Settled since Cro-Magnon times, this region has absorbed invading Celts, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders -- and, now, tourist hordes hoping to find their own personal France.      

The Hundred Years’ War (the one starring Joan of Arc) never quite reached the Valros area. But the English have since made up for lost opportunities by flocking in conspicuous numbers every summer to Pézenas, Valros’ neighbor to the east. Don’t be surprised if neighboring tables are talking the Queen’s English.
During the late Renaissance, Pézenas reached its peak. The town still boasts a noteworthy collection of large period structures and narrow stone streets. Pézenas makes much of its connection to the master playwright Molière, who in 1645 fled here to repair a shattered reputation after his first Paris theater company failed.Romantics and historians know Languedoc-Roussillon as the birthplace of "the knight in shining armor." Here, in ducal gardens, the chivalric ideal and courtly love were introduced, nurtured to fame by traveling troubadours. Toulouse was its wealthiest, most sophisticated city. Carcassonne was a major stronghold.

Welcome to Cathar country

But Languedoc-Roussillon was also Cathar country. And the extermination of the Cathar "heretics" is a dark period in French history.
Catharism was a mysterious 13th-century Christian religion, well established in southern France. Catharism was popular for its simplicity, tolerance and high principles. Rome hated it and lost patience.A northern French army, funded by the pope, launched an attack in 1209 that scourged the entire region unsparingly, driving the Cathars into remote, mountain-top fortifications. In Béziers alone, 20,000 were slaughtered, just one atrocity among many massacres and burnings.This so-called Albigensian Crusade (named after Albi, a Cathar center) lasted more than 30 savage years. Ultimately, the rich southern lords, Cathar sympathizers, were defeated and their lands stripped away. The crusade spawned the Inquisition, devised to find and denounce the last, secret Cathar worshippers.

These days, Béziers is better known for the Canal du Midi, a serene and endlessly picturesque French canal that flows around the city’s foot toward Marseillan, a tiny shellfish port that is also home to the Noilly Prat distillery. The canal was an engineering triumph of the 17th century, helping to link the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, bringing new trade and prosperity to the region.

  • www.culture.fr  -- the French Ministry of Culture site: incredibly rich, covers everything from Christmas traditions to "the wonderful world of postcards." Includes an archaeological atlas of France and a guide to medieval painting in the South of France. English version.

This web page is from Our House In France, ( http://ourhouseinfrance.com/ss_plugins/content/content.php?content.302 ) Posted: Tue, Feb 28, 2006 - 12:00am