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Narbonne Travel Guide

City Map

City Introduction

Narbonne is a southern French city located on the banks of the waterway named Canal de la Robine. The city was established by the Roman Republic in the year 118 BC. with the name Colonia Narbo Martius. It became the capital of the province of Gallia Transalpina, and Colonia Narbo Martius was located on the Via Domitia, which was the first Roman road in Gaul. The Narbonne of the time was strategically well located and politically a rival to Massilia. Julius Caesar initiated the establishment of a port, and this strengthened the city’s growth and position, and there may have been up to 100,000 inhabitants in the Roman city.

Roman rule in Narbonne ended in 462, and in the following centuries the city changed leaders several times, with the Visigoths not least leaving their mark on the city and the area. In the 7th century, many Jews from Baghdad were invited to Narbonne, which developed into a Jewish center in this part of Europe. From the 13th century, decline started in Narbonne, connected to the fact that the river Aude changed its course, thereby making transport to Narbonne’s formerly flourishing port difficult. Other ports profited from this, and trade and transport went down in Narbonne.

In the 16th century, the citizens of Narbonne decided that they would do something to secure the waterways to the city and with them also the city’s position as an important trading point. It was a big challenge that took a long time, but which ended up being solved with the construction of the Canal de la Robine, which was opened in the 1680s in the old southern course of the Aude. The canal, which still flows through Narbonne, gave the city its waterway back, and in 1776 it was connected to the Canal du Midi. Since then, Narbonne has maintained its position with strategically important trade.

Today, Narbonne is a cozy town with a southern French Mediterranean atmosphere. The old part of town offers lovely streets, squares and fine sights. You can start a tour at the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, which is Narbonne’s central square. On the western side of the square are the Palais Vieux and Palais Neuf, which are the archbishops’ old palace in Narbonne. The palace’s buildings were constructed from the 13th century and form a monumental ensemble together with the city’s cathedral. In the old palace is the Palais-Musée des Archevêques, which is an exciting historical museum. Narbonne’s town hall also here, and opposite it you can see the old department store Palais aux Dames from 1905-1907.

Behind the Archbishop’s residence is the Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur, Narbonne’s Gothic cathedral, which was built from the 13th century. There was already a basilica on the same site in the 4th century, but both this and its successors were destroyed or demolished. It was Pope Clement IV who in 1268 decided to erect the current cathedral, which was supposed to be a monument to the church in France. The choir was completed in 1332, but the rest of the church was never built. It should have been more than twice as long as it ended up being, and therefore it is an incomplete building, although it has an impressive interior from its time.

If you walk a little south from the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, you come to the built-up bridge, Pont des Marchands, which crosses the Canal de la Robine. From the bridge you can’t see the water, but you can take advantage of the pleasant promenades along the canal and its locks through the city center. The archaeological museum, Musée Narbo Via, is also a good choice. The museum is located along the Canal de la Robine and interestingly conveys the history of Roman Narbonne with sculptures, mosaics, reliefs and many other objects. Elsewhere in the city, you can take a closer look at the Clos de la Lombarde excavation with remains from Roman times.

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