In Montpellier, there are no well-organised
Parisian arrondissements as in Paris. While municipal publications divide
the city into "cantons", few of its inhabitants are aware of the
boundaries of these administrative regions, preferring to orientate
themselves by certain well-known quartiers or landmarks. For an overview,
it is best to follow Montpellier's own growth and development over the
centuries, from the medieval walled city out west to the outlying suburb
of the Paillade and south-east to the modern projects that stretch towards
The Historic Walled City
The vibrant historic centre of the city, referred to as the "Ecusson", encapsulates the varied aspects of this diverse city. A pedestrian paradise and a car-owners nightmare, the labyrinth of lanes is a rich storehouse of historic architecture, churches and hidden courtyards as well as diverse shops, bars and restaurants. Of the city walls, the Tour des Pins and the Tour de la Babotte are the sole survivors of twenty-five towers that once encircled the city. The main streets meet around the Prefecture and the covered market, Halles Castellane, while the nearby bars of Place Jean Jaures remain crowded until late into the night. For a more intimate rendezvous, seek out the tiny Place St Ravy or elegant Place de la Canourgue. Alternatively listen to the musicians behind the church of St Roch, or under the soaring spire of St Anne - for many a symbol of the city. If the southern part of the centre is well stocked with chic boutiques, art galleries and tourists, don't forget to visit the less frequented streets and alleys of the northern side of the Ecusson. Home to the fortress-like Cathedral St Pierre and once dominated by university faculties, this area is still popular among students. Good bars, restaurants and boutiques here.
Just outside the centre lie a number of Montpellier's most distinctive
landmarks. Most famous of all is the spacious Place de la Comédie. This
pedestrianized square and the nearby leafy Esplanade Charles de Gaulle,
are home to numerous cafés, markets and street entertainers. As for
culture, the Corum conference centre, the historic Opéra the Musée
Fabré, and many cinemas are also located here. On the other side of the
historic centre, the Promenade du Peyrou, offers superb views of the city.
France's oldest botanical garden, the Jardin des Plantes, is also in this
The increasingly sought-after districts of Beaux-Arts and Boutonnet are situated just north of the Ecusson, and have maintained individual village-like identities despite their inherent diversity. Beaux Arts, home to Montpellier's first Mosque and an active Jewish community, is particularly multicultural. Large bourgeois nineteenth-century properties, modern apartment blocks, narrow terraced housing and leafy suburban residences give it aesthetic variety.
In the nearby district of Les Arceaux regular markets and games of pétanque all take place alongside more shady dealings beneath the arches of the St Clément aqueduct, from which the district takes its name. Originally a nineteenth-century working-class district on the outskirts of the city, the network of streets is home to hidden shops and restaurants. The car park at the foot of the Promenade du Peyrou is free during the evenings.
South west of the centre is Figuerolles, a lively quartier arabe where the music, language and aromas evoke the North African roots of many of its residents. Home to one of Montpellier's cheapest markets and numerous inexpensive shops, restaurants and bars, this area is off the tourist trail.
There are many restaurants and bars around the station and the adjacent
Rondelet district. Dominated by busy boulevards, the district lacks any
distinct identity, but concerts at the Cargo, the Antirouille and the
Saxophone, and the Diagonal Centre cinema, are all popular attractions.
To the north of the central districts lies an agglomeration of
hospitals and university faculties, the Hopitaux - Facultés. Further
north again are the green spaces of the Bois de Montmaurand, the Zoo de
Lunaret and Parc Agropolis. To the West lie the suburban districts of Plan
des Quatre Seigneurs and Parc Euromedecine, site of many modern biomedical
companies and research institutes. These residential areas are much
quieter than the bustling centre of town.
Westwards to the banks of the Mosson
The western suburbs of Les Cevennes and La Chambette are characterised
by small clusters of flats and spacious villas. The village of Celleneuve
enjoys a cinema, shops and bars as well as one of Montpellier's oldest
churches, Sainte Croix. By the banks of the Mosson lies the park of the
eighteenth-century folly, the Domaine de Mosson, and the 1998 World Cup
football stadium, Stade de la Mosson, whose large car park hosts a weekly
flea market. Recently linked to the city centre by a tramway, La Paillade
has a multicultural flavour. Dominated by multicoloured tower blocks, this
lively district has several cultural, sporting and administrative centres,
but there is no real nightlife.
Montpellier seeks the Sea - agenda for the 21st century
Just beyond the central 60s shopping centre of the Polygone, the monumental neo-classical Antigone is the 80s response. By the banks of the Lez the recently developed districts of Les Aubes, Port Marianne and Richter are dominated by modern apartment blocks, student halls of residence and University buildings. Nearby, the enormous new Odysseum leisure complex will soon boast around the clock entertainment. Further east, among new business parks and eighteenth-century country retreats like Flaugergues and the Château de la Mogère, stand Domaine Grammont and the Zenith exhibition centre. Towards the beaches, the shopping centres, clubs and cinemas of Lattes and Perols attract a mixed crowd.