|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (September 2013)|
The Historic Bessan Village Door
|• Mayor (2008–2014)||Robert Raluy|
|• Land1||27.65 km2 (10.68 sq mi)|
|• Population2 density||160/km2 (420/sq mi)|
|INSEE/Postal code||34031 / 34550|
|Elevation||0–84 m (0–276 ft)
(avg. 8 m or 26 ft)
1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.2 Population without double counting: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.
Built around vineyards on the Hérault river, Bessan is a mainly agricultural village, and is known for its wine. In the past, its port was used to ship wines and other spirits.
Located a few kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea, the commune is also known for its thousand-year-old history, rich Christmas traditions, and its Ricard distillery and Cactus Park botanical garden.
Around 600 BC, Greeks settled in Bessan on the oppidum of Monadière to trade.
In 737, Charles Martel entered the province at the head of the French, temporarily pushing the Saracens, destroying Béziers, Agde and the surrounding countryside so that they could not return to fortify them.
1050-1100, building began of the fortified village of Bessan.
In 1209, the Crusader army, led by Simon de Montfort, seized the region under the pretext of hunting the Cathars, and ten years later the castles of Bessan and Touroulle beaome the property of his son, Amaury.
In 1278, the Bessans had already obtained from their seigneur the right to elect consuls (mayors) to deal with political affairs.
In 1348, plague killed a large proportion of the population. It returned several times thereafter.
In 1851, during the coup of Napoleon III, a cannon was pointed at the Grand'rue and thirty republic Bessanais were deported.
In 1907, the Bessanais were actively involved in the Midi wine revolt.
In November 1942, German troops entered and occupied Bessan. They fled in August 1944, after the Allied landing in Provence.
- Town Hall
After the old building being deemed too small, they decided to build a new Hotel de ville (town hall) on the site of one of rampart towers and part of the moats. This was done by 1777. The current town hall is located in the very heart of the village. A bell tower was added in 1847 for a clock. The extra weight of the bell tower necessitated the strengthening of the existing vault creating arcades.
- St. Peter's Church
St Peter's Church (Église Saint-Pierre ) already existed in 990, then called Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens. It was in poor condition when, in 1070, it was given to the abbey of Saint-Thibéry by the Bishop of Agde, to undergo maintenance. Around 1100, the following bishop gave the church to the abbots of La Chaise-Dieu. They immediately started the construction of a new church with the apse composed of five stretches of wall with semi-circular collonettess in the Auvergnat style.
The abbots of Saint-Thibéry who received tithes from Bessan were not happy. After a trial lasting almost forty years, during which the pope, passing through the region, would have visited Bessan, they managed to recover the church while it was still under construction.
The tower seems to have been built later, perhaps in the second half of the 14th century, following the sacking of Bessan by the governor of Languedoc. The side chapels were built as or when needed. Those of the choirs date from 1338 and 1341. The adjoining chapels are from 1360 and 1475. The four other chapels, nearer the entrance from 1624, 1628, 1652 and 1662.
Originally, the Romanesque openings were narrow. Larger windows were installed in 1764 in the upper part of the nave. They are now enhanced with stained glass by Louis Victor Gesta who had his workshop at Toulouse between 1850 and 1880.
In 1993, with a new restoration of the church, the brick vault of the nave, dating from 1760 was demolished. The work revealed the original woodwork structure with coloured rafters and beams with sculptures of human heads at their extremities, as well as the existing opening in the vault of the choir.
The Romantic organ, constructed by Baptist Puget in 1879 in his Toulouse workshop, was restored in 1986 and 1994. The wooden bell tower supporting the main bell, being in poor condition, was restored in 2004 under a partnership between the village, state, région and département.
- The oldest bell in Hérault
Rebuilt in 1787, the point of the brick steeple was damaged by lightning in 1886. It was to be demolished because it was unsafe but this was not done until 1938, after a piece of iron fell during a storm in 1936. As the current steeple was being constructed, the opportunity was taken to demolish the room containing the clock and to put in the original bell at the top of the bell tower.
At the start of the 18th century, the tower had five bells. Today, only two remain: the décadaire bell, cast 1567 (and recast for its tercentenary) and the bell once used to strike the hour, cast in 1388. The latter is known to be the oldest in Hérault.
The other three bells were lowered in 1791 and sent to Béziers to be turned into cannons.
- Walls and Saint-Pierre gate
By studying the cadastral map of 1835 and going on the ground, local historians have tried to find the location of the ramparts which were largely destroyed or covered by houses in the second half of the 18th century. From the Saint-Pierre gate, the wall seems to follow the facades of the rue des Soleillers. It was reinforced with a tower at the rue de la Brèche; this ruined tower was demolished to build the street. Traces of the ramparts are found in the rue porte Douille where, as its name suggests, there was once a gate. The ramparts then formed the back of the large buildings and shops overlooking the boulevard de la Liberté. It is visible at the bottom of the impasse de Labeille where it was reinforced with a square tower and at the bottom of the impasse des Mijoulanes.
Emerging into the rue de la République, it was fitted with a gate protected by a square tower now serving as the council meeting room. Beyond this line, which continues along rue de l'Hospice or de l'Olivier, the presence of many dead-ends suggests there was a first line of ramparts covering only parts of the historic centre. During the Albigensian crusade, the order was apparently given to the fortified villages in the region to demolish their walls. In the 1340s, amid rumours that the English were about to invade the Languedoc, the Bessanais rebuilt or repaired their walls, an operation which continued between 1365 and 1369.
- Architectural heritage of old Bessan
The book Bessan au fil du temp lists all the interesting architectural heritage of Bessan history, including:
- A medieval stone sink (13th century) at 15 rue Ancienne Poste
- A window mullion from the late Gothic (around 1480) in the rue de la République
- A restored medieval house in the rue des Cours
- A door and a balcony circa 1830 in the rue du Four
- The interior of a 1770 mansion in the rue de l'Opéra (staircase and patio)
- Place de la Salle promenade and Christmas
In the 16th century, because of a lack of space inside the ramparts, Bessanais athletes met on the Jeu de Ballon (pitch) at the bottom of the walls.
In 1856, the municipality decided to transform the land into a public footpath at the bottom of which was built, a few years later, an old people's home or nursery school.
In 1893, the Promenade was redeveloped. The former parapet of the old pitch was demolished and replaced by widened pavements for the benefit of street vendors at their markets.
In the late 1950s, the abandoned retirement home was destroyed. It was replaced by a community centre in 1956. The building consists of a large dance hall without bar facilities and a huge balcony for performances taking place on the stage. This balcony was transformed into a meeting room in the early 1980s, and at the same time, Fernandez Brenes painted murals located on each side of the stage.
- Place de la République
To create an open space between the church and the town hall, in 1857 the municipality bought a block called Ile Saint-Jaume and demolished it to create Place de Peyrou. A cast iron statue of the Republic, commissioned in 1885 and previously placed at the entrance to the Promenade to replace a tree of liberty, was embellished in 1894 with a monumental fountain. The place was renamed Place de la République.
In 1973, the municipality demolished the fountain whose limestone was in poor condition. It was replaced with a concrete monument decorated with a small bronze bust of Marianne.
In 1988, the concrete structure was removed and replaced with an imitation of the monumental fountain with basins and planters. The area was paved with cobblestones.
- Place de la Fontaine
In the early 19th century, the waters of the Fontvieille spring flowed in a paved ditch to a basin located on Place de la Fontaine, on the edge of the rue des Caves. This source is now in the rue Petite Fontvieille and flows into a large drain built on the site of a ditch.
In 1827, the water source being insufficient in summer, the municipality dug a well in the middle of the square and built a monumental fountain.
In 1944-1945, the Liberation Committee ordered the demolition of the fountain, whose stones had been eroded by moisture and built underground public toilets. The disused hospice at the back of Place de la Fontaine, was demolished in 1963. The surrounding houses were bought and demolished to enlarge the square and to enable the construction of a modern building consisting of an office, some shops and housing. The project was approved in 1967 and was completed in 1970. Paul Azema, a Bessan artist, completed the main facade with ceramics.
Place de la Fontaine is now a very welcoming place of relaxation and there is a traditional market on Sundays.
- Cross Mission
The mission is a period of three weeks to one month during which preachers come to recruit new parishioners. Sometimes, during a mission, a cross is raised. As its name suggests, the cross at the end of rue de la Porte Saint-Pierre is raised on the occasion of a mission which remains elusive. It seemed that originally it was located near the church. It was then moved to its current location in 1785.
According to the company that restored the cross in the 1980s, the basalt monument dates back to the time of Louis XIV, but the wrought iron cross and the Holy Christ would not be that old. A cockerel used as a weathercock was at the top of the cross from the 19th century. In April 1999, it was stolen.
- War memorials
At the end of the First World War, the town planned to build a monument in honour of the dead of Bessans and contacted the famous sculptor, Jean Antoine Injalbert. From several letters, dating from 1921, it appears that he made two sketches for Bessan but did not time to start the work. At the beginning of 1923, he began building the Béziers monument. Tired of waiting, the village turned to Auguste Azéma who, in 1922, was responsible for the erection of a shrine to the dead or war memorials in the cemetery. This building was be completed in 1924. The following year, Augustus Azéma was asked to build a memorial to the children of Bessan who died during the war or the Victory Monument which was completed in 1926. On these two works are engraved the names of Bessan inhabitants who died for France in 1914-1918, with those of other conflicts such as the Second World War, Indochina war and the war in Algeria added later.
- Notre Dame des Vignes
Notre-Dame des Vignes, financed by public subscription is located at the intersection of Victor Hugo streets and an old school in 1982 at the request of the priest, Raymond Combes. The work of J. S. Hartmann and E. Boissier, it was inaugurated by the bishop of Montpellier on 5 December 1982. According to some, it protected Bessan from agricultural disasters that have devastated some nearby villages, such as hail and frost.
- Saint-Laurent Touroulle
The chapel of Saint-Laurent is a part of the former medieval village of Touroulle, located between Bessan and Vias. This church was built circa the first half of the 11th century on the site of an ancient Roman villa and on an ancient road called Mercadal, which, according to Canaleta, joined the oppidum at Monadière to a port located between the beach at Portiragnes and Vias. The presence of the two large blocks of basalt suggests that this was originally a pagan temple. It seems to have been transformed in the 12th or 13th century. La Chapelle Saint-Laurent was probably abandoned, along with the rest of the village, during the Wars of Religion.
In 1938, during excavations by Father Thomas, a sarcophagus was found in the chapel containing a skeleton and two small Roman burial urns. It was moved to the garden of the presbytery of Bessan where it is today.
The chapel has avoided damage during the building of the expressway connecting the A9 to Cap d'Agde, but part of its Visigothic cemetery was destroyed. It suffered damage in 2001, because of looters removing stones.
There are other chapels in the territory of Bessan: Affrie, Saint-Claude, Penitents gray, Saint-Martin de Caillan, Father Grange, Castle chapel Brignac...
Moulin Bladier on the Hérault river
The Bladier mill lies on the bank of the Hérault river on the outskirts of Bessan. It is a neo-Romanesque, Gothic structure. It was fortified by machicolation and niches accessed by a walk way. The defence system was completed with two walls with balistrarias and a spiral staircase starting two meters from the ground served to impede attackers.
The mill was used to grind wheat, which inhabitants from Bessans and Vias brought by donkey with or without a cart. There were six grinding wheels operated by a system of vertical cogs.
Use of the mill declined with the development of vineyards. It operated for the last time in 1855, after which wheat was imported from Sicily and intended to treat vines against mildew.
It was danaged in 1977 by a flood of the Hérault and was completely disfigured in 1994 with the construction of the dam requested by the André Filliol pumping station of Florensac and the Lower Languedoc. The station supplies drinking water for most of the department.
In 1998, the municipality organized an exhibition and tours of the mill and, helped by the Heritage Foundation, managed to attract social media.
The first eruption of volcanoes in the region of Bessan and St. Thibéry began with projectiles of ash which were deposited in thin, brittle layers called tuff. Then, more violent explosions sent into the air particles of debris mixed with gas, which accumulated in the three mountains. This stone had holes in it because of gas bubbles called pozzolan. Speed tapered the shape of bombs that mvaried in size between an olive and weights of more than two kilograms.
In the last eruption, 650,000 years ago, lava flowing from the cracks at the bottom of the hills formed a basalt plateau with a radius of one kilometre and several metres deep.
Of the three mountains, the so-called "Saint-Claude" was the smallest and the closest to Bessan.It is extinct. In 1973, the windmill called the "Tour" was demolished and pozzolan, which was extracted, was used as a highway embankment which is still under construction. The stone of the third volcano, located at the edge of Bessan on the territory of Saint-Thibéry, was used to build houses and walls in the village until the early 20th century. It provided basalt for centuries which was necessary for the construction of stone streets.
The basalt from the Monts Ramus plateau is used in several locations in the town. In Languedoc, one can still see a "pink stone" that may have been made by lava.
Recreation at the Guinguette
The Guinguette is on the banks of the River Hérault. Each summer, dances are held and a bar and restaurant is open to anyone who wants to have a good time at the river.
Many activities are available including electric boat rides, pedal boating and fishing. It is equipped with a stony bank, floating pontoons, toilets, stage, dance floor and lighted parking. The Victor Goudou recreational area is located on the road to Marseillan near the village centre. It includes games for children including basketball, football and rollerskating. There are also petanque bowls courts and, on occasions, a local Bessanaise ball and a dance where meals are set up around the bar.
Dock and wharf Marius
Near the bridge across the Hérault and Guinguette, a quay was built in 2000. The Quai Marius has a marina on the Hérault allowing fishermen access to the river and boat trips.
Global Development Centre Ricard=
In 1959, the Midi Mills, near the wine co-operative were acquired by Paul Ricard, which continues the production of grape juice, marketed under the trademark Bendor. Grape juice had not been successful in terms of marketing; Bessan leaders tried to save the factory which could not encourage a big demand in business. On 1 June 1965, the first bottle of Ricard was produced.
Until 1980, the anetol in the product Ricard was purchased on the French market. For the sake of quality, the company decided to produce Bessan anetol from gasoline anise from China or Vietnam and fennel grown in Tarn. A refracting column was installed on the site. The same was true for the role on who bought the powder first then bought as a stick in the southern Italy, Turkey, Lebanon and crushed into chunks, Bessan then plunged into an alcoholic solution to extract juice used in Ricard. Bessan became the global enterprise of commodities for the manufacture of Ricard, which is kept as a secret manufacture of a concentrated aromatic drink.
Since the 1990s, Ricard factories were closed and development saw its forecast production increase. In 2000, the new production which is fully automated produced 80,000 bottles per day. Production quickly exceeded the 100,000 bottles mark that was stored in the new premises which was created in 2000.
In 1999, the Ricard company launched itself into the industrial tourism sector and offered guided tours to the public. They have been abandoned because of technical and security problems related to increased production.
Other points of interest
- Michel Sabatéry et Stéphane Pépin Bessan au fil du temp
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bessan.|