It was a ride down the same stretch of railway line as on Day 4 today, but I left the train ten minutes earlier at Narbonne.
NB I’m having problems uploading pictures to the blog (again). Have a look at my Instagram account for the illustrations – @phileasfiona
I was intending to head straight to Les Halles – the market hall – for a coffee as recommended by the landlord at my guesthouse. Inevitably, I got distracted.
Actually, the whole day has been one of distractions – veering off down side streets because I liked the sandstone buildings and colourfully painted shutters on the windows. In truth, the residential areas look very similar to those in Béziers and Carcassonne so I didn’t take pictures. I just like looking at them.
The first distraction of the day was fairly hard to miss.
There’s been a place of worship on the site of the Cathedral of St Just and St Pasteur in Narbonne since 313. The idea to build a Gothic cathedral was a political decision made in 1268 by Pope Clement IV, the former archbishop of Narbonne. He decided that it would be a gothic monument. The construction of the new cathedral was supposed to begin in 1264, but did not actually start until 1272. The first stone of the current cathedral was laid by Archbishop Maruin on April 13, 1272, in the foundation of the current Chapel of the Sacred Heart.
The choir was finished in 1332, but the rest of the building was never completed, as the result of many factors including sudden changes in the economic status of Narbonne, the cathedral’s unusual size and geographical location (to complete it would have meant demolishing the city wall) and financial constraints. At some point they got over the aversion of knocking down the Medieval walls but the Cathedral is still only a quarter of its intended size.
The cathedral’s garden and closters are shared with the nextdoor Archbishop’s Palace. It’s a serene spot.
The brilliant gargoyles were obviously taking a break from keeping the pigeon numbers down.
Time for an early lunch and where else but the market hall? I do eventually get to where I’m going.
Alongside the greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, chocolatiers and sellers of honey are wine bars and they’re all sandwiched between the fromageries. It’s a relationship made in heaven.
You can watch the punters wander from counter to counter large glass of red in hand as they peruse the bread and cheese and you can do that or you can park yourself at the bar and order a glass of wine with a platter of cheese.
This was perfect and I stayed for a second glass and that coffee I intended to have earlier.
After lunch I went to explore.
Narbonne was established by Rome in 118 and was initially a port town and a vital trading centre. The shifting of the course of the River Aude from the 14th Century put paid to that. The city is connected to the Aude and the Canal du Midi by the wonderfully named Canal de la Robine which runs through the city centre.
From the 16th Century, keen to maintain a link to important trade, the people of Narbonne began costly work to what remained of the river Aude’s access to the sea so that it would remain navigable and also serve as a link with the Canal du Midi This major undertaking resulted in the construction of the Canal de la Robine, which was finally linked with the Canal du Midi in 1776.
In the 19th century, the canal system in the south of France had to compete with an expanding rail network, which could ship goods more quickly. The canals kept some importance as they were used to support the flourishing wine trade.
And, having spent time in Carcassonne and Béziers, did I find any Cathar history here? Word of the massacre in Béziers spread very quickly and Narbonne was one of the first of the surrounding towns to surrender to the Crusaders as they swept through on their way to Carcassonne. Narbonne escaped pretty much unscathed.