Pezenas is a wonderful old town in the Languedoc. The town has been in existence since Roman times and became wealthy due to the sale of woollen cloth. In 1456 the States General of Languedoc met here for the first time and then the governors of Languedoc made the town their residence. Pezenas had become an important place in the south of France.
In 1647, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin – better known as Molière – began travelling the Languedoc with the company called “L’Illustre Théâtre”. In 1650, the little company arrived in Pézenas and over three months they entertained the States General of Languedoc. In 1653, the company gained the favour of the Governor of Languedoc, The Prince of Conti. During his stay in the Languedoc and Pézenas, Moliere was inspired to write some of his most famous plays including Don Juan.
The association of Moliere with Pezenas is reflected in the Scenovision Moliere interactive exhibition in the Hotel Peyrat. Moliere’s life is played out in five different rooms going from the triumphs he had at the court of Louis XIV to the tragedies of the later years when once again he wandered around France, but this time with a theatre company in decline. There is a cut-out of Moliere on Place Gambetta sitting along with Boby Lapointe, a Pezenas singer, outside the Tourist Information. Nearby a cat was sitting in a box, looking for all the world as though it had just been delivered as part of a service for locals who wished to rid their house of vermin. The cat eventually stirred and flopped onto a nearby cafe table. The cat stared towards the horizon and completely ignored my attempts to make it purr.
In Pezenas there is a former Jewish ghetto and the visitor can see the place where the gate was situated which was locked at night to keep the two communities apart. When you see the names of the streets, Porte du Ghetto and Rue de la Juiverie, you will know you are in the right place. It might have been me, but the streets in the ghetto seemed higher and narrower than in the rest of the town. I then headed through the Porte Faugeres and came across the most marvellous market.
The market stalls were down both sides of Cours Jean Jaures all the way from the War Memorial to Place du Marche des Trois Six. The end of Jean Jaures where I started was mainly cooked meats and cheese, with the stall owner handing out free samples to hungry looking passers-by. Next to the cheese were three vast pans of paella, topped with large prawns, and the owner was shovelling large amounts into plastic containers for eager buyers. Next door the baguette stall was doing a brisk trade with people placing the bread in their rucksacks before cycling home. Someone had placed a table on the pavement and dumped some nice-looking women’s blouses on to it. These were being eagerly sorted by two dozen women looking for a bargain or two. The movement of the ladies around the table was extremely well co-ordinated and I got the impression most of them did this on a regular basis.
On the other side of the street, the stalls were more handicraft oriented with pots, majolica tiles, and dishes. Then more souvenirs and collectibles became available until at the Place de la Republique the market became all fruit and vegetables with most items such as apples in piles rather than plastic bags. The vegetables had been pulled out of the ground recently – some had been cleaned and some had not – everything shouted “fresh”. In front of the St-Jean church were the snack stalls selling nuts, figs, dates, and dried fruits. On the opposite side was a hat stall with items for every occasion, even for the times when you are carrying your dog around a market, which many people were doing here.
This extract is from the book Travels through History : France by Julian Worker