The origins of Montpellier’s names, streets and districts

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We stroll through its streets and neighbourhoods… but do we know the origins of Montpellier’s different names?

While the city of Montpellier seduces French and foreign visitors alike with its gentle Mediterranean fragrance, it also plays up its charms thanks to the diversity of its environment. Indeed, each part of Montpellier has its own personality: from the heart of the historic center and its picturesque little streets to the impressive architecture of the Antigone district.

In the town also known as « La Surdouée », we love to wander around. But do we really know it? Discover the origins of Montpellier’s names, streets and districts!

Montpellier, where does your name come from?

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It may be hard to believe, but the name Montpellier first appeared in 985! However, the origin of its meaning is uncertain and much debated.

A first explanation comes from « Mons-Pessulus » meaning  » the mountain closed by a lock « . This name refers to the palisades that once surrounded the town. Originally built on a kind of garigue filled with wild grasses, the villagers would have decided to surround their land with this palisade and close it with a lock. In this way, foreign cattle were prevented from entering and their herds could graze in peace.

The origin of Montpellier’s name also comes from « Montis Puellarum », the  » mountain of young girls « . This flattering appellation has two explanations. The first refers to the two sisters of Saint Fulcran, who are said to have been mistresses and benefactors of the city. The second stems from the reputation of the town’s young girls for beauty. Indeed, tradition has it that  » Montpellier has the prettiest women in the kingdom of France. Workers and executives alike, they have the best head carriages.

Other etymologies have also been put forward, such as Mons Petrosum(hill of stones) or « Montis Pestellarium »,(mount of woads or spices) in reference to the city’s commercial position in the spice trade.

Finally, why is it nicknamed  » The Gifted « ? Just look at the legends that have crossed its aisles. Rabelais, Paul Valéry, André Gide, the writer and poet Francis Ponge and the philosopher and founder of positivism Auguste Comte… So many great names who have strolled through its charming alleyways. Today, it’s also a reference to the city’s rapid development. In just 30 years, Montpellier has changed its status to become the 7th largest city in France!

Why do we call Montpellier’s historic center « L’Écusson »?

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The Écusson district, the historic heart of the city of Montpellier, is the guarantor of the vestiges of the past. A medieval atmosphere that, to put it mildly, is still home to a house dating back to the 14th century!

Built on a hill, the district is the oldest part of Montpellier. The surrounding boulevards are located on the sites of the medieval ditches that once lined the city’s main wall.

So why is this district called « L’Écusson »? In fact, just look at the city on a map. The historic center resembles a pentagon, with its outline in the shape of a shield.

Where did the Place de la Comédie get its name?

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Situated in the south-east of the Écusson, Place de la Comédie has become the beating heart of Montpellier. As the city’s central square, it stretches over a former fortification area that leads to the Montpellier citadel and the Charles-de-Gaulle esplanade.

The birth and origins of the name Place de la Comédie date back to the 18th century. Indeed, it was at this time that Montpellier’s very first concert hall was created, on the initiative of the Duke of Richelieu. As in other major cities, the name Place de la Comédie was born. For the record, the old-timers also called it « la place de l’œuf » because of its oval shape.

Rue de l’Ancien Courrier

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Paved with white stone and surrounded by renovated old buildings, Rue de l’Ancien Courrier is a fine blend of traditional southern architecture and modernism.

And where does this name come from? Once again a witness to the past, the name of this Montpellier alley derives from the former « Bureau des Lettres ». In fact, it was located on this very street at the time.

Rue de l’Aiguillerie

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Located in the heart of the historic center, rue de l’Aiguillerie is one of the city’s oldest streets. It’s also one of the liveliest, and over the years has become one of the most cosmopolitan streets in the city, with its warm atmosphere and numerous boutiques, cafés and restaurants.

But what is the origin of the name of this Montpellier street? Quite simply, it’s a reference to the « aiguillers » who once worked here. Today, the trade has well and truly disappeared, but the name « rue de l’Aiguillerie » remains, a nod to the past.

Rue de la loge

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Also located in the center of Montpellier, rue de la Loge is a major historic and commercial thoroughfare that leads to place de la Comédie via Halles Castellane and place Jean Jaurès.

Its name refers to Jacques Coeur ‘s construction of the great merchants’ lodge in the 15th century. However, its origins in the Middle Ages give it another, older Catalan name:  » carrieira daurada « , meaning « golden street ». meaning « golden street ». In fact, this street was once home to many goldsmiths and silversmiths.

The legend of Saint-Roch

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The Montpellier-Saint-Roch train station, the Nouveau Saint-Roch district and the church of the same name are all familiar names to anyone who has ever set foot in Montpellier. But do you know its origins?

This oft-repeated name is simply a tribute to Saint Roch, patron saint of pilgrims, often depicted accompanied by a dog. Indeed, this Christian saint left his mark on history through his great kindness.

Originally from Montpellier, he criss-crossedItaly, which was then affected by the plague, miraculously curing plague victims. Affected by the disease himself, he decided to isolate himself in the forest, where he survived thanks to the local lord’s hunting dog, which brought him food. This is why he is usually depicted with a dog.

The city of Montpellier is intimately linked to the history of this man. Did you know that the Montpellier-Saint-Roch train station didn’t always bear this name? In fact, it was only in 2005 that it was renamed Saint-Roch, yet another tribute to the man.

Where does the name Antigone come from?

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Designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill in 1978, the Antigone district stretches from the Polygone shopping center to the Lez river. Its construction is clearly inspired by the architectural style of ancient Greece.

Are you still wondering about the origin of the name of this Montpellier district? Indeed, the name Antigone was chosen for its ancient, Greek aspect. But why not Athena or even Artemis? In fact, the district was named in opposition to the Polygone and the architectural style of the 70s. Indeed, in its early days, the district turned its back on the shopping center and was virtually enclosed.

Lunaret Zoo

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Located in the Hôpitaux-Facultés district, the Parc zoologique de Montpellier is part of the Lunaret park, which also includes the Amazon greenhouse and the Lez nature reserve.

One of the five largest zoos in France, it owes its free status to its namesake: Henri de Lunaret. In 1906, he purchased the Domaine de la Valette, with its 350 hectares. Eventually, he bequeathed his property to the city of Montpellier, hence the birth of the zoo.

What is the origin of the name of the Mosson district and its stadium?

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Photo credit: Facebook – Stade De La Mosson

A neighborhood in the northwest of the city, it was long called « la Paillade » by Montpellier residents. Finally, it was voluntarily renamed with the arrival of the tramway terminus in 2000, in order to erase the somewhat negative image of the name « la Paillade ».

And why Mosson? The name simply refers to the Mosson river, which runs along the western edge of the city of Montpellier.

And the Beaux-Arts district?

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With its Mediterranean village feel, the Beaux-Arts district is like a « village in the city ». But did you know that the district’s very history is characterized by its slaughterhouses?

Indeed, the famous Place des Beaux-Arts was once the Place de l’Abattoir. Today, nothing remains of this red period apart from the rue du Marché aux Bestiaux. The name « Beaux-Arts » thus derives from the school of the same name.

Why is the Figuerolles district called that?

Today rich in multiple identities, the Figuerolles district was once a small suburb populated by peasants, isolated from the rest of the city.

But what is the origin of the name given to this district of Montpellier? It’s thought that this ancient suburb got its name from a large fig tree that the inhabitants used to see in the vicinity of a byroad known as the « figuairasse ».

Le Verdanson

A tributary of the Lez river, the Verdanson is a stream that flows through the Montpellier district. In stormy weather, the Verdanson is a local curiosity. In fact, it only takes a few moments for its low flow to suddenly fill the entire diked area allocated to it.

But what is the origin of the name given to this stream that runs through Montpellier? The Verdanson was christened  » Merdançon  » in the Occitan language, because of its odor… In fact, in the past, it served as a spillway for the tanners and other odorous activities of the city.