Saturday, August 24, 2013

Et Maintenant ... Un Vrai Tour de Montpellier!

Samedi, 24 août.

We spent this evening on a petit tour of Montpellier, conducted by Michel, one of our guides from Nimes. (Again, not really sure what makes him so qualified, but he's great!) The plan for this post: lots of photos and not a lot of talking. There are too many beautiful photos and what I have to say would bore you anyhow!

Our first stop was la Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier. It used to be attached to a monastary, but was later elevated to the title of "cathedral." The church suffered some serious damage during religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, but ultimately was the only church in Montpellier to survive the wars. It was later rebuilt, hence the slightly different styles of architecture -- Gothic and Romanesque. We didn't have time to truly explore around the cathedral, but I can't wait to go back and see the inside!

Check out the giant columns -- they're 4 and a 1/2 meters in diameter, or approximately 12 American study abroad students in circumference.

Right next door to the cathedral (and by that, I mean that it is quite literally attached, as it used to be the quarters for the monks in the monastary), is the pride and joy of Montpellier -- la Faculté de médecine. It the world's oldest school of medicine still in existence. The only older faculty, a school in Salerno, closed in 1811 and you just KNOW that Montpellier was waiting in the wings with baited breath to steal their title! 

Along with being the oldest in the world of its kind, it's also one of the oldest universities in France. (Sadly for Montpellier, La Sorbonne, which opened a few dozen years before, holds the title of France's oldest university ... and I don't think it'll be closing any time soon!) Still, pretty chouette.

Not far from the Faculté de médecine, just outside what used to be the gates of medieval Montpellier (now the edge of the historic centre-ville), is located the massive Jardin des PlantesEstablished in 1593 by King Henry IV for use by the medical students at the University of Montpellier, it is France's oldest botanical gardens. Today, it contains over 2500 species of plants ... I can't wait to visit and actually get to explore the inside! (In the meantime, you can read all about it here, though sadly only in French.)


Next, we headed back to the Place Royale du Peyrou. If you remember back to my Tuesday post, this was the park we stumbled upon accidentally on our way to the Place de la Comedie. Although I only had my iPhone to take photos last time, I came prepared today with my camera! Unfortunately, we didn't spend a ton of time on the promenade and didn't have time to walk all the way back to the Chateau d'EauStill, I got to take some fun pictures -- it was sunset, so the light was great! -- and learned a fun fact about the statue of King Louis XIV that stands in the middle of the park.

The sculptor who built this statue did not realize until after its completion that he had completely forgotten to carve stirrups for the king's feet. He was so terrified to admit this to the Roi Soleil (as Louis XIV was called), that he committed suicide instead!

I found the expression on the statue's face to be so goofy!
Back to the Arc de Triomphe de Montpellier, the commemoriate victory arch commissioned by -- you guessed it -- the Sun King himself. Like I said before, this arch is about as ornate as you can get. There's a lot of symbolism, as the arch commemorates succesful battles with both England and Germany as well as the end of the religious wars in France, but naturally I no longer remember any of it! Whoops! (But hey, like I said, the words are probably boring anyhow.)

Slightly more entertaining was watching Molly and I scramble around taking pictures with our new friends because -- and I quote -- "we want everyone else to know we're making friends!" Fair point. We struck a pose with our new friend Kate and then I cheesed it up with Nathalie (who, weirdly enough, was really good friends with my best friend Zoe in preschool before she moved out of Northern Virginia).

Through the archway and back into the beautiful architecture and winding roads of the historic centre-ville!

We stopped to take some photos of the Palais de Justice and the Préfecture. (And, naturally, one particularly photogenic outdoor café...)

We made our way down one of Montpellier's oldest streets, where Michel stopped to explain a few particularly interesting phenomena! First, check out the photo below on the left. See how the building continues over the street? It occurs all over medieval cities -- and it's not (just) because they wanted to show off their medieval architecture. Rather, because medieval property taxes were charged based on amount of land, building above the street became a tax-free way to enlargen your house! Isn't that crazy?

Second, do you notice how the railing bows out at the bottom in the photo of the balcony on the right? (Personally, it reminds me of an old Greek urn.) Any idea what that's for? One girl in our group guessed it correctly -- women's dresses! Back in the good old days before keds and denim shorts were an acceptable way to tour Montpellier, balconies had to be constructed to allow enough room for the voluminous skirts of the women who stood on them. Pretty neat, huh?

[Insert more wandering around the city here...]

Reflection of a church? Or just a painting? Voila, le trompe d'oeil.
Before we knew it, our tour was over and we were back in la Place de la Comedie! It was our third time walking by that evening, but as it's one of the most beautiful parts of the city -- no complaints. Instead, I took the time to snap a few photos with my camera. Here's the Opera Comedie, home of l'Opéra national de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. Molly and I are so exciting to plan our first trip there -- hopefully at the end of September to see  Orfeo et Euridice. We're already talking about getting dressed up and going to one of the nearby cafes beforehand!

I found these ugly babies on the fountaine ... WEIRD OR WHAT?
With Mariana, Brooke, Molly, Nathalie, and Kate!
With the tour done, it was time for FOOD. Most of the people we were with hadn't eaten yet and stopped to pick up sandwiches. Although we'd split a baguette only a few hours before, our tummies were already grumbling and we were dying to try a particularly delicious-looking speciality: les gauffres. Gauffres are really big waffles, served with powdered sugar, fruit, or -- if you're super classy consumers like Molly and me -- nutella.

Oh. My. Gosh. Forget about crepes, people -- gauffres are absolute perfection. (I guess it didn't hurt that there was like a solid half a cup of nutella on each!) So after a long day of walking, we ended our evening in the historic center of Montpellier with waffles and a great view of the east half of the city ... what a perfect Saturday!


  1. Merci! C'est fabuleux!


  2. Wonderfully told! Merci bien!
    Love, Mommy & Daddy

  3. Now that I've been there, I'm rereading about Montpellier. We saw so much and yet I wish for more. But that's a good thing really! You taught me so much while I was there and now I can see here you had written about it also, but I had forgotten. It makes such a difference when you are there in person. Thank you so much for inviting me!