The département of the Hérault is divided into 3 arrondissements: Béziers, Lodève and Montpellier. There are 45 cantons, in which 33 separate towns exist. Situated on the banks of the Orb river, Béziers place in wine history dates Roman times (and earlier Greek/Phoenician trade-7th Century BC). It was an important stop on the Roman road, La voie Domitienne, that linked Italy and Spain. Today, Béziers lies at the heart of the largest vineyard in the world (Languedoc-Rousillion). Connected to the Mediterranean Sea by the Orb River Valley and the inland by the Midi Canal (as well as to the Atlantic at Bordeaux), Béziers has a Cathedral situated atop a magnificent hill, which has had its fair share of sieges and battles played out at its feet. see A Who's Who In The Cathar War Indeed, la Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire was entirely destroyed in July 22, 1209 (the massacre of Béziers) and soon rebuilt, with a few additions over the centuries. It has its share of ancient areas souterraines. La Basilique Saint-Aphrodise is 700 metres north and east, dating from the 12th through 14th centuries. It in turn is about 100 meters due south of the ancien cemetière.
Sète, at the Mediterranean end of the Canal du Midi is France’s largest seaport, after Marseille. It is the Languedoc region’s leading fishing port, mainly receiving sardines and tuna. Sète is also the oldest and most interesting of the tourist-driven, local seaside towns having developed with the Canal du Midi (1666-1681). Back in Béziers (20 miles to the west) the Canal passes over the Orb by pont aqueduct, serving the town at Port Neuf. Pierre Paul Riquet, the canal's architect-engineer was born in Béziers. The canal was opened by a Royal celebration (May 15-25, 1681), but its designer had died the previous year on November 4th. http://www.canal-du-midi.org/. The TGV (France's fast train) once took 5 hours from Paris to Béziers; the new line improvments shorten this to three hours (new Narbonne/Béziers station). Thus, the town remains linked to transportation today. Béziers is a sister city to Heilbronn since 1965.
The best-written, most-interesting Web-history of Béziers is to be found at http://www.languedoc-france.info/030109_beziers.htm. Small settlements emerged out of the neolithic era, perhaps influenced by strangers from the east arriving on the shores. In 2002, Rue de Republic road improvements unearthed unused bricks and an oven dating 5000 BC. Those discoveries - and others - have certified the presence of an advanced (sedentary) tribal life. Hut foundations exist attributed to the Véraziens (2500 BC). Remains 0f structured urbanization (houses along streets) date from the 2nd Iron Age, for a people named Elysices (certainly Celtiberes). The Volcae tribe of the Cimbres nation (the same ethnic group as the Gauls) settled in the region towards the middle of 3rd century BC from Toulouse to the Rhone river valley. From Toulouse to the Hérault river, there were tribes of Tectosages then Arecomicis. In Béziers, the new inhabitants were (maybe) the Longostaletes (this people is mentioned on coins of this time). The Volcaes were certainly traded with the Arvenne tribes. http://www.sunnyfrance.net/histoiredebeziers/historique_UK.htm (a good timeline of early history)
Oppidæ represent more-advanced, prehistoric fortified hilltop settlements, dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Many of them have disappeared under later construction. Known of examples remain at Carcassonne (the Oppidum of Carsac), at Uzès, at Narbonne and at a place near to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (in the Camargue), where there was once a temple to the Egyptian sun-god Ra.
The best example of an oppidum in the Languedoc-Roussillon region is at Ensérune, near to the modern town of Nissan-lez-Ensérune. Above the Le Malpas tunnel (Canal du Midi), not far from Béziers, the Ensérune hill fort (the Oppidum de Ensérune) was occupied from at least 800 BC. It is one of the largest and oldest fortified towns bordering the Mediterranean. Excavations, which began there in 1915, have revealed a succession of different occupations, pre-Greek, Greek and Roman, from the 6th century BC until the 1st century AD. The Ensérune Museum contains relics of Iberian, Greek, Celtic and Roman civilization. From the Ensérune hill-top is a spectacular view of a circular marsh called Mondady drained by farmers in the Middle Ages and apportioned in pie-like segments. Narrow channels carry rain water into the center of the pool. From there, the water travels back in the opposite direction, passing under the Canal du Midi and the railway tunnel, and flowing out into the valley -- an engineering marvel for the time. http://www.languedoc-france.info/0704_archaeology.htm; see also, http://www.labelleancienne.com/expeditions.html
Traditionally, the first Bishop of Béziers is considered to be Egyptian-born, Saint Aphrodisius. He is said to have sheltered the Holy Family at Hermopolis and to have later become a disciple of Christ. He also is said to have accompanied Sergius Paulus to Gaul when the latter founded the Church at Narbonne. By general tradition, Saint Aphrodisius died a martyr at Béziers. Local traditions recount that St. Aphrodisius arrive at Béziers mounted on a camel. Hence the custom of leading a camel in the procession at Béziers on his feast day, which custom lasted until the French Revolution. The first historically known bishop is Paulinus, who is mentioned in 418, although 50 years earlier Saint Hilary of Poitiers convened a Synod there to combat Arianism. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10545a.htm
Just a couple of miles from Béziers, in a park bordered by the Orb, lies an ancient 9th century fortress, which became the summer residence for Béziers Bishops in the 17th and 18th centuries. Entirely renovated, it now offers hotel comforts and services. A piece of Chateau de Lignan can be yours for a night, for a price. Enjoy also the park of 300 year-old cedars of Lebanon. The diocese at Béziers is no longer, after nearly 1600 years of turbulent history. A Papal Brevet of 16 June 1877, authorized the bishops of Montpellier to call themselves bishops of Montpellier, Béziers, Agde, Lodève and Saint-Pons, in memory of the different dioceses united in the Diocese of Montpellier. In 2009 Béziers was on the route for the Tour de France during stage 5, which ran south near the coast.
Saint Chinian, a village 15 miles (25km) west-northwest of Béziers (in Hérault), dates to the early 9th century (before 825) when a monastery order was founded by Saint Anian (St. Benedict of Anian ??). St-Chinian wines have had a long-standing reputation, going back to the fourteenth century. During the French revolution the abbey was dissolved and its buildings put to new uses. The former abbey church is now the village hall and hosts exhibitions and village events. In the courtyard behind the village hall you can still see the remains of what was once the cloisters. The revolution also put an end to the cloth trade and the village had to rely on the wine for its prosperity. St Chinian acquired its AOC (Appellation Saint Chinian Controlée -- area 11 on the map above) status in 1982. The production area covers twenty communes and produces primarily red and rosé vintages. The vines grow on hillsides facing the sea (the vineyards lay in coteaux, with dramatic views towards the Mediterranean and the more distant Pyrenees, so that the surface pebbles and stones warmed by the day's sun reflect heat up into the vines by night, which is important for vineyards at altitude) -- Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault (e.g. Maison L'Aiglon, Saint-Chinian Grande Réserve). Close by is the Romanesque Abbey of Fontcaude, and dolmens and statue menhirs, relics of the megalithic era. http://www.le-guide.com/stchinian.html The monastery, of the order of Premonstratensians, sits in the heart of the Languedoc countryside. Nearby there is a holy spring, and an historic stopping point on the route of St. Jacques. It is the ultimate example of Roman-type architecture in the region, the Romanesque church with its Gregorian choir, liturgical furniture and Gothic cloisters are well preserved. One can also visit an old olive mill (for we are in an olive growing region, too) and a bell foundry, both of which also date to the 12th Century. http://www.ot-puisserguier.com/
One of the communes in the AOC is Puisserguier (Puècherguier). It is said that Clementine, a monk who came from Puisserguier, discovered the small oranges that bears his name while in north Africa. Puisserguier sat on one of the many pilgrim routes that crossed France to the Cathedral of St. Jacques du Campostelle in northwestern Spain. The discovery of an iron age burial site during excavations for the building of a new supermarket demonstrate the age of the town. Used without interruption from the IXth to the end of the VIIth century BC, the Puisserguier necropolis remains in a perfectly preserved state. It contained 235 tombs that offer insights into the funerary practices and the social organization of an iron age habitation, before the Greeks arrived.
The Minervois appellation name comes from the village of Minerve (in Hérault). AOC Minervois is just north of Corbières and southwest of St-Chinian. The first vines, introduced by roman legionaries made the area famous at that time. Cicero and Pline were among those premier lovers of Minervois vendange. Minervois wines are mostly red and are full-bodied and develop over 2-5 years. Rosé wines are fruity and should be drunk young. Red grapes: Aspiran, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Lledoner pelut, Mourvèdre, Piquepoul, Syrah and Terret; and White: Bourboulenc, Grenache, Macabeu, Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino. The town is legally one of the most beautiful in France. The legendary name of Minerva has nothing to do with the eponymous goddess, despite the Roman/Greek sailing influence in the development of the civitas. Its meaning must be closer to that of the village Ménerbes in Provence, for example, whose topographical resemblance can only be called surprising. Men is the shared the root (the same as men-hir) and would be a Celtic place-name that expresses its elevated position, perched on a rock (like many Roman place names beginning with rock or castrum) -- much like La Roche or LaRoque in french names today.
Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois is a honey-gold dessert (naturally sweet-doux naturels) wine, often accredited to Narbonne from where it is shipped (e.g. Les Vignerons de la Méditerranée). The official appellation is Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois from the town of the same name that is almost due west of Béziers by about 15 miles (25km). Muscat doré de Frontignan is its small-sized, white grape which is said to the best Muscat variety in the Mediterranean.