This account comes from the Official Pezenas Tourist Office site at:
The territory of the Hérault valley, which has been inhabited since the protohistory, structured itself rapidly after the Roman conquest. It was teeming with « villae » (Roman countryside estates). The discovery of large wine storehouses in these agricultural estates bears testimony to the cultivation of vines and wine production.
Piscenae was mentioned by Pliny the Elder as having been granted the status of « oppidum latinum » (Latin village) like Luteva (Lodève) and Cessero (Saint Thibéry). Historians identify this settlement as being the origin of Pézenas. Only remains the question of the true site of ancient Pézenas.
PEZENAS-MONTAGNAC: ROYAL TOWNS AND TOWNS OF FAIRS
In the 10th century, a time of economic growth, new villages were created in the Pays de Pézenas. They were specific because they were surrounded by a collective wall of round or oval shape, including the church or the castle. Medieval texts name this type of new urban site a “castrum”.
Numerous water-mills for wheat were built on the river. The Knights Templars and then the Hospitalers of Saint John of Jerusalem modified the agricultural landscape. They dried out Pézenas pond and built farms and commanderies.
Two towns rapidly stand out from the other towns and villages that covered the pays de Pézenas: Pézenas and Montagnac. These two towns were referred to as trading towns eversince they belonged to the Capetian royal estate. A cycle of 5 big annual fairs, comparable to the Champagne fairs, united the two towns. They made the Pays prosperous up to the end of the 15th century.
PEZENAS TOWN OF THE GENERAL STATES OF LANGUEDOC
At the beginning of the 16th century, the Governors of Languedoc, all belonging to the family Montmorency, set their place of residence in Pézenas. The States of Languedoc, a regional assembly that voted the taxes for the King and ruled the province, once itinerant, settled in Pézenas for over a hundred years. Pézenas became the capital town of the province. This fame could have stopped in 1632, because of the « Edit des Elus » a royal law that suppressed all the tax privileges of the province. Henry II of Montmorency took the lead of a rebellion that quickly turned into a disaster for Languedoc.
Henry II was wounded and imprisoned at the battle of Castelnaudary; he was beheaded a few days later. Twenty years later, during the Rebellion of the Princes (Fronde in French), Armand of Bourbon, Prince of Conti, decided to go away from Paris and chose to live in the family estate called la Grange des Prés in Pézenas; he inherited it from his mother Charlotte of Montmorency. He was nominated Governor of Languedoc when Gaston d’Orléans died. Pézenas leading role as a political capital was restored. He was Molière’s patron from 1650 to 1656.
THE WINE EL DORADO
In the 19th century, the cultivation of vines progressively replaced the other crops. First a supplementary income, wine became the main income of many families. Indeed, thanks to the opening of a new railroad line between Sète and Bordeaux, the wine was exported worldwide. The professions relating to viticulture (coopers, agricultural tool factories and viticultural product factories) as well as trading companies knew a very important development. The former small land holdings were elevated to the rank of castles; nothing was too beautiful to look more noble. The suburbs developed in the towns and villages. A new type of building was created: the wine grower’s house.
A VITICULTURAL CRISIS RESULTING IN AN ORGANIZATION BASED ON QUALITY
The viticultural crisis of the beginning of the 20th century, immediately follewed by World War I, stopped the urban development initiated a century ago and the public and private building campaigns.
With the viticulture reorganization, almost each village had its own wine cooperative, a genuine monument dedicated to the wine. Montagnac’s cooperative was Europe’s largest one in the 1960s.
The reconquest of the old town centres first started in Pézenas with a protected site created in 1965, and was then extended to the villages with the revamping of the architecture and public spaces in the 1970s. The upgrading of architectural heritage had an even larger scope at the end of the 20th century: private and public listed buildings were renovated and are still renovated nowadays.