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Coat of arms of the province of Languedoc, now being used as an official flag by the Midi-Pyrénees region as well as by the city of Toulouse
Coat of arms of the province of Languedoc, now being used as an official flag by the Midi-Pyrénees region as well as by the city of Toulouse

Languedoc (Lengadòc in Occitan) is a former province of France, now continued in the modern-day régions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées in the south of France, and whose capital city was Toulouse, now in Midi-Pyrénées. It had an area of approximately 42,700 km² (16,490 sq. miles). It shouldn't be confused with Occitania.


The question of the limits of Languedoc

It should be noted that the traditional provinces of the kingdom of France had no official existence. They were not administrative units. A province was a territory set up by tradition and customs, and which people regarded as a unity, but provinces had no political organization. Therefore their territory had no strict limits as we think today of administrative units, and their number varied depending on the point of view of the geographers. Today, when people refer to the old provinces of France, they actually refer to the gouvernements as they existed in 1789. Gouvernements were military regions established in the middle of the 16th century and whose territories matched those of the traditional provinces. However, in some cases, small provinces had been merged with a large one into a single gouvernement, so gouvernements are not exactly the same as the traditional provinces.

With this in mind, we can talk about the limits of Languedoc, which vary depending on what is considered. Historically, the region was called the county of Toulouse, a county independent from the kings of France. The county of Toulouse was made up of what would later be called Languedoc, but it also included the province of Quercy (now département of Lot and northern half of the département of Tarn-et-Garonne) and the province of Rouergue (now département of Aveyron), both to the northwest of Languedoc. At some times it even included the province of Agenais (now eastern half of the département of Lot-et-Garonne) to the west of Languedoc, the province of Gévaudan (now département of Lozère), the province of Velay (now the central and eastern part of the département of Haute-Loire), the southern part of the province of Vivarais (now the southern part of the département of Ardèche), and even all the northern half of Provence. After the French conquest the entire county was dismantled, the central part of it being now called Languedoc.

The gouvernement of Languedoc which was created in the middle of the 16th century was made up of Languedoc proper, but also included the three small provinces of Gévaudan , Velay , and Vivarais (in its entirety), these three provinces being to the northeast of Languedoc. Some people also consider that the region around Albi was a traditional province, called Albigeois (now département of Tarn), although it is most often considered as being part of Languedoc proper. The provinces of Quercy and Rouergue, despite their old ties with Toulouse, were not incorporated into the gouvernement of Languedoc, instead being attached to the gouvernement of Guienne and its far-away capital Bordeaux. Probably this was made consciously to avoid reviving the independently-spirited county of Toulouse, potentially dangerous to France's unity. In the rest of the article, what is called Languedoc refers to the territory of the gouvernement of Languedoc, as described here, which is what most people refer to when they talk about the province of Languedoc, even though it is actually larger than strictly-speaking Languedoc proper.

Area and location of Languedoc

The province of Languedoc covered an area of approximately 42,700 km² (16,490 sq. miles) in the central part of southern France, roughly the region between the Rhône River (border with Provence) and the Garonne River (border with Gascony), extending northwards to the Cévennes and the Massif Central (border with Auvergne).

Old administrative structures and the question of the capital city of Languedoc

The governors of Languedoc resided in Pézenas , on the Mediterranean coast, away from Toulouse but close to Montpellier. In time they had increased their power well beyond military matters, and had become the real administrators and executive power of the province, a trend seen in the other gouvernements of France, but particularly acute in Languedoc, where the duke of Montmorency, governor of Languedoc, even openly rebelled against the king, then was defeated and beheaded in Toulouse in 1632 by the order of Richelieu. The kings of France became fearful of the power of the governors, so after King Louis XIV (the Sun King) they had to reside in Versailles and were forbidden to enter the territory of their gouvernement. Thus the gouvernements became hollow structures, but they still carried a sense of the old provinces, and so their names and limits have remained popular until today.

For administrative purposes, Languedoc was divided in two generalities , the generality (généralité) of Toulouse and the generality of Montpellier, the combined territory of the two generalities exactly matching that of the gouvernement of Languedoc. At the head of a generality was an intendant, but in the case of Languedoc there was only one intendant responsible for both generalities, and he was often referred to as the intendant of Languedoc, even though technically speaking he was in fact the intendant of the generality of Toulouse and intendant of the generality of Montpellier. The generality of Toulouse is also referred to as Upper Languedoc (Haut-Languedoc), while the generality of Montpellier, down to the level of the sea, is referred to as Lower Languedoc (Bas-Languedoc). The intendants of Languedoc resided in Montpellier, and they had a sub-delegate in Toulouse. Montpellier was chosen on purpose to diminish the power of Toulouse, whose parlement was very influential, and which symbolized the old spirit of independence of the county of Toulouse. The intendants replaced the governors as administrators of Languedoc, but appointed and dismissed at will by the king, they were no threat to the central state in Versailles. By 1789 they were the most important element of the local administration of the kingdom.

For judicial and legislative matters, Languedoc was depending from the mighty Parlement of Toulouse, founded in the middle of the 15th century, which was the first parlement created outside of Paris by the kings of France in order to be the equivalent of the Parlement of Paris in the far-away southern territories of the kingdom. The jurisdiction of the Parlement of Toulouse included the whole of the territory of the gouvernement of Languedoc, but it also included the province of Rouergue, most of the province of Quercy, and a part of Gascony. The Parlement of Toulouse was the supreme court of justice for this vast area of France, the court of last resort whose rulings could not be appealed, not even to the Parlement of Paris. The Parlement of Toulouse could also create case law through its decisions, as well as interpret the law. It was also in charge of registering new royal edicts and laws, and could decide to block them if it found them to be in contravention with the liberties and laws of Languedoc.

Finally, for tax purposes, Languedoc was ruled by the States of Languedoc, whose jurisdiction included only Languedoc proper (and Albigeois), but not Gévaudan , Velay , and Vivarais , which kept each their own provincial states until 1789. Languedoc proper was one of the very few provinces of France which had the privilege to decide over tax maters, the kings of France having suppressed the provincial states in most other provinces of the kingdom. This was a special favor from the kings to ensure that an independently-spirited region far-away from Versailles would remain faithful to the central state. The States of Languedoc met in many different cities, and for some time they established themselves in Pézenas , but in the 18th century they were relocated definitely to Montpellier, where they met once a year, until 1789.

For religious purposes, Languedoc was also divided into a certain number of ecclesiastical provinces, which had great importance at the time, but are less relevant to this article.

Resulting from this intricate entanglement of administrations and jurisdictions so typical of France before the French Revolution, it is hard to say which city was the capital city of Languedoc. Toulouse and Montpellier both often claim to be the capital of Languedoc. As a matter of fact, in the 18th century the monarchy clearly favored Montpellier, a city much smaller than Toulouse, and with less history and memories attached to it than the ancient metropolis of Toulouse, of which the kings of France were always fearful. However, most people consider that Toulouse is the real capital city of the province of Languedoc, due to its old status as center of the county of Toulouse, and due to the mighty power of its parlement. On maps (both ancient and modern) showing the provinces of France in 1789 (in fact the gouvernements as was explained above), Toulouse is always marked as the capital city of Languedoc.

Modern administrative divisions

The province of Languedoc has been divided between 4 modern-day régions:

Population and cities

On the traditional territory of the province of Languedoc there live approximately 3,650,000 people (as of 1999 census), 52% of these in the Languedoc-Roussillon région, 35% in the Midi-Pyrénées région, 8% in the Rhône-Alpes région, and 5% in the Auvergne région.

The territory of the former province shows a stark contrast between some densely populated areas (coastal plains as well as metropolitan area of Toulouse in the interior) where density is between 150 inhabitants per km²/390 inh. per sq. mile (coastal plains) and 300 inh. per km²/780 inh. per sq. mile (plain of Toulouse), and the hilly and mountainous interior where density is extremely low, the Cévennes area in the south of Lozère having one of the lowest densities of Europe with only 7.4 inhabitants per km² (19 inh. per sq. mile).

The five largest metropolitan areas on the territory of the former province of Languedoc are (as of 1999 census): Toulouse (964,797 inhabitants), Montpellier (459,916 inh.), Nîmes (221,455 inh.), Béziers (124,967 inh.), and Alès (89,390 inh.).

The area of the old province of Languedoc is currently the fastest growing in France, and certainly among the fastest growing in Europe, with an increasing flow of people from northern France and the north of Europe relocating to the sunbelt of Europe, in which Languedoc is located. Growth is particularly strong in the metropolitan areas of Toulouse and Montpellier, which are the two fastest growing metropolitan areas in Europe at the moment. However, the interior of Languedoc is still losing inhabitants, which increases the difference of density that was mentioned.

Population of the coast of Languedoc as well as the region of Toulouse is rather young, educated, and affluent, whereas in the interior the population tends to be much older, with significantly lower incomes, and with a lower percentage of high school and especially college graduates.



Languedoc is a significant producer of wine, historically of indifferent quality, and a major contributor to the surplus known as the "wine lake ". Today it produces more than a third of the grapes in France, and is undergoing something of a renaissance due to an increased focus on quality and outside investment. Wines from the Mediterranean coast of Languedoc are labeled as Languedoc, those from the interior have other labels such as Fronton , Gaillac , or Limoux .

Other crops include wheat (the traditional crop which made the fortune of the landlords and parliamentarians based in Toulouse, and for whose trade the famous Canal du Midi was built), maize (the new and nowadays most popular crop in the region), olives (only on the Mediterranean coast of Languedoc), fruit, and rice (in some coastal areas). In the hilly and mountainous areas of the interior, sheep and goat are raised for meat and cheese. The coastal area is, naturally, a source of fish and shellfish.


Aerospace (Airbus, EADS, CNES, etc.), electronics (Motorola, etc.), and bio-tech industries in Toulouse; high-tech, electronics, and computer (IBM) industries in Montpellier; pharmaceutical industry (Pierre Fabre Group) in Castres.

There is also a significant chemical sector in Toulouse, which has been quite battered since the terrible explosion of AZF on September 21, 2001. It has been decided that chemical industries would be moved out of Toulouse, and a large campus devoted to cancer research and bio-tech R&D will be opened on the site.

Elsewhere in the region industries are small and in decline, in particular around the formerly mining areas of Alès and Carmaux in the interior of the region.

Services and Tourism

Services are the largest sector of the economy in the region. In particular, government services employ a significant part of the workforce, especially in small towns. Key administrations have been relocated to the region, such as France's National Meteorology Office (Météo-France ) relocated from Paris to Toulouse in 1982.

The area is also a major tourist destination. There exists three types of tourism. First, a massive summer tourism industry on the coast, with huge sea resorts such as Cap d'Agde, Palavas-les-Flots , or Grau-du-Roi , built in the 1970s.

Then history and art tourism, with Carcassonne, Toulouse, Montpellier, countless Roman monuments (such as the Roman arenas in Nîmes), medieval abbeys, Romanesque churches, and old castles (such as the ruined Cathar castles in the mountains of Corbières , testimony of the bloody Albigensian Crusade).

More recently, "green" and sports tourism is on the rise, with the gorges of the Tarn River (the most impressive canyon in Europe), as well as the vast preserved expanses of Cévennes, Ardèche, Lauragais , etc.

Toulouse and Montpellier are also popular places for business congresses and conventions.


The Mediterranean coast of Languedoc has been settled by the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans, and invaded by the Alamanni, Vandals, Visigoths, and Saracens. Languedoc was known in the Middle Ages as the county of Toulouse, an independent county which was in theory part of the kingdom of France. In the 12th century, Languedoc was the center of the Cathar religious movement. The Roman Catholic Church declared them heretics, and the Albigensian Crusade wiped them out. As a consequence, the county of Toulouse returned to the crown of France in 1271, and has been part of France ever since. Later the name given to the area was Languedoc, literally meaning "language of oc", from the word "yes" in the local Occitan language ("oc", as opposed to "oïl", later "oui", in the north of France). The kings of France made Languedoc one of the provinces of the kingdom, and established the parlement of Languedoc in Toulouse. The parlement and the province were abolished at the time of the French Revolution, like all the other parlements and provinces of France.


Rugby (Rugby union) is the "national" sport in Languedoc, unlike the vast majority of France where soccer is the most popular sport. Toulouse rugby club (Stade Toulousain) is one of the best rugby clubs in Europe, regularly winning the French championship, and having already been twice European champion (1996 and 2003) in the nine years of existence of the European clubs rugby championship.


Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04