Everything looks a little unkempt, which makes it all the more charming.
At the next intersection we could’ve turned left into rue du Puits de Palais, but we weren’t very interested in the wells of Guilhem’s old house.
Or we could’ve continued straight to the intersection with Boulevard Henry IV, where the ramparts or town fortifications ran in olden days.
But the view on the right intrigued me much more. Real people within ancient stone walls. A little graffiti and a bed sheet. Followed by more graffiti. And at the bottom of rue Bechamps, these expressions of contemporary conditions are overshadowed by the power of learning and prayer. The medical school of the University of Montpellier and the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre.
When you turn away from these pretty red doors, you first see they rest of the cathedral plaza,
and if you turn yet a little further, you look up toward the far end of Place de la Canourgue. It appears that the area with the unicorn fountain is supported from beneath by a large round structure.
When the cathedral of Saint-Pierre was destroyed in the War of Religion, it was decided to build an entirely new church in Place de la Canourgue. But only this one buttress was ever realised, and ultimately the existing cathedral was rebuild.
But let’s retrace our steps and look more closely at the the main entrance to the Faculté de Médecine, the medical school, flanked by two rather important gentlemen.
But not too far, there’s still this sundial with its mysterious inscription. I had to work pretty hard on that one, because I didn’t recognise it as Greek upper-case letters at first. It looked more like a bungled ‘TEXAS’ to me, when it’s really the opening line from Hippocrates [sic] first aphorism
Hippocrates’ succinct words of warning for his apprentices, ‘Life is short, art is long’, are usually interpreted as ‘the life of a physician is short, whereas the craft of healing is timeless’. There couldn’t be more appropriate words on an instrument that measures time, on the wall of a medical school!
As long as we’re still focused on healing, let’s walk over to the botanical gardens. It’s not far, I promise. We just skirt around the cathedral, then through another secret little garden tucked around the medieval Tour les Pins, one of only two towers left of the ancient town fortifications.
|Mahonia aquifolium, Berberidaceae, native to the American NW
Hollyleaved barberry or Holly-leaved Oregon-grape
State flower of Oregon
How did it get to Montpellier?
The heart of the botanical garden is the remnant of a ‘jardin médical’, a garden for plants used in healing. Upon the command of King Henri IV of France & Navarre in 1593, Pierre Richer de Belleval began planting the first medicinal botanical garden in the country of France. He modeled it after the botanical garden of Padua, the world’s oldest academic botanical garden, created fifty years earlier. Richer de Belleval (1564 – 1632) was well suited for this task, since he was not only a noted physician, but he is also considered the ‘father of scientific botany’.
The stones in this partial wall go all the way back to the original gardens. The ones with numbers cut into them were used as ‘labels’ for the plant archives.
But every excursion must come to an end and we have to walk back to retrieve our car for the return journey to Pézenas, where Richer de Belleval worked as a physician for a while, by the way.