History of Narbonne

The town rose on the hill of Montlaurès, northwest of the present city, and was a settlement of the tribe of the Elisyces.

The first urban settlement dates from the 6th century BC and took advantage of its good position at the crossroads of the path that followed the coast (the future Via Domicia) and the route to the Atlantic, used in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC to trade with the British Isles.

In the same place, the Romans founded their first colony outside Italy in 118 BC, and gave it the name Narbo Martius, which later became the capital of the province of Gaul of Narbonne (Gallia Narbonensis). In 45 BC, Julius Caesar settled there the veterans of the 10th legion. In the 1st century, the city reached its maximum splendor thanks to the harbor activity as a river port (at that time, Aude river run through Narbonne, perhaps through the current Robina channel). The city controlled the anchorages in the nearby lagoon, from which mainly ceramics from Graufesenque (near Millau) were exported. This prosperity was disrupted by a fire that partially destroyed the city in the year 145, which then went into decline from the end of that century until the 4th century.

From the Roman period, there are few remains: mainly a fragment of Via Domitia, recently discovered in Casa de la Vila square, and horreum, a kind of cava that served as a barn or storage house. Furthermore, a temple and amphitheater have been found and partially excavated, and it is known that there had been baths and a theater. The lack of spectacularity of these remains is offset by the abundance of inscriptions recovered from the material used to build the walls in late antiquity, demolished in 1869.

The Visigoths entered Narbonne in 462, making it the capital of the province of Septimania until the arrival of the Arabs, who occupied it for the first time in 715, it was lost or abandoned until in 719 it was recovered by As-Samh ibn Màlik al-Khawlaní; under the Arabs it was called Arbuna. In 734, a duke of Provence named Mauront (Maurontus) signed an agreement with the governor Yússuf ibn Abd-ar-Rahman, who allowed him to occupy some places in the valley of the Rhone, to protect Provence against attacks from Carles Martell and as a new route of invasion to the north. Carles Martell responded in 737 occupying Avinyó and attacking Arbuna, but his attack was repealed, despite the victory at the Battle of Berre.

In 752, it was besieged by Pipí el Breu, but he couldn’t conquer it either and had to lift the siege leaving a contingent to keep up the blockade, which was not very effective. The count of Nimes Ansemond died in the operations of blockade (754). It is believed that in 756 the siege was resumed, but the success was very limited. Between 756 and 759, the franks negotiated with the Goths of the city, who defended the city with full cooperation of the Muslims. The king promised them to keep the goth community with their laws and customs if they freed the city, which finally they did in 759, after the last three years long siege (third siege of Arbuna). The Goths seized the interior of the city, slaughtered the small Saracen garrison, and opened the doors to the Franks.

Next, other cities were subjected to the Franks if they had not submitted before (it is thought that it was mainly Carcassonne, Lodeva and Elna, but the first two could have been in the hands of Waiofar of Aquitaine). Elna, with Rosselló and Conflent, surrendered to the Pipí forces shortly after Narbonne. The king gave to the church of Narbonne half of the population and its dependencies inside and outside the walls, and half of the domains rights that the count of the city could exercise for the king in all of the diocese; a third of similar rights were given to other churches of Septimania. Counts were established in Narbonne and in several settlements of Septimania, which in general were the same goth counts that already held the position under the authority of the Muslims.

The area was subjected to several Arab expeditions, the most important of which was that of 793, when Abd-al-Màlik ibn Mughith arrived in front of the city, burned the nearby neighborhoods and defeated Count Duke of Toulouse in the Battle of the Orbieu, near the city, and then retired with a great booty. The last expedition, with no result, took place in 840.

During the Middle Ages, power was split between the archbishop and the viscount. In 1306, the Jews were expelled by order of the King of France. In 1320, the destruction of a dam made it lose the privilage of a sea port. During the rest of the 14th century, the city began to decline due to the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death epidemic of 1348 and the modification of trade streams. With the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), it ceases to be a border place and loses military importance. As the headquarters of the archbishop, who was the president of the Estates General of Languedoc, it was mainly an ecclesiastical town.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the construction of a railroad and the extension of the vineyards brought new prosperity. In 1871 it was proclaimed a Comune. Then, in 1907, the viticulture crisis appeared and the Languedoc and Rosselló vine-growers revolted under the leadership of the mayor, Ernest Ferrol. The novel by Joan-Daniel Bezsonoff, La revolta dels geperuts (1998), is based on these facts.

Tourism in Narbonne developed in the second half of the 20th century. The most important monuments are the Archbishop’s Palace and the Narbonne Cathedral. Worth mentioning are also the Via Domitia, the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Art and History, the Narbonne Theater, the Robina channel, which crosses the city, the church of Notre-Dame de Mourguié, from the 13th century, with a lapidary museum, the basilica of Sant Pau-Sèrgi, the neighborhoods of the Cité, Bourg and new neighborhoods.

15 km to the south of Narbonne, you will find the African reserve of Sijan, next to the town of Sijan.

Read more: History of Europe with Alex Mostaslavski: Spain, France, Pyrenees ...