The settlement of Montpellier dates back to the 10th century, so it has just passed its 1000th birthday. The name first appears in records in 985 A.D. - as Monspestellario. Located near a string of lakes which runs just inland from the Mediterranean, the town has undergone periods of extraordinary growth.
It only took a few centuries after its birth for Montpellier to become one of the major centres of the west Mediterranean. Pilgrims used it as a stopping place on the route to Santiago de Compostela, merchants on the salt trading route passed through, and it became an early centre of learning thanks to its faculty of medicine, which is the oldest in the world. Famous names contributing to the prestige of the university include Rabelais, Rondelet and Nostradamus, and it was a centre to which the learned from all over the world would come to study. In 1204 Montpellier came under the rule of Aragon, and thanks to the Charter of Customs and Liberties it was administered in a quasi-republican manner and became a true democracy, an open and prosperous town.
Being Spanish and Catholic for two centuries, then Protestant during the reign of Henri IV, the town was marked for a while by religious conflict. It was only in the 18th and 19th centuries that calm and prosperity returned. With the wine industry reaching a peak, commerce and banking flourishing, Montpellier confirmed its position as the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. With an influx of young and dynamic new residents during the last 20 years, development has been rapid but harmonious. The latest population figure is given at 211,000, making it the 8th largest town in France. Taking into account the surrounding region the population is 350,000. For the last ten years or so, Montpellier has led the field in France in terms of a number of important economic indicators:
One of the most important characteristics of the city is still the university; 65,000 students, 8000 involved in teaching and research, three universities, a technical institute comprising more than 10 disciplines, plus a number of colleges involved in teaching and research...
With the university sector being so important, it is not surprising that a quarter of the inhabitants are under 25 years old.
Montpellier ranks as a Euro-city par excellence and one of the most important technical centres in southern Europe.
Focus on the future
The congress centre, Le Corum, designed by architect Claude Vasconi, and the huge architectural unit, Antigone, indicate that the town's focus is resolutely on the future. But there is still firm control of the present and particular consideration for the near future, when the World Cup 98 will come to town. The necessary communications system is already in place, not just for the flow of information, but for people too - the road, rail, air and sea transport connections are also ready. The new Montpellier-Méditerranée airport is equipped with an all-weather landing system and has direct flights to over 30 other cities in France and the rest of Europe.
The A9 motorway known as "La Languedocienne" links Montpellier to Marseilles (1½ hours), Toulouse (2 hours), Lyon (2½ hours) and Paris (less than 7 hours). Using the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), Montpellier is only 4h 15 min. from Paris and just 4 h 30 min. from Geneva or Barcelona. For those coming by boat, Montpellier is only 25 motorway kilometres away from Sète, the second most important French Mediterranean port after Marseilles.
Dynamic and cultural
As a dynamic young university town Montpellier is not lacking in cultural activities. Music ranks high, with the remarkable Opera-Berlioz, then there are dance and theatre, several museums bearing witness to the town's rich history, plus a number of festivals of different types which count among the most important in France.
And so to sport and football. The local team, Montpellier-Hérault Sport Club to give it its full title, has been in the French first division for the last 10 years and won the Coupe de France in 1990. Montpellier is also an important centre for a number of other sports, particularly volleyball.
For more information on the Montpellier-Hérault Sport Club, visit the official site of the French Football League