The ancient hearts of French towns hold surprises on their narrow, rarely straight streets. Among all these pretty, old towns, Pézenas, in the Hérault department in southern France, is exceptionally lovely.

Love the bougainvillea.

While Pézenas has Roman roots, much of the architecture of the town center dates to the late Middle Ages, with many outstanding hôtels particuliers–private mansions–from the 15th to the 18th centuries.

Look up! They don’t make door frames like they used to.

Despite the almost complete absence of vehicles (even bikes!) in the center, walking is slow going, because you have to look up and down and around.

Look inside, and down. Loving the enormous flagstones inside. Also loving the door-in-a-door.
Peek inside the open doors. How about that arch? And the low door on the right? You get the impression that each building is like a matryoshka doll, one amazing door leading to another.
And on the way out, more interesting stuff. I love it all–the braces to keep the door panel from being pushed open, the ancient ironwork on the door, the way niches had to be carved into the stone to accommodate the hinges.

Speaking of doors, let us appreciate les portes de Pézenas.

This three-fer. The one on the left is the ugly duckling, but notice the rounded arch that once was there, then both cut and filled in. WHY? Also, who gets to claim No. 21?
Let’s zoom in on the center door. I imagine the slope is from settling. That can happen over a few hundred years. The door, which isn’t exactly new, goes up on the left to fill the gap, so it must post-date the door frame’s slump. And I love how worn the threshold is. How many footfalls did it take to make that dent?
WHAT is the round hole for???
Definitely a newer model, but keeping the spirit.
Many doors had lintels with this design, like stacked braces {{{
A good color and climbing vegetation can make even simple doors look gorgeous.
A “ghost” door and window..Actually, I see a former square window AND an arch right next to it in the stonework, in addition to the ground-level arch.

Pézenas has a bunch of cute shops, many of them with handmade and/or locally made goods, in addition to its wealth of antique stores.

I have my eye on this. Handmade. Real leather. Reasonably priced. Classic style.
Much to see here. Interesting clothes (silk), for sure, but check out that jungle in the interior courtyard! Also, the stone arches inside.
Chic boutiques now occupy the former échoppes.

Can you imagine when shopkeepers sold their wares from these windows, setting the goods on the extra-wide ledges to hand to customers?

This turret really grabbed me.

I suspect this very cool turret was to let residents look out onto the street, and not for any kind of battle use. This is the back side of the Hôtel de Peyrat, which was built in the 16th century and houses the Office de Tourisme. There’s a little loggia that overlooks the inner courtyard, too. And one on the opposite side of the courtyard:

All this is from only an hour or two of strolling. Without even going inside anyplace. Which I really must come back and do. When there isn’t a gigantic antiques fair in progress.

Do you see the little spigot?!?

I’m guessing the bars above predate filling in the door? window? above. But wouldn’t it have been easier to brick up (or did they use stones?) the hole without bars in the way? Who decided to run a spigot there? For what? So often, something catches the eye–like the climbing ivy–and then you realize, this is very odd.

If you don’t need to use your pulley to get stuff upstairs, why not hang an old copper cauldron full of flowers from it? This is definitely the place to find ancient copper cauldrons.
Another pulley. And a religious icon. And an awesome store front, suitable for a woodworker/cabinetmaker/furniture maker.
Always look up! Mary has an unsettling Mona Lisa smile IMHO, considering the situation.
Look at that shutter! It slopes like the window does! Also, it has a crazy little door in it. Do you see how the window (probably newer) is level, whereas the bars sag to the right? Love it.

The arch that you can kind of see above is the entrance to the old ghetto. Pézenas had a large population of Jews, who came from Spain, Portugal and Italie, until France expelled Jews in 1394.

Entrance to the Château de Pézenas, now ruins, having been destroyed in 1632 or 1633. The gateway was rebuilt; the castle is mentioned back as far as 990.

I hope you enjoyed this little promenade. Something different next time!


19 thoughts on “Picturesque Pézenas

  1. I can imagine wandering Pezenas with you. My delight in your stopping and pointing out the little nuances of the doors, windows, etc. and your knowledge of the history of place. Then we’d go for a coffee and do some shopping. I love the classic purse you have your eye on. All in all a satisfying day.

    Liked by 1 person


    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is so hard to know what’s behind the doors. It could be an entry/foyer/sas, or it could be an inner courtyard that’s either covered or open or it could be a former street that leads to an inner warren of other passageways…. I did think of cats, but I think you’d want a cover on it to keep out mice, no? Maybe there’s something on the other side.


  3. Apropos of nothing, I was wondering if you’d read To Paris and the Moon by Adam Gopnik? He writes for the New Yorker and has/had the column Paris Journal. I’m reading it now (belatedly) and really enjoying it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Some dear friends gave it to me for my birthday years ago. I loved it.
      I just started “Le Château de Ma Mère” by Marcel Pagnol. Lovely. Somehow I recently saw the 1990 movie—I can’t imagine how because I haven’t had a TV for a while. But it was charming.


      1. In French. I decided it was time to put on my big girl pants and read some of the classics in the original French. I am absolutely charmed by Pagnol. There’s a lot of hunting talk, and I have to look up the terms (which turn out to be birds), but I understand all the insults! I can absolutely hear them. Some things don’t change.


  4. What utter gorgeousness! This is such a wonderful town for revelling in layers of history and intriguing nooks and crannies. Thank you for the tour!

    The little hole in the door? I first thought it’s to pass the morning paper through and then I thought, hang on, this is France! It has to be for the morning baguette the baker’s boy delivers to the recluse who never leaves the confines of their antiques-laden Aladdin’s cave home. There’s bound to be a little jar inside the door the small hand can reach for the coins with which to pay.

    The copper cauldron made me think back to Paris many years ago when we saw removalists on the cobbled street outside a 5th arrondissement apartment block. They’d set up a motorised conveyor belt like a firemen’s ladder & barely a metre wide that was passing boxes and furniture through the open dormer window on the top floor. Such marvellous ingenuity to overcome the impossible and inevitable staircase.

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    1. Ah, we still use “outdoor elevators “ for moving. When they did my move I was terrified one of them would fall—multiple stories. But they were very clever about how to handle big, heavy (and/or fragile) pieces. In fact, everything came in by the window.


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