The History of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, South of France

Cave paintings

The Languedoc-Roussillon region has been inhabited by humans for over 450 thousand years. Today you can still see their wonderful cave paintings, such as those in Chauvet, Lascaux and Niaux.

Greek vase

Situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, the region soon became an extremely important trade route and a major market for northern Europe. From 600 BC the Greeks began arriving and settling, founding the cities of Marseille and Agde. With them they brought their traditions of olive and grape cultivation which are still an important part of the local economy today.

Maison Carre Nimes

Next to arrive were the Romans who founded Narbonne in 118 BC followed by Nîmes and Béziers. As was their want, the Romans conquered the whole region and there are many examples of their architecture to be seen. For example the Pont du Gard near Nîmes, the Arena and the Maison Carré in the city itself and the Oppidum d'Enserune which is an ancient hill-town located between Béziers and Narbonne.

The region then entered a very turbulent time as various invading tribes came and went. The Visigoths established a kingdom around the fifth century, followed by invading Muslims and then in the late 700s it was Charlemagne.

Cathar Castle

During the Middle Ages there were many power struggles all centred around religion. Many people turned to Catharism centering in Béziers and Carcassonne. The Catholic Church, headed by several popes and French noblemen, launched a merciless holy crusade in 1209 and were at war against the Cathars for 20-years. Béziers was sacked and in the bloody massacre which followed, no one was spared, not even those who took refuge in the churches. 20,000 people were killed in Béziers alone. Their captured and ruined Cathar fortresses and castles can be seen teetering on the hilltops of the region and many villages still have a circulade fortified structure to them as evidence of a time when the inhabitants lived in fear of attack.

Kings of Majorca

In the 13th century, Montpellier and Perpignan prospered under the rule of the Kings of Majorca, who later sold the two cities and the Roussillon to the French crown.

In the 17th and 18th century peace finally settled in the region. The Protestant church established itself firmly among the peasant classes in the 1600s as a show of resentment against the ruling elite. Following the French revolution of 1789, the Languedoc economy slowly began to get on its feet, producing vast quantities of textiles. Towns were enlarged and adorned with dazzling architecture. Thanks to the development of the wine industry during the 1800s, large farms (or mas) were built, along with stately country residences and seaside villas. However this faced a major set-back when the vineyards were all but wiped out by phylloxera in 1875.

Grape vines

The Great Depression of the 1930s slowed economic revival and the region was unable to accommodate the tens of thousands of refugees who poured over the border from Spain in 1939 fleeing civil war.

During World War II, the resistance movement in Languedoc was particularly successful in frustrating Nazi attempts to gain greater controle of France.

Today the region, rich in historical interest, is a popular tourist destination with its wonderful climate, beaches and countryside. Those who invade the region today tend to settle here looking for warmer climes and a better quality of life in its peaceful surroundings.