other aquatic designs.
A MECCA OF MEDICINAL ART
In spite of its position right by the old Graeco-Roman road between Nîmes and Narbonne, Montpellier does not actually have an ancient pedigree. It is in fact rather an upstart, born in the 10th century. In a short space of time a flourishing, cosmopolitan town arose, receiving with open arms both Arabs and Jews, who contributed to its trade successes and its good repute as a town of medical studies. A university was founded here as early as the 13th century where the faculty of Medicine held a unique position. In the 17th century the town had 130 pharmacies and a doctor in every street. Sick people from all over Europe flocked to Montpellier to be treated by professionals. From the 13th century it also experienced an upswing within trade and craft. Serious money was earned from the spice trade, currency exchange and last, but not least, the art of fabric dyeing. As a consequence there are over a hundred beautiful private palaces, most of them in the old part of the town.
A SQUARE THROBBING WITH LIFE
Do not even try to use your car, just leave it in Antigone. Explore Montpellier on foot and it will show itself from its best angle. The old town centre is not far from Antigone. Just walk towards the shopping centre Le Poligone, ride up the escalator and you will find yourself in the immediate vicinity of Place de la Comédie, the main meeting-place of the town. Here the tourists, students and citizens are gathering, and what could be nicer than just sitting and watching the crowds from the safety of a café or restaurant with a pleasant view of the fountain of The Three Graces, say, or the opera house.
If you fancy a look at the old town, the great boulevard Rue de la Loge will lead you to it. Here is the Saint Pierre Cathedral which was demolished during the religious wars when Montpellier was a Huguenot stronghold. Many other buildings were destroyed, but new ones were built and others restored at a frantic pace during the 17th and 18th centuries. This gave the town a uniform character and the only tell-tale signs of an ancient past are the narrow, crooked streets. Musée Fabre, with art and sculptures from the 16th century up to the present day is well worth a visit, as are the grand palaces Hôtel de Manse and Hôtel des Trésoriers de la Bourse.
At the opposite end of the old town, if seen from Antigone, is Jardin des Plantes, France’s oldest botanic garden, laid out already in the 16th century. On this side of the town you will also find the beautiful park Promenade de Peyrou, accessed via Porte de Peyrou which was built in 1691 in Louis XIV:s honour. From this Promenade you have an enchanting view over the hills and the sea that form a stunning backdrop to the town.
Place de La Comedia with The Three Graces