Montpellier, France

Montpellier is a city in southern France near the Mediterranean Sea. One of the largest urban centres in the region of Occitania, Montpellier is the capital of the department of Hérault. In 2017, 285,121 people lived in the city, while its urban area had a population of 616,296. The inhabitants are called Montpelliérains.

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In the Middle Ages, Montpellier was an important city of the Crown of Aragon (and was the birthplace of James I), and then of Majorca, before its sale to France in 1349. Established in 1220, the University of Montpellier is one of the oldest universities in the world and oldest medical school still in operation, with notable alumni such as Petrarch, Nostradamus and François Rabelais. Above the medieval city, the ancient citadel of Montpellier is a stronghold built in the seventeenth century by Louis XIII of France.

During the 19th century the city thrived on the wine culture that it was able to produce due to the abundance of sun throughout the year. The wine consumption in France allowed Montpellier’s citizens to become very wealthy until in the 1890s a fungal disease had spread amongst the vineyards and the people were no longer able to grow the grapes needed for wine. After this the city had grown because it welcomed immigrants from Algeria and other parts of northern Africa after Algeria’s independence from France. In the 21st century Montpellier is between France’s number 7th and 8th largest city. The city had another influx in population more recently, largely due to the student population, who make up about one-third of Montpellier’s population. The school of medicine kickstarted the city’s thriving university culture, though many other universities have been well established there. The coastal city also has such developments as the Corum and the Antigone that have attracted an increasing number of students.

University of Montpellier

The University of Montpellier is one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1160, and having been granted a charter in 1220 by Cardinal Conrad von Urach and confirmed by Pope Nicholas IV in a papal bull of 1289. It was suppressed during the French Revolution but was re-established in 1896.

It is not known exactly at what date the schools of literature were founded which developed into the Montpellier faculty of arts; it may be that they were a direct continuation of the Gallo-Roman schools. The school of law was founded by Placentinus, a doctor from Bologna University, who came to Montpellier in 1160, taught there during two different periods, and died there in 1192. The school of medicine was founded perhaps by a graduate of the Muslim Spain medical schools; it is certain that, as early as 1137, there were excellent physicians at Montpellier. The statutes given in 1220 by Cardinal Conrad, legate of Honorius III, which were completed in 1240 by Pierre de Conques, placed this school under the direction of the Bishop of Maguelonne. Pope Nicholas IV issued a Bull in 1289, combining all the schools into a university, which was placed under the direction of the bishop, but which in fact enjoyed a large measure of autonomy.

Theology was at first taught in the convents, in which St. Anthony of Padua, Raymond Lullus, and the Dominican Bernard de la Treille lectured. Two letters of King John prove that a faculty of theology existed at Montpellier independently of the convents, in January 1350. By a Bull of 17 December 1421, Martin V granted canonical institution to this faculty and united it closely with the faculty of law. In the 16th century the faculty of theology disappeared for a time, when Calvinism, in the reign of Henry II of France, held complete possession of the city. It resumed its functions after Louis XIII had reestablished the royal power at Montpellier in 1622; but the rivalries of Dominicans and Jesuits interfered seriously with the prosperity of the faculty, which disappeared at the Revolution. The faculty numbered among its illustrious pupils of law Petrarch, who spent four years at Montpellier, and among its lecturers Guillaume de Nogaret, chancellor to Philip the Fair, Guillaume de Grimoard, afterwards pope under the name of Urban V, and Pedro de Luna, antipope as Benedict XIII. But after the 15th century this faculty fell into decay, as did also the faculty of arts, although for a time, under Henry IV of France, the latter faculty had among its lecturers Casaubon.

The Montpellier school of medicine owed its success to the ruling of the Guilhems, lords of the town, by which any licensed physician might lecture there; there was no fixed limit to the number of teachers, lectures were multiplied, and there was a great wealth of teaching. Rabelais took his medical degrees at Montpellier. It was in this school that the biological theory of vitalism, elaborated by Barthez (1734–1806), had its origin. The French Revolution did not interrupt the existence of the faculty of medicine.

The faculties of science and of letters were re-established in 1810; that of law in 1880. It was on the occasion of the sixth centenary of the university, celebrated in 1889, that the Government of France announced its intention—which has since been realized—of reorganizing the provincial universities in France.

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