The French Connection: Day 4 – Daytrip to Béziers

After the previous day’s sunshine, today was overcast and drizzly as I made my way to the railway station – just a day trip, mes amis… not an epic.

I headed to Platform 1 where the information screen included details of where to stand for your carriage. My boarding point was sone distance from the station canopy and past the small shelter – presumably a nod to some kind of comfort from the elements.

Past any shelter

At this point it started to rain.

The loneliness of the long distance platform walker

The train, ultimately heading for Marseille, arrived and I boarded.

Heading South out of Carcassonne, the rails crossed rolling hills, shrouded in low lying cloud. The still green, with a hint of yellow, woodland alternated with vineyards – this is a wine producing region and all the glasses I’ve sampled so far (evidence-based practice, you understand) have been delicious.

We passed one or two tiny villages – built in a pink-tinted, honey coloured stone or brick and then moved through flat ploughed fields, others filled with straw bales before returning to vineyards spotted with windmills (the energy generating variety).

The train pulled into Narbonne, all sandy coloured buildings and red tiled rooves from what I could see. From Narbonne, it was a mere ten minutes through the fields to Béziers, which was my stop.

Only 45 minutes from Carcassonne and what a difference in the weather – blue skies and sunshine.

Beziers is a very hilly town so wherever I headed first was going to be uphill. First stop, the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire…though I inevitably got distracted, by street art, walking up the cobbled streets that reminded me of Genoa – sandy coloured buildings, shuttered windows and plants on window ledges.

Just outside the cathedral is a small monument. Casimir Peret had been the Mayor of Béziers and, when Napoleon decided he was going to recreate the Empire, the Republicans were somewhat resistant to this idea.

There were uprisings across France and Peret led the Béziers Republicans. They gathered outside the cathedral and the militia, which had arrived to break up the gathering, opened fire. 70 people were killed or injured. Peret was imprisoned but died during an escape attempt.

The monument shows a grieving woman holding a broken Republican sword. I’m not sure what that conveys.

As for the cathedral? It is rather lovely, standing on a cliff overlooking the wide plain below.

As I mentioned some of the streets in Béziers remind me of being in Genoa (narrow twisting streets of sandy-painted houses, possibly faded from orange and yellow). There are grand, boulevards too but I like the residential streets with the shuttered windows.

The street art is similar to the style I saw in Singapore and Malaysia – cultural and historical references and probably officially commissioned. The frontage of ‘L’Arlesienne’ references an opera by Bizet which started life as a (reasonably) local tragedy.

The nephew of (relatively) local poet Frederic Mistral (Nimes is an hour’s drive away and rail travel was slower in the 19th century) killed himself after discovering his fiancee had betrayed him. Mistral turned the event into a short story (changing the details) and eventually Bizet wrote the opera. ‘L’Arlesienne’ (the girl from Arles) came to mean a character that is always talked about but the audience can never be certain that they really exist – they never appear on stage.

After lunch I headed to the Poets’ Plateau – a 19th Century, English-style park designed by Swiss brothers. There are a number of monuments to the French Resistance but the park’s name comes from the busts of poets dotted across the greens, most of whom are missing their nose.

I spent a few hours wandering past the various water features (including the much-put-upon Atlas) and watching one of the two swans hurtle up and down the lake like an angry fluffy battleship as the park keeper dared to attend to pool maintenance. It was like watching a feathered performance of “Jaws“. The other swan ignored the drama and continued floating serenely.

Béziers is one of the oldest cities in France.

The site has been occupied since Neolithic times, before an influx of Celts. Roman Betarra was on the road that linked Provence with Iberia. The Romans refounded the city as a new colony for veterans in 36–35 BC and called it Colonia Julia Baeterrae Septimanorum. Stones from the Roman amphitheatre were used to construct the city wall during the 3rd century and wine was exported back to Rome. I can’t say I’m surprised by this.

As I mentioned on Day 2, Béziers was attacked by the fourth Papal Crusade. The crusaders reached Béziers on 21 July 1209. The town’s Catholics were given an ultimatum to hand over the heretics or leave before the crusaders besieged the city and to “avoid sharing their fate and perishing with them”. However, many refused and resisted with the Cathars.

The town was sacked the following day and in the bloody massacre no one was spared, not even Catholic priests and those who took refuge in the churches.

Apparently one of the leaders of the Crusade, when asked how to distinguish Cathar from Catholic, advised: “Kill them all, for the Lord knoweth them that are His”.

The invaders burned the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire, which collapsed on those who had taken refuge inside. The town was pillaged and burnt.

However, the city was repopulated. Parts of the cathedral had survived the carnage, and repairs started in 1215. The restoration, along with that of the rest of the city, continued until the 15th century.

It doesn’t appear to have experienced any further conflict to match the Crusade, though the British briefly threatened to cause problems during the Spanish War of Succession in 1710. It prospered for the most part throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Of course, today being a Monday… the vast majority of museums and places of historical interest were closed. However, it’s a beautiful place to spend the day. 

Categories: Béziers, France, Street Art, The French Connection, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Béziers is on my bucket list! Absolutely gorgeous town. Glad you got to check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

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