The history of Languedoc-Roussillon is one that stretches back millennia and takes in myriad customs and traditions, many of which endure to this day. Magnificent Roman remains and ancient Greek origins, the influence of Spain and Catalonia; Languedoc-Roussillon’s diverse history makes it a fascinating region to explore.
Celtic and Roman growth
The south-eastern region of France, with its Mediterranean coastline and Pyrenean border, has witnessed various civilisations build their home here. The earliest known inhabitants of Languedoc-Roussillon were the Celts, whose tribes flourished alongside the emergence of a Greek colony in nearby Marseilles.
Before long, control of the region passed to the Roman Empire, whose legions would conquer Gaul and establish a number of major cities across the nation. The city of Nîmes, founded in 28BC, grew substantially to incorporate some 60,000 subjects in the years that followed. Left behind today are a number of majestic remains – including the magnificent amphitheatre and Pont du Gard – that continue to attract thousands of visitors each year.
Demise of Rome
As the might of Roman Empire began to dwindle, interest in the region grew from elsewhere, with the Alamanni, Vandals, and Visigoths all invading. Control of Languedoc-Roussillon ultimately fell under the Franks and it experienced a period of sustained stability with the growth of the Carolingian dynasty. Throughout these centuries, there would also be another source of influence on the people and policies of area: religion.
Appearing at the dawn of the 11th century, the religious group known as the Cathars arrived in Europe, bringing with them beliefs that would clash with Catholicism and go down in the annals as the ‘Great Heresy’. The Cathars set down their roots in Languedoc-Roussillon, embracing the region’s high levels of liberalism and tolerance. Within two centuries their influence resulted in Catharism becoming the major religion in the area, triggering Pope Innocent III to launch the Albigensian Crusade against the ‘heretics’. The signing of the Treaty of Meaux-Paris in 1229 would see Languedoc-Roussillon return to the French crown and Cathar influence wane.
An exceptional growth in prosperity followed. As the population became larger, so too did the territory the region covered, and the kings of France established Languedoc-Roussillon as one of the kingdom’s provinces. The prestige of such a title would be short-lived, however, with the French Revolution abolishing the parliament of Languedoc in Toulouse, and dividing the province into distinct départements.
The modern era has seen the region continue to experience growth and change. With the rise of tourism, this fascinating region of southern France has become popular with travellers seeking out tradition and natural splendour.