I’ve attempted to visit the town of Beziers before but each time trying to find a suitable parking spot for the motorhome has proven too stressful so I never stopped. This time, I’ve done a bit more research and found somewhere close to town, along the Canal du Midi. It’s a 15 minute uphill walk to the centre, but it’s worth it.
Beziers’ history is a bit bloody. First there’s the patron saint, Saint Aphrodise, who is depicted carrying his head under his arm. The legend goes that in 250 AD Aphrodise left Egypt to escape Roman persecution and arrived with his camel in Beziers where he hid in a cave. However, he was discovered by some non-Christians and beheaded in Place St Cyr. His head was thrown into a well but the water rose up and the headless Aphrodise took it in his arms, walked to the edge of the city and buried himself in the cave where he had previously hidden.
Then there is the cold-blooded massacre of the Cathar sympathisers who, following the siege of Beziers in 1209, took refuge in the Church of St Mary Magdalene. 7,000 people were killed when the church was burned to the ground after Abbot Amalric supposedly declared “Kill them all, God will know his own”.
I’m unable to visit the church as it is closed but the Cathedral of St Nazaire is open. The original Romanesque building also burned down in the siege but the Gothic replacement is huge with a beautifully carved interior entrance way, topped with a 19th century organ. Through the calm cloister, I am able to access the bishop’s garden with lovely views down to the River Orb and the numerous bridges that span it. The Pont Vieux was built on the foundations of the original Roman bridge and still supports single lane traffic and pedestrians.
Close to the cathedral is the Hotel Fayet, a beautiful three storey mansion which houses a large collection of sculptures by local Jean-Antoine Injalbert, as well as a temporary exhibition of paintings by Gustave Fayet. However, the house itself is also a work of art with marble fireplaces, painted ceilings and stained glass windows.
A little further downhill is the Hotel Fabregat, much larger but less impressive than the Hotel Fayet, it holds a large collection of artworks, both classic and modern, as well as more sculptures by Injalbert.
Finally, just below the church of St Jacques, I locate the Biterrois Museum (Biterrois is the name for Beziers locals). It proves to be an absolute treasure trove of history & ethnology with artefacts from the Bronze Age, Roman, Medieval, 18th century and the two World Wars, plus natural history exhibits, special sections on local viticulture and the engineering feats of Pierre-Paul Riquet, a local of Beziers who was responsible for building the Canal du Midi.
If you are not into art or history then there’s still a lot to see in Beziers. For example, the upmarket Halles, the regular produce and antique markets on the Allees Paul Riquet, the Poets Garden, the Arenas (originally built for opera but frequently used for bullfighting) and the modern Polygone shopping centre. There are also kilometres of canal and river paths to explore and watching the boats pass through the 9 locks at Fonserannes, a few kilometres south of town, will keep you occupied for hours.