Here’s a fun way to discover Béziers differently: let the many trompe-l’oeil (‘trick the eye’) murals guide you through the historic city centre. This colourful wall art brings local history alive, illustrating important events and well-known people of the past. I’ve walked past these wall paintings many times, but only while writing this blog post and doing some research did I understand their actual meaning, which made them much more interesting. So, get yourself a map from the Office de Tourisme and start exploring!
Keep your eyes open
You’ll have to keep your eyes open to spot the trompe-l’oeils dotted throughout Béziers. Even after many years in the city, I still notice new ones now and then. Most of them are located in the city centre, but you can also find a few on the outskirts. Béziers’ Tourism Office has created a map showing 19 trompe-l’oeil murals. It took me about 90 minutes to view 17 of them on a 3.6 km walk. I started my exploration at the Avenue Alphonse Mas. On this side of town, there are six impressive paintings, including one featuring Molière and another honouring the French resistance hero Estienne d’Orves.
This part of the city is somewhat unpolished, leading you to the Musée du Bitterois. Here there are two wall paintings worth discovering, such as one depicting the revolt of the winemakers in 1907. Weaving my way through a maze of little streets, I arrived at the Saint-Nazaire Cathedral, where you’ll find a depiction of the native Béziers sculptor Jean-Antoine Injalbert and his friend, sculptor Jules Dalou (not Etienne, as marked on the sign). You can find these two comrades on the suitably named ‘Friends Square’–La Place des Amis.
Another big name in Béziers is one of the main heroes of the French resistance, Jean Moulin. I found the trompe-l’oeil dedicated to him on a side street off the Place Lavabre. The Béziers-born Jean Moulin is portrayed as he looks in the famous photograph by his childhood friend Marcel Bernard. Gallery Romanin was his cover for Moulin’s resistance work as well as a refuge for resistance fighters. My next stop was the Place de la Victoire. I was looking for the trompe-l’oeil on this square, but instead I found a hidden one on the back of the Municipal Theatre. Tip: make sure to look up to spot the optical illusions, like the one on the corner of Avenue Foch and Clemenceau. This mural painting is a tribute to Jean-Marie Cordier, the hydraulic engineer who brought drinking water to Béziers in 1827.
Continuing on my way along the Allées Paul Riquet, I came across ‘L’Arlésienne d’Alphonse Daudet’ on the corner of the Rue Boëldieu. This mural shows ‘the woman from Arles’, Marie Caufoppe, standing on a balcony on the spot where her birth house once stood. The three men with her in the fresco are (from left to right) Bizet, Daudet and Mistral. Because of L’Arlésienne’s infidelity, the nephew of French writer Frédéric Mistral committed suicide. Inspired by this story, French novelist Alphonse Daudet introduced her into his novel ‘Lettres de mon Moulin’, while French composer Georges Bizet composed a musical piece about the story.
The last trompe-l’oeil I viewed is a recent one on the Place Antonin Moulin. On this square sits Antonin Moulin, father of Jean Moulin and republican at heart. One of his causes was to create a monument to former mayor Casimir Péret (also visible on one of the trompe-l’oeils) made by Jean-Antoine Injalbert. After his political career, he turned to literature. Maybe this old love came back in his life because he met with Frédéric Mistral and Alphonse Daudet during his youth in Provence? This closed the loop of my viewing of Béziers’ wall paintings, which taught me much about the city’s history and heroes. On my way back home, I drove past another remarkable trompe-l’oeil of the Nine Locks. Of course, I didn’t mention all 19 trompe-l’oeils- and counting-, as I want to leave some for you to discover on your own!