A cathedral that looks like a fortress.Älgbert Elgson
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The Saint-Nazaire cathedral stands in the medieval city of Béziers and is a remarkable building due to its history and architecture. The prominent location makes it one of the landmarks of the city and its towers offer a unique panorama of the Orb plain, the city’s bridges or the locks of Fonseranes.
The trail of history
At the time of the Romans there was a temple on the square of today’s cathedral dedicated to Emperor Augustus and his third wife Livia. In the 8th century there is said to have been a Christian building here and later a Romanesque church was built there.
However, the cathedral, which was built from the 10th century, was destroyed by fire during the Albigensian crusade initiated by Pope Innocent III. at the Béziers massacre on July 22, 1209. The city was set on fire and the entire population, around 20,000 men, women and children, were killed in a massacre. Although the crusade was directed against the religious community in Occitania, which the Catholic Church considered heretical, Cathars and Catholics were murdered in this bloodbath because of the lack of obvious differentiation. The next destination of the crusaders was the city of Carcassonne, about 80 kilometers away, where the crusaders arrived on August 1, 1209.
The reconstruction of the Saint-Nazaire cathedral in Beziers began in the mid-13th century and was partially completed in the 15th century. This long construction period is due to the size of the building and lack of funds.
The Saint-Nazaire Cathedral of Béziers is the largest Gothic monument in the city. It is considered one of the landmarks and, due to its architecture and history, is included in the list of „Monuments historiques“.
Because of its elevated position, it can be seen from afar for travelers coming from the south and offers the sight of a fortress. Sculptures from the 14th century and a collection of stone statues from different eras are witness to the moving history and can be viewed in the cloister and its vault. Below the cloister is the garden of the bishop’s palace „Jardin de lʼÉvêché“. From there and from the tower of the cathedral there is a wonderful panoramic view of the surrounding area, the plain of Orb or the famous stone bridge „Pont vieux“ built in the 12th century.
The Saint-Nazaire cathedral stands in the western part of the medieval old town of Béziers and can be visited for free. Nearby are also some other historic buildings such as the stone bridge „Pont vieux“, the arena „Arènes de Béziers“, the market hall or the canal bridge „Pont-Canal de l’Orb“, which you can visit.
A little outside the city, ships can be seen on the Canal du Midi, which pass the Fonserannes lock stairs and overcome a height difference of 13.60 meters in six chambers. Further to the west is the „Oppidum D’Enserune“, an archaeological site and museum of a typical Gaul settlement in the Iron Age.
How to get there?
The city of Béziers is an important transportation hub in the Occitania region. There is a small airport, a train station and the possibility of arriving by boat on the Canal du Midi. For all those arriving by car, there are a number of paid parking spaces. The parking garage at Jean Jaurès square is in our opinion the best location for exploring the old town and visiting the cathedral, but like (almost) all French garages it is very narrow.
The cathedral has an interesting history and is also beautiful to look at. Every visitor should take the ascent to the tower if possible, although it is partly poorly lit and the steps are no longer the best. Once at the top a breathtaking view rewards the difficult path. There is also a wonderful view with benches to take a break, as well as enjoying the silence and tranquility in the garden of the Bishop’s Palace.
The city of Béziers, on the other hand, seemed relatively extinct to us and we therefore perceived it as not very inviting.