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Narbonne (Catalan and Occitan: Narbona, ) is a commune in southern Francemarker in the Languedoc-Roussillonmarker région. It lies from Parismarker in the Audemarker département, of which it is a sous-préfecture. Once a prosperous port, it is now located about from the shores of the Mediterranean Seamarker. It is marginally the largest commune in the Aude département, although the préfecture (capital) resides in the slightly smaller commune of Carcassonnemarker.


Narbonne is linked to the nearby Canal du Midimarker and the Aude Rivermarker by the Canal de la Robine, which runs through the centre of town.


Narbonne was established in Gaul in 118 BC, as Colonia Narbo Martius. It was located on the Via Domitia, the first Roman road in Gaul, built at the time of the foundation of the colony, and connecting Italymarker to Spainmarker. Geographically, Narbonne was therefore located at a very important crossroads because it was situated where the Via Domitia connected to the Via Aquitania, which led toward the Atlanticmarker across Toulousemarker and Bordeauxmarker. In addition, it was crossed by the Aude Rivermarker. Surviving members of Julius Caesar's Legio X Equestris were given lands in the area that nowadays is know as Narbonne.

Politically, Narbonne gained importance as a competitor to Massalia marker. Julius Caesar settled veterans from his 10th legion there and attempted to develop its port while Marseillemarker was revolting against Roman control. Among the amenities of Narbonne, its rosemary-flower honey was famous among Romans.

Later, the provincia of southern Gaul was named "Gallia Narbonensis", after the city, and Narbonne was made its capital. Seat of a powerful administration, the city enjoyed economic and architectural expansion.

It was subsequently the capital of the Visigothic province of Septimaniamarker. It was part of the Emirate of Cordoba until conquered by the Franks after which it became part of the Carolingian Viscounty of Narbonne. In the 12th century, the court of Ermengarde of Narbonne (reigned 1134 to 1192) presided over one of the cultural centers where the spirit of courtly love was developed.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, Narbonne was home to an important Jewish exegetical school, which played a pivotal role in the growth and development of the Zarphatic (Judæo-French) and Shuadit (Judæo-Provençal) languages. Jews had settled in Narbonne from about the 5th century, with a community that had risen to approximately 2000 in the 12th century. At this time, Narbonne was frequently mentioned in Talmudic works in connection with its scholars. One source, Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo, gives them an importance similar to the exilarchs of Babylon In the 12th and 13th centuries, the community went through a series of ups and downs before settling into extended decline.

View over Narbonne, from the Gilles Aycelin donjon.

Narbonne in decline

Narbonne itself fell into a slow decline in the 14th century, for a variety of reasons. One was due to a change in the course of the Aude Rivermarker, which caused increased silting of the navigational access. The river, known as the Atax in ancient times, had always had two main courses which split close to Salelles; one fork going south through Narbonne and then to the sea close to the Clappe Massif, the other heading east to the etang at Vendres - close to the current mouth of the river well to the east of the city. The Romans had improved the navigability of the river by building a dam near Salelles and also by canalising the river as it passed through its marshy delta to the sea (then as now the canal was known as the Robine.) A major flood in 1320 swept the dam away. The Aude river had a long history of overflowing its banks. When it was a bustling port, the distance from the coast was approximately 5 to 10 kilometres - but at that time the access to the sea was deep enough when the river was in full spate which made communication between port and city unreliable. However, goods could easily be transported by land and in shallow barges from the ports (there were several - a main port and forward ports for larger vessels; indeed the navigability from the sea into the etang and then into the river had been a perennial problem!) More importantly perhaps, the changes to the long sea shore which resulted from the silting up of the series of graus or openings which were interspersed between the islands which made up the shoreline (St. Martin; St. Lucie) had a more serious impact than the change in course of the river. Other causes of decline were the plague and the raid of the Black Prince which caused much devastation but it is evident that the growth of other ports was also a factor. Evidence of Narbonne's sudden and dramatic change of fortunes is quite stark when one sees at the rear of the cathedral the enormously ambitious building programme frozen in time through lack of funds and decline in national political and ecclesiastical importance.

From the sixteenth century, anxious to maintain a link to important trade, the people of Narbonne began costly work to the vestiges of the Aude Rivermarker's access to the sea — so that it would remain navigable to a limited draft vessel and also serve as a link with the Royal Canal. This major undertaking of works finished with the construction of the Canal de la Robine, which was finally linked with the Canal du Midimarker (then known as the Royal Canal) via the Canal de Jonction in 1776. In the 19th century, the canal system in the south of France came into competition with an expanding rail network, but kept some importance due to the flourishing wine trade.

Hence, despite its decline from Roman times, Narbonne managed to hold on to its vital but limited importance as a trading route, particularly in the more recent centuries.

Main sights

  • The former cathedral of Saint-Justmarker dating from 1272
  • The "Palais des Archevêques", the Archbishop's Palace, and its donjon with views over Narbonne
  • Musee Archeologique - an archaeological museum in the town centre
  • The Roman Horreum, a former grain warehouse, built underground as a cryptoporticus
  • Remains of the Via Domitia in the city center
  • The canal, "Canal de la Robine", running through the centre of the town
  • The Halles de Narbonne covered market operates every day. The busiest times are Sunday and Thursday mornings.
  • The nearby limestone massif known as "La Clape" and the beach at Narbonne plagemarker


  • Narbonne is home to the rugby union team Racing Club de Narbonne Méditerannée. Racing Club de Narbonne Méditerannée (also known as RC Narbonne) is a French rugby union club that will play the 2007-08 season in the second-level Rugby Pro D2, after finishing at the bottom of the 2006-07 Top 14 table.

They are based in Narbonne in Languedoc-Roussillon. They were founded in 1907. They play at Parc des Sports Et de l'Amitié (capacity 11,000). They wear orange and black.

Notable people from Narbonne


  • Michel Gayraud, Narbonne antique des origines à la fin du IIIe siècle. Paris: De Boccard, Revue archéologique de Narbonnaise, Supplément 8, 1981, 591 p.
  • Histoire de Narbonne, Jacques Michaud and André Cabanis, eds, Toulouse: Privat, 2004.
  • L’Aude de la préhistoire à nos jours (under the direction of Jacques Crémadeilis), Saint-Jean-d’Angély, 1989.
  • Les Audois : dictionnaire biographique, Rémy Cazals et Daniel Fabre, eds., Carcassonne, Association des Amis des Archives de l’Aude, Société d’Études Scientifiques de l’Aude, 1990.

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