1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hérault

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HÉRAULT, a department in the south of France, formed from Lower Languedoc. Pop. (1906) 482,779. Area, 2403 sq. m. It is bounded N.E. by Gard, N.W. by Aveyron and Tarn, and S. by Aude and the Golfe du Lion. The southern prolongation of the Cévennes mountains occupies the north-western zone of the department, the highest point being about 4250 ft. above the sea-level. South-east of this range comes a region of hills and plateaus decreasing in height as they approach the sea, from which they are separated by the rich plains at the mouth of the Orb and the Hérault and, farther to the north-east, by the line of intercommunicating salt lagoons (Etang de Thau, &c.) which fringes the coast. The region to the north-west of Montpellier comprises an extensive tract of country known as the Garrigues, a district of dry limestone plateaus and hills, which stretches into the neighbouring department of Gard. The mountains of the north-west form the watershed between the Atlantic and Mediterranean basins. From them flow the Hérault, its tributary the Lergue, and more to the south-west the Livron and the Orb, which are the main rivers of the department. Dry summers, varied by occasional violent storms, are characteristic of Hérault. The climate is naturally colder and more rainy in the mountains.

A third of the surface of Hérault is planted with vines, which are the chief source of agricultural wealth, the department ranking first in France with respect to the area of its vineyards; the red wines of St Georges, Cazouls-lès-Béziers, Picpoul and Maranssan, and the white wines of Frontignan and Lunel (pop. in 1906, 6769) are held in high estimation. The area given over to arable land and pasture is small in extent. Fruit trees of various kinds, but especially mulberries, olives and chestnuts flourish. The rearing of silk-worms is largely carried on. Considerable numbers of sheep are raised, their milk being utilized for the preparation of Roquefort cheeses. The mineral wealth of the department is considerable. There are mines of lignite, coal in the vicinity of Graissessac, iron, calamine and copper, and quarries of building-stone, limestone, gypsum, &c.; the marshes supply salt. Mineral springs are numerous, the most important being those of Lamalon-les-Bains and Balaruc-les-Bains. The chief manufactures are woollen and cotton cloth, especially for military use, silk (Ganges), casks, soap and fertilizing stuffs. There are also oil-works, distilleries (Béziers) and tanneries (Bédarieux). Fishing is an important industry. Cette and Mèze (pop. in 1906, 5574) are the chief ports. Hérault exports salt fish, wine, liqueurs, timber, salt, building-material, &c. It imports cattle, skins, wool, cereals, vegetables, coal and other commodities. The railway lines belong chiefly to the Southern and Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée companies. The Canal du Midi traverses the south of the department for 44 m. and terminates at Cette. The Canal des Étangs traverses the department for about 20 m., forming part of a line of communication between Cette and Aigues-Mortes. Montpellier, the capital, is the seat of a bishopric of the province of Avignon, and of a court of appeal and centre of an academic (educational division). The department belongs to the 16th military region, which has its headquarters at Montpellier. It is divided into the arrondissements of Montpellier, Béziers, Lodève and St Pons, with 36 cantons and 340 communes.

Montpellier, Béziers, Lodève, Bédarieux, Cette, Agde, Pézenas, Lamalou-les-Bains and Clermont-l’Hérault are the more noteworthy towns and receive separate treatment. Among the other interesting places in the department are St Pons, with a church of the 12th century, once a cathedral, Villemagne, which has several old houses and two ruined churches, one of the 13th, the other of the 14th century; Pignan, a medieval town, near which is the interesting abbey-church of Vignogoul in the early Gothic style; and St Guilhem-le-Désert, which has a church of the 11th and 12th centuries. Maguelonne, which in the 6th century became the seat of a bishopric transferred to Montpellier in 1536, has a cathedral of the 12th century.