Béziers – the City of Wine and Bulls
Béziers was the last place that we went to in Southern France and also in Europe. From there we had to catch a flight to continue our adventures in Asia. We booked a studio just for one night in the downtown and in the next morning we had a couple of hours to walk through this little, yet ancient, picturesque city.
Many cities in this region are ancient, but remain small and therefore not overpopulated, like big cities. Now, Béziers is known as the centre of wine production of Languedoc (the largest wine-producing region of France) and also for an annual bullfighting festival Feria de Béziers.
But first things first, so let’s begin with some photos. The sightseeing begins by looking out of the window. On the one side there was a street so tiny, that one had a feeling, it is possible to reach the building across it with the hand. And on the other side there was a covered market Les Halles.
Walking through the narrow streets lined with high old buildings, we could acknowledge that Béziers is one of the most ancient cities in France.
Very soon we arrived at the Béziers Cathedral (fr: Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Béziers) which was constructed in the 13th century. It was on top of the hill that gave us an astonishing view of the Languedoc’s scenery.
We went back towards the downtown and (in Saint-Jacques district) discovered ruins of an arena from the Roman times. At that early hour it was closed, but we could sneak a peek through the gates to take a picture.
Béziers felt very quiet during our stay and it was rather hard to believe that for a long time year after a year it attracts million visitors to the bullfighting festival in the month of August. To be honest, we did not associate bullfighting with Southern France in the first place. So here is what we learned about bullfighting in France.
There are two types of bullfighting (also called bull running) whereat the bull won’t be killed or hurt: The Course camarguaise (also course libre) in Mediterranean Provence and Languedoc areas (Arles, Nîmes, Béziers) and the Course landaise in Gers and Landes regions (on Atlantic coast).
1. At the beginning of the course camarguaise a running of the bull from the field through the streets (abrivado) takes place. The herdsmen (gardians) have to lead the bull to the arena and to protect it from the catchers (attrapaïres), whose goal is respectively to distract the gardians and to catch the bull in order to demonstrate their bravery.
At the arena, there are several participants: tourneurs who distract bull’s attention and raseteurs whose goal is to take one of the several items (la cocarde and les glands) attached on the bull’s head, using a claw-shaped metal instrument (raset/crochet).
After the game at the arena a running called bandido takes place that differs from abrivado only by the direction – the bull is now being led back to the field to rejoin his tribe. The stars of these spectacles are the bulls. Healthy and temperamental ones gain fame and will be booked again, bringing their possessors good income.
2. In the Course landaise cows are used instead of bulls and the games begin directly at the arena. There are several teams (cuadrillas) with their own cow. A team consists of different members, who will navigate the cow to a suitable position, from where it can run directly at the sauteur whose goal is to jump over the cow. The team that presents the most acrobatic and beautiful performance wins. Each team aims to complete a set of at least one hundred dodges and eight leaps, while the cow is not allowed to be touched.
Finally, there is also the Spanish-style bullfighting Corrida in which the spectacle ends with the death of the bull. It takes place in the cities Arles and Nîmes.
According to the French law both bloodless spectacles and the corrida were permitted as cultural heritage until 2015, when the Paris Court of Appeals removed Corrida from the cultural heritage list after animal rights activists demanded a ban.
Now, back to Béziers. We came back to the downtown and arrived at a long promenade Allées Paul Riquet, where each Friday a flower market opens from 6am to 7pm. And so, that early morning the air was filled with the scent of flowers, although November was coming in just a few days.
At one end of the promenade is the Théâtre Municipal and at the other end is the statue of Pierre-Paul Riquet.
In a few hours the Southern France trip ended. It was a little bit difficult to find the right bus to the airport because of lack of any sign at the big bus station and some outdated informations on the internet. But other bus drivers, whom we asked were very friendly and helpful.
These were the last days of October and even Southern France was getting colder. The places we visited, however, all together left a very warm feeling and inspired us to continue our journey.