The capital of Languedoc, Narbonne began life as Colonia Narbus Martius by decree of the Roman Senate in 118 BC. Under Augustus it became the capital of Gallia Narbonensis, famous for its beauty and wealth.
The Visigoths made it their headquarters around the year 410 and it remained so for three hundred years until Spain was conquered by the Arabs. Even the Arabs, though, were unable to hold Narbonne and in 759 Pépin the Short reclaimed it for the Frankish Kingdom.
Some five hundred years later Narbonne entered its second golden era and for two hundred years its independence was guarded by a native dynasty of Viscounts. It was at this time (1272) that work commenced on the great cathedral.
La Cathédrale St-Just et St-Pasteur is the third church to occupy the site, the first was a basilica from the reign of Emperor Constantine, the second of a Carolingian rebuilding of around the year 840. Work began on the present building at the height of the city’s fortunes, money was literally no object and a cornerstone was sent by Pope Clement IV, a former Archbishop of Narbonne.
The cathedral’s position and its planned length meant that a section of the city wall would require rebuilding and this led to litigation between the city and the church in the middle of the fourteenth century. With only a third of the cathedral built, building work was brought to an abrupt halt and has never been restarted.
Regardless of that, this one-third of a cathedral is by any standard one of the major Gothic churches in France, comparable with the Gothic buildings on the Ile-de-France. Only Amiens and Beauvais rise to a greater height. Within lie two archiepiscopal tombs: Cardinal Pierre de Jugie, 1376 and Cardinal Briçonnet, 1514.
Throughout the 14th century Narbonne was visited by wars and plagues and to make matters even worse the harbour began to silt up, a process that was to culminate with the River Aude changing its course. The subsequent ruination of Narbonne’s trade was to be an ineluctable process and within a hundred years the city had shrunk from its former pre-eminence to that of a mere market town.
This stagnation was to continue for five hundred years, and it is only in the 20th century that the city has begun to see a revival in its fortunes, thanks largely to industry and the wine trade.
Since WW2 Narbonne has overtaken Carcassonne as the largest city in the Aude department.
Source: ‘South of France’ – Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls.
a series of images made in Narbonne.