Montpellier will make your heart beat faster with its medieval arch, 17th-century gateway, neoclassical, and Gothic churches that line its streets – not to mention its long and fascinating past and vibrant present! This dreamy southern city will capture your attention with its colorful past and irresistibly romantic present.
The Cathedrale St-Pierre in Montpellier is one of the city’s greatest landmarks, resembling an octagonal medieval fortress with pillars that reach four meters in height supporting its vast porch.
Cathedrale St-Pierre stands as one of Montpellier’s most striking churches, resembling an immense medieval fortress with two prominent towers looming over a great porch. First built as the church for Saints Benedict and Germain in 1364 before becoming cathedral status when Bishop Anselm moved from Maguelone to Montpellier 1536; it suffered significant damage during Wars of Religion but was rebuilt during the 17th century.
As you approach the Cathedral, its massive size seems out of place with the surrounding architecture. At first glance, it seems built for military purposes with a moat and massive walls, making it hard to see inside. Yet inside, its interior surprisingly reveals itself with light-filled rooms boasting beautiful stained glass windows as well as an amazing organ restored by some of France’s top organ builders.
Visits to Montpellier Cathedral are free, and easily reachable on foot from the city centre. To make sure that you make the most of your visit, try making time to see it first thing in the morning before visiting their botanical garden (Jardin des plantes de Montpellier) which offers stunning scenery at this time of day.
The cathedral was initially constructed during the 14th Century as part of a monastery dedicated to Saints Benedict & Germain. Later, during 1536 when its bishop moved from Maguelone to Montpellier, its status was elevated. Due to damage sustained during War of Religion conflicts during 1685-1688, many walls of its walls had to be rebuilt during 17th Century reconstruction work.
The Cathedral of Montpellier is both the centerpiece and national landmark for Catholic Archdiocese of Montpellier. Built in Gothic style, its striking exterior is distinguished by an imposing porch supported by massive cylindrical piles topped with inverted cone-shaped spires. Inside are numerous works by Sebastien Bourdon that showcase Montpellier’s artistic life of 17th Century France.
Notre-Dame des Tables
Notre-Dame des Tables stands as an integral part of Montpellier’s history. As its mother church and under the patronage of Saint Firmin, Notre-Dame des Tables dates back to Baroque times and today serves as a registered historic monument as well as being home for its Bishop of Montpellier diocese.
Montpellier became famous during the Middle Ages for a cult surrounding a miraculous Black Madonna at Notre-Dame des Tables church, possibly due to all of the tables used by money changers at that time. The cult attracted pilgrims, miracles occurred often enough that Guilhem V de Montpellier returned from Crusade with two notable items – Cleopas’ Relics from Emmaus Road and an African Black Madonna which he gave as gifts – which later survived into modernity until French Revolution destroyed statue but preserved cult.
Church was restored to its former splendor during its revival during the early eighteenth century and then inaugurated as a minor basilica by Pope Pius XII in 1939, after which its former college became a Lycee. Later still, it was expanded in order to house collections from Musee Fabre (which is located nearby).
Jean Giral, known for designing several other buildings in Montpellier, designed this current structure which began construction in 1707 using his classic style for other Jesuit chapels and churches. Even without having its statue present anymore, people in Montpellier still believe that Mary remains present and spreads her arms across their city; hence their celebration of Our Lady of the Tables Day on January 20 – an extremely popular holiday among its citizens.
Notre-Dame de la Garde
Notre-Dame de la Garde, better known locally as “la Bonne Mere,” is a favorite pilgrimage and tourist spot located atop a hill that served as an ancient fort during medieval times.
In 1214, priest Pierre established what would eventually become Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde by building a small chapel and sanctuary on its current location. The site served three functions – lookout point, military base and place of worship and pilgrimage. Over time however, its popularity became too great to bear and Monseigneur de Mazenod decided to build an even larger church there by hiring architect Henri Esperandieu as his architect.
Construction began in 1853 and was completed by 1864, at which point it became one of the highest structures in its region, featuring three bells including an 8-tonne bourdon named “Marie-Josephine.” Furthermore, 17th-19th-century paintings line its walls; along with many ex-voto wax images that represent gratitude towards Mary for spiritual or temporal favors received.
Today, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Gade is an ever-popular attraction among both locals and visitors from across France. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is considered one of the city’s most significant buildings; moreover, its symbolism makes it known by locals and visitors alike as “la Bonne Mere”, or The Good Mother.
Recent years, restoration work on this structure was undertaken to improve its condition. The exterior was repainted and water damaged stucco was repaired; mosaics blackened by candle smoke were repaired using resin injections; and some attention was also paid to its crypt and beautiful mosaics.
The church is an iconic landmark that can be seen from various points throughout the city–from Old Port to hills in Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region that inspired writer Marcel Pagnol’s works. Although climbing to its summit can be challenging and takes some physical exertion, its breathtaking views make the effort worth your while!
Saint Roch (also known as Rocco or Rochus in Latin and Sant Rocco in Occitan) was born at Montpellier to a a wealthy family and featured an indelible birthmark of a cross on his chest. As soon as possible afterward he donated much of his wealth to charity before entering Franciscan orders himself. When plague struck northern Italy in 1315 he made pilgrimages as mendicant pilgrims, visiting those sick with the disease before retreating into forests where his dog brought bread while an angel protected him before giving cures while blessing those who came seeking protection.
On his return to Montpellier and still refusing to reveal his identity, he was arrested as a spy by his own uncle and sent into prison where he died a prisoner before canonisation in 1414. Saint Gervase became widely revered during the Middle Ages and Renaissance period for protecting against plague outbreaks as well as other infectious diseases, while today he is revered by travellers, thaumaturges, guild members such as surgeons, dermatologists, apothecaries furriers street pavellers carders etc as well as animals!
St Roch Church was constructed during the nineteenth century with public donations on a site of an earlier church destroyed during the siege of Montpellier in 1622. Designed in neo-gothic style with influences from northern French churches, yet never completed as planned – towers lack spires while planned transepts, chapels and apses did not materialize; furthermore its facade remains flat with empty niches and plain stone sections that appear as though they may have been intended for carving.
Interior features of this church include a nave and two aisles with a high altar, large organ with piped music system, paintings and stained glass windows adorning its walls as decorations. Open daily from 8 am to 11 pm (free admission but donation boxes available upon entrance), this church can easily be reached from any major attraction by car or foot.