One grey Saturday morning this spring, I went to meet up with a group of like-minded people for a guided visit on Beziers’ architectural history. The history of that town has fascinated me for a long time – it goes back so far, and there are so many different layers to discover. The theme of the guided visit was Chez les Suisses, and very appropriately the visit started on a square just off Boulevard de Geneve. The boulevard was given its name around 1904 after the town councillors of Beziers had had a particularly cordial welcome on a visit to Geneva.
During the later part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, there were strong commercial ties between Switzerland and Languedoc. The Swiss would buy wines from the region, and in turn would sell grain. Swiss merchants opened offices in Beziers, and built themselves sumptuous mansions with their profits.
On our visit we stopped at several of these mansions. The first one we saw was built by Godefroid Meyer on Boulevard de la Liberte between 1926 and 1928 in a very pure art deco style.
We were fortunate in that the owner of this beautiful white house was one of the guides – there were several of them, each with a different field of expertise. He had brought several photographs of the interior of the house to show to the group. The interior looked as stunning as the outside. In fact, my pictures above do not do the building justice, it really has to be seen in person!
The next mansion we saw used to belong to the Bühler family. Traugott Bühler bought an enormous plot of around 4500 square metres along Avenue Saint-Saëns, and proceeded to build not one but two mansions. The one on the corner was used as offices, and is a relatively modest brick and stone confection with a mansard roof.
The initial of the family name still decorates the stonework at roof level, and the railings on the balcony just below hint at art nouveau.
The big mansion next door, completed in 1903, was designed by the architects Leopold and Louis Carlier, well-known architects from Montpellier. The locals called it the Chateau Bühler, on account of its size and air of sumptuousness.
Both of the Bühler mansions have been split into apartments, and a large part of the park has been sold off and covered with very nondescript apartment buildings. The facade of the chateau as well as the monumental wrought iron gates and railings have listed building status! Here is one of our guides in front of the gates:
The last of the mansions we visited, was built for Otto Müller, another rich merchant of Swiss extraction, who, if I remember correctly, had married one of the Bühler daughters – or was she a Meyer? The architect was Leopold Carlier. He designed the mansion in the Flemish style, with gables and turrets. The building was finished in 1870. At the time there were few other buildings surrounding it.
You can still see Otto Müller’s initials on the monumental chimney:
In 1916, the mansion was bought by the brothers Guy. In 1918, they engaged a renowned landscape architect to turn the land surrounding the house into a park. They also commissioned original artwork from the local sculptors Antonin Injalbert and Jean Magrou for the park. Once the Guy brothers bought the house, the locals started to call it Villa Guy. It retains that name to this day.
We were fortunate in that the current owners of Villa Guy allowed our group to visit the grounds – we got a very close look at the building and the park. Villa Guy is today an exclusive Bed and Breakfast and function venue.
Here is a selection of photographs of the building and of the sculptures in the park:
Farthest from the house is the Neo-Moorish garden, which was undergoing restoration when I visited. At the time of writing this post, the fountains should be tinkling again!
And thus ended a fascinating visit into Beziers’ past!