Montpellier (Occitan Montpelhièr) is a city in the south of France. It is the préfecture (administrative capital) of the Hérault département. Its population in 1999 was 225,392, while the surrounding metropolitan area (in French: aire urbaine) had a population of 459,916 in 1999.
Geography and economy
The city is situated on hilly ground 10 km (6 miles) inland from the Mediterranean coast at the coordinates 43°37N 3°52E, on the River Lez . The name of the city, originally Monspessulanus, is said to have stood for mont pelé (the naked hill, because the vegetation was poor), or le mont de la colline (the mount of the hill)  . It is a major industrial centre, producing textiles, metal goods, wine, printed materials and chemicals.
Montpellier is one of the few cities in France that does not have a Roman background. In the early Middle Ages the nearby episcopal town of Maguelone was the major settlement in the area, but raids by pirates probably encouraged settlement a little further inland. The city was founded in the 8th century but came to prominence in the 10th century as a trading centre under the rule of the counts of Toulouse. It became a possession of the kings of Aragon by the marriage of Peter II of Aragon with Mary of Montpellier . James III of Majorca sold the city to the French king Philip VI to raise funds for his ongoing struggle with Peter IV of Aragon.
At the time of the Reformation, many of its inhabitants became Protestants (or Huguenots as they were known in France) and it became a stronghold of Protestant resistance to the (mainly Catholic) French crown. In 1622, King Louis XIII beseiged the city and took it after eight months. During the 19th century the city developed into an industrial centre. In the 1960s, its population grew dramatically after French settlers in Algeria were resettled in the city following Algeria's independence from France.
The University of Montpellier is one of the oldest in France, having been founded in 1220 by Cardinal Conrad and confirmed by Pope Nicholas IV in a papal bull of 1289. It was suppressed during the French Revolution but was re-established in 1896.
The city has a fine botanical garden, the first in France, founded in 1593. Near the university is the 14th century cathedral of Saint-Pierre, distinguished mainly for its very unusual porch supported by two high, somewhat rocket-like towers. Nearby is a triumphal arch, the Porte du Peyrou, of 1691 designed in the Doric style with later carvings glorifying King Louis XIV of France. The 17th century Aqueduc St-Clément is a 17th century aqueduct covering an 800m span across the eponymous Les Arceaux district of the city, which was used to bring water from the St Clément spring 14 km away. The aqueduct emptied into a water tank near the triumphal arch, from where the water would run downhill to fill fountains and public water points.
Famous inhabitants of Montpellier
Montpellier was the birthplace of:
- Antoine Jerome Balard (1802-1876), chemist
- Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889), painter
- Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), Impressionist painter
- Auguste Comte (1798-1857), a founder of the discipline of sociology
- Léo Malet (1909-1996), crime novelist
- Guillaume Mathieu, comte Dumas (1753-1837), military leader
- Charles Bernard Renouvier (1815-1903), philosopher
- Émile Saisset (1814-1863), philosopher
- Official web site (in French): http://www.ville-montpellier.fr/