Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Modern mix in Montpellier



Politicians tend to run with the money when they have it, to make the most of an already good thing. So it was in Arles (or Arelate as it was then known) when it became the first Roman colony in Gaul - up went the Antique Theatre, the Forum, the Arena, the Circus lickety-split to make use of new found money from Rome so that the town would be as attractive as possible to those considering moving westwards past a new frontier.


One could also say that when Georges Frêche was elected as mayor of Montpellier in 1977, he saw a similar opportunity for his rapidly expanding city. 


During his 27 year term, he pushed Montpellier into ever-extending growth, one that would move the city from the 25th largest in France to the 8th in less than 30 years.


And while he certainly is still considered a controversial figure in the region, even after his death in 2010, he undeniably solidified Montpellier's status as both a center for universities and the telecommunications industry (IBM has had an office here since 1965). 


Entire neighborhoods have been created from scratch, radiating out from the historic center in concentric circles. To skip the infamous snarls of the city's traffic, we always park on the Lez River and walk through the Antigone neighborhood, which was designed in the neoclassical manner (one of Montpellier's slogans was "the Rome of Tomorrow") by Barcelona architect Ricardo Bofill in 1979.


But our ambling nearly always takes us to the Place de la Comédie, whether it is our destination or not. This gorgeous square was called L'Ouef or the Egg due to its shape in the 18th century and is now framed with gorgeous 19th century cream-puff Haussmanian style buildings as well as a miniature version of the Garnier Opera House in Paris. The Place is the heart of this vibrant city.


At least The Three Graces think so and they have been swanning in their glory on top of this fountain since 1796.


Cafés line the Place and even on a mid-February day, every table is taken. The people-watching, as you might imagine, is fantastic. 


After having spent so much of my adult life in big cities, I loved seeing the cosmopolitan mix of the population out enjoying the day...


...and the architecture isn't too shabby either...


On such a glorious day...it all made my heart take flight...


...most certainly while watching the children run around me in circles (literally) on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. 


While this promenade was first constructed after the siege of 1622 when the city's fortified walls were beaten down by Louis XIII, it became a favorite spot for strolling in the 18th century when plantain trees were planted all along its length to give shade during this Mediterranean towns stifling summer days. 


I don't know Montpellier as well as I do say, Aix-en-Provence or Avignon so happily there are still many hidden paths to explore...


...but each time that I visit, I can't help but admire its myriad textures...


and various perspectives...


...which, while often striking on the monumental...


...are finally geared towards making city life here livable and enjoyable. As we walked we came across so many open areas that were filled with families and adolescents laughing and at ease as there was space enough for everyone...


...Eh oui, except for the les étudiants, who were packed like sardines into the main library. Yes, even on a Sunday. You see, the first school of medicine here was formed in 1220 and certain traditions demand respect...


...well, except from the young lovers who were sprawled out on the lawn in an embrace. They had other priorities and were right to make the most of a tempting pre-spring day, one so bright that I couldn't quite capture its blue blending against the golden stones (both new and old) correctly. But I had to try even if the exposure on my camera wasn't set properly! And so when these particular two, full of joy and bravado, caught me focusing my lens in their direction, they yelled out "Coucou" or "Hi there!" with a wave and then fell onto each other laughing. I gave a little curtsy of Merci and walked away smiling, zinging with the vibrant energy from the old and new cocktail that is and hopefully will continue to be the wonderful city of Montpellier. 

34 comments:

  1. Heather Montpelier is indeed a city full of treasures, amazing sculptures and architecture. One day I hope to be able to travel to countries like France where I can leisurely explore the many beautiful cities like this one!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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    1. Karena, you would love the Musee Fabre there - one of my favorite museums in Provence. There is a LOT of art and culture in Montpellier.

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  2. It's beautiful. It looks like a very vibrant place and a wonderful blend of old and new.

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    1. It ususally is far more bustling with people! It was better for the photos that it was empty but I think you would enjoy it, Loree.

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  3. MY MOUTH DROPPED in that EGG shaped SQUARE!I have never been here..................isn't that where the castle is on a mountain top in the water??
    BEAUTIFUL BUILDINGS..................OOOHHH...LALA.

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    1. Ah, you are thinking of the Mont St. Michel which is, literally, on the other side of France! teehee And it is quite amazing too, especially if you go way off season when it isn't so crowded.

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  4. It is many years since I last visited Montpelier and I loved it back then. Reading your wonderful article and seeing your clear vivid photos has made me want to go back. Thank you, I really enjoyed reading this.

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    1. As I enjoyed discovering your blog, Susan and will sign up to follow you on bloglovin'. :) What a beautiful corner of France you live in and it is so clear that you and your family all really appreciate it as well...

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  5. Now you have given me a little nudge...we really need to plan a visit to Montpellier next time we are nearby!

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    1. What are you talking about? You need to come visit ME the next time you are nearby! *exasperated dramatic sigh*

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  6. Thanks for this ... Great to read with nights always below 0F here ... I'll escape this ferocious New England winter and be there, avec mon vélo, in less than 2 months. Can't wait!

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    1. Hooray! Hang on. It is why I chose to publish this with the photos not quite properly exposed (I am still learning to shoot in manual) because they really gave a sense of warmth and I figured that quite a few folks out there could use it.

      PS. Those are vélibes in the photo and are freeeee!

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  7. Heather, what a comprehensive and informative mini tour of Montpellier you gave us! The buildings surrounding the Place de la Comedie are handsome indeed! As I often do when I want to know more about a place, I looked up Google map of Montpellier and it is like being able to take a virtual walk around the city. One point of interest, the photos of the square must have been taken very recently, as they show the same banners as those in your photos, announcing Tropisme 25 Feb to 15 March.
    Cheers,
    Deborah C - Melbourne

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    1. I love that you Googled it and how interesting that the photos are up to date. Kind of freaky too in a Big Brother sort of way. ;) And this was indeed a "mini" tour showing just a tiny part of this big city!

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  8. What a joy-filled day you enjoyed in Montpellier. Loved the mini tour - the beautiful architecture, the snippets of history and your story about the young couple on the grass.

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    1. Merci Lorrie. We really had a great day - we went to see an exhibition that was fantastic that I hope to be writing about soon. :)

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  9. Heather, there is much to see in Montpellier. We get there quite often as my cousin is a cardiology professor at the University of Montpellier and his wife works down town and we meet to explore and dine at some of the local eateries. I really like some of the older historical areas near the university.

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    1. Yes, I need to go back to keep exploring! And knowing you, you must have good restaurant addresses - please do tell... :)

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  10. Beautiful photos .. informative narrative .. and the key word for me in this post - "walked". How awesome .. this incredible country which was designed around walking .. with curves and curls and rounded corners and stones that require attention as you proceed across them. The simple action of treading upon streets which have felt humanity upon them .. walking .. a much more personal and intimate act than powering a three thousand pound beast over flawlessly smooth strips of concrete and asphalt. Thank you, Heather .. you placed me there .. wishing for one of those perfect French Walking Days .. Merci beaucoup ...

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    1. Oh you are welcome Bill. And you really hit upon something that I forget to write about that is important - a lot of downtown is entirely blocked off to traffic save for the super efficient tramways. Remi in particular hates walking around where there are cars and it is true it makes such a difference as you are free to roam and regard with worry of being run over!

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  11. What a beautiful city. I don't know much about Montpellier, so am so grateful for the tour, Heather. The architecture is truly gorgeous and interesting, isn't it? Love the mix. Your photos capture it perfectly. Thanks for taking me there... will there ever be time enough to visit all the places I'm curious about in France? Probably not - so thank goodness for you, my friend! XOXO

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    1. Oh my! I have been living here for nearly 14 years and I feel like I have only seen the tip of the iceberg! So much to see...It is really something that I love about this country is that if you drive for two hours you will see a different landscape. :)
      Bon Weekend!

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  12. It’s interesting that Montpellier wants to be Roman rather than French. But the architecture looks like a good mix of modern and classic.

    I like the huge plaza.Mrs. Abstract and I would indeed love to promenade there.
    Very nice photos.

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    1. Thank you, Edgar. But it isn't surprising to me as A) French towns love a good slogan ;) and B) the Roman Empire extended to Narbonne, far past Montpellier!

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  13. Just had a catch up on posts here- I've missed loads! Am very happy that your Japanese maple is alive- we have similar here with our lime tree. The visuals are rather refreshing- especially that blue sky- for my obsessive writer tired eye syndrome :-) xx

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    1. Yep, basically those blue skies were the entire excuse for making this post as I know that there are a lot of people - most certainly my family in Michigan - that are getting miiiiighty tired of winter right about now. So, I put my effort into preparing them and gave myself a "go free" pass for the writing. That feels good sometimes because not all of us can hit the ball out of the park every single time like you do!! ;)

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  14. Love the openness that gives room to breathe.

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    1. I have to say that for such a big city, it is something that really surprises me. And the local folks clearly love it and USE that space a lot...

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  15. Wow!! This is a different city than we've seen here - I really love the big open square (egg) and the mix of styles! Can we go on our next visit, please? And you were apologizing for the colors, but I thought they came out wonderfully - beautiful blues - made it look like a lovely day to be there! And sitting outside?? Methinks your winters are not nearly as bad as ours, so keep that in mind, Missy!! But lovely post - merci, belle soeur!

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    1. You are oh so welcome beautiful Sister! And of course we can go...we can do whatever you want... :)

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  16. Lovely Heather! I enjoyed your beautiful description and narration and watching your photos I understand why they call Montpellier the Rome of the future. I really felt a familiar atmosphere! I have never visited this beautiful town so I will add Montpellier in my wish list! Hsve a nice weekend my dear!

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    1. Just as your Rome, the Real Rome is still on mine!! One day, Emilia, one day...
      Wishing you a wonderful weekend as well!! I hope it isn't too crazy with all of the protestors.
      xo
      H

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  17. Oh the light in these photos is so beautiful! It feels like real spring! That first week when you finally feel warmth in the wind rather than cold!

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    1. Yes! I am going to be writing about exactly that really soon. Great minds...;)

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