For badge holders only – part 2

Welcome to Part Two of our guided walk around Montpellier – for those who missed Part One, you can find it here.

At the end of last week’s post, we were on the corner of Rue de la Coquille, where we were admiring the most amazing architectural feature!

Xavier Laurent, our guide, continued our walk towards Rue Foch and its focal point, Montpellier’s Arc de Triomphe.  On the way there, we passed in front of the Palais de Justice, the central court-house.

The Palais de Justice translates literally (as you may have guessed) as “Palace of Justice”.  It certainly is a palatial building and it is definitely designed to impress!  A long flight of stone steps leads up to a huge portico of Corinthian columns, surmounted by a very ornate pediment.  On either side of the portico, wings of the building project forward, creating a courtyard, which is closed to the street by iron railings.

In the days when Montpellier was a fortified city, there was a gate in the place where the Arc de Triomphe stands today.  The Arc stands at one of the highest points of Montpellier.  Naturally, it is not as big as the one in Paris, but it is impressive all the same!

If you look carefully at the picture above, you can just make out the heads of some people on the top of the Arc. Our group was larger than the maximum number allowed up there, so our guide split us into two groups.

The decorative reliefs are in homage of Louis XIV, glorifying his achievements during his long reign of 72 years!

To begin with, I thought the two faces of the Arc had identical reliefs, but on closer inspection they turned out to be different.  The reliefs in the pictures above are the ones celebrating the battle victories.  The two medallions in the pictures below celebrate the construction of the Canal du Midi, and the victory of Louis XIV over the French Protestants following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.  The central figure in the second medallion used to hold a cross in its raised hand, but that was knocked off some time ago!

The next medallion shows Louis XIV as Hercules, crowned by Victory, and the one below that remembers the capture of the town of Namur in Belgium by French troops.

After I took all those pictures, it was the turn of our part of the group to climb the 88 steps to the terrace atop the Arc!

Xavier, our guide, had told us that the views were worth the climb, and he had not promised too much – the views from the top were magnificent!!

The large open space on the other side of the Arc from Rue Foch is called the Promenade du Peyrou – a tree-lined public space with a statue of Louis XIV at the centre.  The statue which stands there today is a replica of the original, which (naturally) was melted down during the French revolution.  The original was monumental in size, and, according to our guide, no building in Montpellier could be taller than the tip of the fingers on the original statue’s raised arm!

The building behind the statue was the “Chateau d’Eau”, a water tower of sorts.  If you look carefully at the picture above, you can just make out the arcades of the aqueduct to the left of the building, which brought water to Montpellier and the “Chateau d’Eau” from 1768 until sometime in the 20th century – the aqueduct and the “Chateau d’Eau” are no longer in use today.

Once we had had our “fill” of the views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe it was time to descend the 88 steps of the spiral stone staircase.  The top of the  Arc de Triomphe can only be visited with a guide and I felt very privileged to have been there!

The next stop for our guided tour was a mysterious place – the medieval mikve.  A mikve “is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism” according to Wikipedia.  I found the Wikipedia article very interesting and instructive – do read it if you want to find out more.

The mikve is located in the cellar of a house in Rue de la Barralerie.  It was discovered by chance during renovation work:  the cellar had always been very damp, so it was decided to dig in attempt try and find the cause of the dampness.  In the process, the archaeologists were called in, and they discovered the remains of the medieval mikve.  If you’ve read the Wikipedia article, you’ll know that a mikve has to be filled with naturally occurring water, either rainwater or a spring or well.  In Montpellier, the mikve is filled by an underground water course.  No wonder that cellar was always damp!!  There is speculation that the synagogue was close by.  When the jews were chased from the French kingdom in the 13th century their places of worship would have been repurposed or destroyed.  It’s a miracle that the mikve survived!

The bath itself had been completely filled in with debris and covered over, but once it was all cleared out and restored, it filled up again with crystal clear water.  The water was so clear that it would have been easy to forget that it was there, had it not been for bits of leaves floating on top.

The picture above was taken from a small room above the bath, perhaps used for undressing / dressing oneself before and after immersion?

I felt quite awed when I climbed the stairs on my way out, thinking of the many centuries that this place had survived!

The mikve was the penultimate stop on our guided visit.  Xavier, our guide, walked us back to the Place de la Comedie – we stopped not all that far from where our visit had begun.  He gave us a little history of this magnificent square, which goes by the nickname of l’oeuf, the egg!  The Place de la Comedie is very much a 19th century creation, with its impressive buildings in the style of the Paris architect Haussmann surrounding it.  Originally there was an egg-shaped island on the square, with roads around it.  I’ve always known the Place de la Comedie in its present pedestrianised version, so that it’s difficult to imagine it with roads and cars.  Below is a picture from 1949, which shows a view of the square towards where the Polygone shopping centre is today.  You can see the egg shape quite clearly.  If you take a look at an aerial view of Place de la Comedie on g**gle maps, you can see that the egg shape is still there – for the moment, as plans are underway to resurface the entire square!

The square takes its name from the Opera Comedie, the 19th century opera house of Montpellier.  A succession of opera houses have stood on the self-same spot, all of them destroyed by fire, apart from the current one, which was built by a disciple of the architect Charles Garnier, of Paris opera fame!  I’ll leave you with a picture of the opera house at dusk, all lit up!  There’s much more to discover in Montpellier.  You’ll see for yourself when you next visit!

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For badge holders only

Most of us have been there at some point:  you’re visiting a place and you come across something that looks really interesting.  You have lots of questions, but there’s nobody to answer them. Mobile internet has made things a lot easier – smartphones allow us to call up information so easily, yet the information is only as good as the search terms we enter.  You really want someone who can tell you all about it – a real person, A GUIDE!!

More and more towns in the Languedoc area now offer guided visits.  I recently went on a guided visit of the historic centre of Montpellier – I booked it via the tourist office in Montpellier. A good number of different themed visits are organised by the tourist office there – this link should take you to the full list of visits on offer.  I went on the “Centre Historique” visit, which started outside the tourist office on Place de la Comedie.

After handing a badge to each participant of the guided tour, our guide, Xavier Laurent, gave us an overview of the history of Montpellier.  I’m going to give you a very brief summary:  the city has no Roman past, it was founded around the 10th century by the Guilhelm dynasty.  In the Middle Ages, the settlement expanded and prospered and became a centre for trade across the Mediterranean.  Montpellier became famous for its University, especially the law and medicine faculties, and the city was a stopping place on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.  For more information, have a look at the Wikipedia entry for Montpellier.

Montpellier continued to prosper and grow – it later became the administrative seat of the Herault departement and the Languedoc Region, and today it is in 7th or 8th position in the ranking of France’s largest cities. The university culture, started in medieval times, is still thriving today!

Xavier walked with us to Rue de la Monnaie, where he showed us bronze markers which were set in the pavement, and told us why they were there.

Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela usually wore a scallop shell on a string around their necks.  It was a symbol that was used along the pilgrimage routes – scallop shells would be affixed to buildings and doors, to denote shelter and welcome.  The real shells could be used by the pilgrims to scoop food and water, a bit like a spoon.  In Montpellier, the markers in the pavement denote the routes the pilgrims would have taken across the city.

From Rue de la Monnaie we went on to Rue de l’Aiguillerie and to the Hotel de Griffy.  The notables of Montpellier built their mansions in the centre of the town – many of them still exist but it’s unusual to be able to peek behind the doors!  Our guide had the keys to the enormous gates of the Hotel de Griffy, so we could have a look!!

In case you are wondering why I am only showing you some windows and not the whole facade, in the historic centre of Montpellier, most buildings are five times as high as the streets are wide, so it’s very difficult to get pictures of an entire house!

The Hotel de Griffy was divided into separate apartments at some point during its more recent history.  We were not able to visit the interior of the house, but we could see the courtyard and the staircase!

The four facades around the courtyard were identical, but above each of the central windows of the first floor was a different mask, sculpted in stone and representing the four seasons.  Lots of faces to watch all the comings and goings – if only they could tell us what they have seen…

The other windows were decorated with sculpted ornaments of various kinds, some of them probably heraldic.

The staircase took up one entire side of the courtyard – it was monumental!  The finely wrought iron balustrade dates from 1790, when the whole mansion was given a makeover.

From the Hotel de Griffy, our guide took us to the Montpellier equivalent of the Champs Elysees: the Rue Foch.

We were headed for the triumphal arch at the western end of Rue Foch, but first we admired the facade of the prefecture building.  The prefecture is the administrative headquarters of the Herault department.

A little detour around the back brought us to rue de la Canourge and this extraordinary street corner!!

This shell-shaped corner had been built in the days when the streets were frequented by horse and cart.  It  allowed the carts to turn the sharp corner without scraping the walls in the process!  On the wall of the building opposite are traces of tracery. 🙂

Join me next week for a view of Montpellier from the top of the triumphal arch and for a visit to the medieval mikve, and find out why the Place de la Comedie is called l’oeuf (the egg)!

Seven years on …

When I started to write my first blog post in March 2012, little did I know that I would still be writing seven years later!!  At the time, I didn’t know what to expect from blogging, and I was very inexperienced at writing AND using the WordPress platform!  It was a journey into the unknown, a real adventure!!

Rapids on the river Orb – a real adventure of a different kind!

It didn’t take me all that long to get into the swing of things though, and what I lacked in experience I made up for with enthusiasm!! 🙂  Looking back at some of those early posts, I realise that my writing style has changed a great deal since then, but what has NOT changed over the years??

Flowering right now: wild narcissus

Flowering right now: wild narcissus

One of the reasons my writing has improved over the years is Annie, who tirelessly corrects my posts.  The posts you read would not be the same without her valuable input!  A big THANK YOU to Annie for her invaluable work!!!

A toast to Annie!

Writing has certainly given me a different perspective on things – just as improving my photographic skills has made me look at my surroundings in a different way.  When I hear people talk about their journeys, I realise that I am on a kind of journey too, and writing (almost) every week has helped me to find a path!

A path near Saint-Chinian, lined with flowering broom

Here are some statistics, for those of you who enjoy them: 🙂

  • There are 331 posts on this blog (this post will be No. 332).  The very first one was posted on March 7, 2012.
  • Up until March 11, 2019, the blog had been visited 40,418 times, and 106,309 page views had been registered.
  • My busiest blogging year was in 2013, with 52 posts!
  • The all time favourite blog post is “The secrets of Tarte Tatin – explained“, followed by “Oranges and Lemons” and “Saint-Chinian, the place to be“.
  • The busiest day on the blog was August 7, 2015, when I posted “Art everywhere“.
  • Visitors to the blog have come from 133 different countries – the top five countries in terms of visitor numbers are USA, France, UK, Sweden and Canada.
  • There are over 2,500 comments on the blog!!
  • No surprises for the last one – food related posts attract more likes and views than posts on any other topics! 🙂

Thank you to everyone who has been following and reading this blog!  Thank you for your comments – I love reading them – keep them coming!!  And lastly, thank you for sharing the posts with your friends, and for sharing them on Facebook and Twitter – I love having new readers and reading new comments and perspectives.  And I love the fact that it is all spreading the word about Saint-Chinian and the area!

Made for sharing!

What a difference a year makes!

Snow is very seldom seen in Saint-Chinian – temperatures are rarely low enough, and if they are then it is usually very dry.  So when it does snow it’s a memorable occasion and everyone takes pictures!!  Last year on February 28, Saint-Chinian was briefly snow-covered!

The snow is fun while it lasts, but it never lasts long – usually it’s gone by the end of the day!

This year, the weather on February 28 could not have been more different!!  It was a beautifully sunny and bright day, with all the promise of spring in the air!

The mimosa trees were in full flower, spreading their heavenly perfume!

The almond trees were blooming too, the flowers creating a delicate pink haze around the otherwise naked branches!

To my mind, blooming almond trees herald spring like nothing else!  There’s something about an almond tree in full flower that the camera just cannot capture – believe me, I’ve tried again and again over the years!

The violet flowers in my garden are another harbinger of spring.  I can usually smell them before I see them – they are usually so well hidden – they have a wonderfully strong perfume!

The daffodils are flowering already:

The roses are beginning to leaf out:

AND I have the most charming of plants in the garden, which is flowering profusely at the moment. It’s called Erodium pelargoniflorum ‘Sweetheart’ – and what a sweetheart it is!!

Have you seen any signs of spring yet??

Up and coming

With spring in the air, it’s time to come out of hibernation!  There are many events coming up which will tempt you to visit Saint-Chinian!!

Grands Crus Clasiques, Saint-Chinian – 10 March 2019

The pianist Conrad Wilkinson has relocated his successful series of concerts from Villeneuve-les-Beziers to Saint-Chinian for 2019.  There will be a total of six concerts, and the series kicks off with a concert of German Lieder by Mahler, Brahms and Strauss, sung by Ulrike Van Cotthem, with Conrad Wilkinson on piano.

Occitan Carnival, Beziers – 16 March 2019

The 35th Carnival in Beziers will have biodiversity as its theme!  There’ll be children dressed as bees, butterflies, ladybirds, hedgehogs, frogs to name but a few different animals, and there’ll be lots of colourfully decorated floats!

Journees Europeennes des Metiers d´Art, all over France/Europe– 1 to 7 April 2019

The European Artistic Craft Days are held every year on the first weekend in April.  They give the public a chance to see expert craft makers in action.  Several years ago, I visited a workshop in Azillanet, where the almost forgotten art of etching glass is still practiced – see for yourself here.  You can find the full programme of this year’s events on the official French website.

Procession de la Sanch, Perpignan – 19 April 2019

Each year on Good Friday, the town of Perpignan hosts the traditional Good Friday Procession.  The custom dates back 600 years, and it is a deeply moving spectacle, the only one of its kind in France.

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Grande Deballage, Pezenas – 5 May 2019

For lovers of flea markets and antiques, this is an event that is not to be missed!!  There will be in excess of 150 stalls, selling all kinds of “stuff”, from rusty old keys to beautiful furniture!

Vente de Charite, Saint-Chinian – 9 June 2019

This is a fixture on Saint-Chinian’s calendar of events – a sale of bric-a-brac, plants, clothes, second-hand household items, books and more, all sold for a good cause.  The sale takes place in the abbatiale, the former abbey church in Saint-Chinian, and in the cloisters, and it is open until noon.

 

Festival Jazz au Cloitre, Saint-Chinian – 12 to 16 June 2019

Five evenings of Jazz concerts in the beautiful surroundings of the cloister in Saint-Chinian.   There will be a variety of styles: New Orleans Jazz, Blues, Soul Jazz, Gypsy Jazz and French Jazz!  The artists are a mixture of up-and-coming stars of tomorrow and well-known musicians.  The full programme is at www.festivalmusisc.com

Fete de la Musique, all over France – 21 June 2019

This one is an absolute must for your calendar!!  There will be concerts everywhere, from small recitals of classical music to large pop/rock concerts!  Saint-Chinian will be hosting a concert that day, details are yet to be announced.

Fete du Cru – 21 July 2019

A day packed with wine-tasting! The wine makers of the AOC Saint-Chinian set up their stands on the market square – paradise for wine-lovers, who’ll be able to taste and buy their way around Saint-Chinian wines!!  There will be food trucks, music, games and a tombola (prize draw)!!

 

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Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 22 to 28 July 2019

This is another one for your diary – the fifth annual Music Festival in Saint-Chinian!  11 concerts in one week, with a mixture of classical music and jazz, and a great variety of styles and performers – not to be missed!!  For the programme visit www.festivalmusisc.com

If you need a place to stay for any of these events, look no further than the www.midihideaways.com website!  You’ll find a selection of properties from apartments for two to larger properties sleeping up to 10 persons.