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The Ancient City of Narbonne, France

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Narbonne, France used to be a port town on the Mediterranean, but silting, over centuries, has left the city of just over 50,000 a bit high and dry, a little over nine miles inland. It is an old city, the largest Roman colony outside Italy, and has always been strategically important.

It was the crossroads for the Via Domitia, the Roman road linking Italy to Spain, and Via Aquitania, which headed toward the Atlantic. Via Domitia is an ancient road built in 118 B.C. that the Romans surveyed and improved. It was traversed by Hannibal on his return to Italy.

Architecture in the historic center is worth a look, especially the town hall that used to be the Archbishop’s Palace. The Cathedral of St. Just is magnificent, its flying buttresses and stained glass windows impressive. The problem with the cathedral is it was begun in the 1300’s and never finished. The city’s defensive ramparts would have needed to be torn down to complete construction and the wisdom of the day went with prudence.

The heart of Narbonne is Les Halles, the covered market hall constructed of wrought iron and glass, beside the Canal du Robine, which is the Canal du Midi in Narbonne. Vendors hawk their wares seven days a week in the famed market (the fresh seafood is outstanding), and on Sunday it also becomes the social mecca for the friendly and gracious Narbonnaise who stop in for a wine or beer after strolling the canal’s promenades.

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