Narbonne and the Fort de Salses and Béziers

One of the days during our week in Perpignan, we drove about an hour's drive north to the city of Narbonne.
We returned to this area once again later in the week, as we drove to Montpellier, where we stayed
for our third week, and visited the fortress called the Fort de Salses and the city of Béziers.

Narbonne was founded by the Romans in 118 BC and soon became a crossroads, situated on the Roman
road called the Via Domitia that connected Roman Italy, Roman Gaul (France), and Roman Spain.
In the
main square of the city, a small section of the Via Domitia has been uncovered, and the wide stretch
of flat paving stones shows the Roman expertise in road building.

Part of the Roman walls are still standing, now incorporated into buildings.

Dominating the old town is the medieval cathedral, begun in 1272.
It was supposed to be much longer, but was never completed.

Its towers provide a bird's eye view over the old town.

Adjacent to the cathedral is the former bishop's palace, begun in the twelfth century and added
to over the centuries. It now serves as the city hall and also houses the city's museum.

Across the main square is another of the immense department stores of the late nineteenth century.
Not far away is the main market for the city, from the same period, selling all sorts of fresh food.

Narbonne was built along the Aude River. The river provided access from the medieval town to the sea,
meandering through the marshy coast, but as it silted up and changed its course, the town's
prosperity dwindled and it gradually became the sleepy city it is today.

Fort de Salses

The monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile built the Fort de Salses in the late fifteenth century to protect
what was then the northern border of their newly united kingdom of Spain. It was built with all of the latest techniques
intended to protect it against canon fire--canons having been only newly invented. It remained an important Spanish
fortress until it was attacked by the French during the time of Cardinal Richelieu, and fell to French forces in 1642.
After that, it was no longer on the French-Spanish border and so no longer served any military purpose.

The whole of the fort is protected by an outer and an inner set of walls, with a moat separating the two.
(The inner wall is about thirty feet thick--strong enough to be defended against canon fire.)

A well fortified gate defends the only way into the fortress.

The main courtyard houses the barracks, amories, and the officers' quarters--the last with its own moat,
the grassy area seen on the left, built in case an enemy managed to gain control of the rest of the fortress.

Underneath the barracks were vast storage rooms so that a garrison defending
the fortress could not be starved out or run out of ammunition or supplies.

Our tour took us over the rooves and through passageways that allowed the fort's soldiers to move from
one part of the fort to another but were narrow enough to be easily defended in case the enemy took them.

The officers' quarters had its own defences and, in the photo on the right below, its own storage areas for food and supplies.

Béziers

Béziers existed even before the Romans arrived, first built on a high cliff overlooking a bend in the Orb River.
The city is famous for its role in the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics, since the crusaders
massacred most of the town's population in 1209, and it never really recovered. It is a poor city today
with a large population of recent immigrants from North Africa.

In the nineteenth century the wine industry did bring a bit of wealth to the city of Béziers, as seen in the
mansions and public buildings (like the theater, above on the left) alongside its tree-lined main boulevard.

The cathedral sits atop the highest point in the city, and gardens surround
and descend from it--once belonging to the bishop, now public.


A bit of stained glass from the cathedral, above, and a trompe-l'oeil painting on the side of a building, below.

 

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