The Pont des Marchands bridge was built in Roman times and is a must-see of Narbonne. Unfortunately, the structure is fragile and it is not possible to use this bridge for the moment. Come and explore Narbonne, for a fascinating historic experience!
Water has always been a key part of the city of Narbonne. The river Aude flows through the city, and the booming economy is thanks to the strategic location.
The Canal du Midi doesn't flow through Narbonne itself, but the Canal de la Robine provides a link between the city and this unique waterway! The Canal de la Robine, and the Canal de Jonction are both considered a part of the Canal du Midi as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At the end of the 2nd century B.C., the Romans arrived in Aude and founded a new city, Narbonne. The name of this city was even given to the province that covered the area from the Alps to Spain.
Narbonne is at the crossroads of the Via Domitia and Via Aquitania routes. The first one runs between Spain and Italy, and the second provided a link between Narbonne, Toulouse and Bordeaux. The river Aude also passes through Narbonne, providing access to the Mediterranean via Bages lagoon.
This is why Narbonne boasts a great, strategic location for trade!
Did you know?
The ports in Narbonne are considered as the most significant of the Roman Empire, after the port of Ostia Antica near Rome.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the fact that the mouth of the river Aude was moved further east, the former river here became a simple canal, the Canal de la Robine. This canal supplied water to the city of Narbonne, as well as the energy needed to operate the mills of the medieval town. But the economic activity isn't what it used to be in Roman times!
When the Canal Royal du Languedoc - the original name of the Canal du Midi - was filled with water, Vauban and his engineer Niquet, in an effort to prevent any further deterioration for the city, modified the old medieval canal to connect it to the Canal du Midi.
But Riquet's successors opposed this project because they were afraid that there wouldn't be enough water to supply the main canal, as well as the Canal de Jonction branch that would need to be created.
In 1776, thanks to insistence from the archbishop of Narbonne, the Canal de Jonction between the river Aude and the Canal du Midi was finally funded and created by the Estates of Languedoc. This canal was opened in 1787 and boats could then sail from the Canal du Midi to the Canal de la Robine without having to unload their cargo.
From then on, the city of Narbonne regained its status as a significant port of the canal. At the beginning of the 19th century, work was carried out on the lower section of the Canal de la Robine, between Narbonne and Port La Nouvelle, for a better connection between the maritime port and the city.
From the banks of the Canal du Midi, you can admire the most beautiful monuments of Narbonne, including the Palais des Archevêques, Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur cathedral, the Pont de Marchands bridge, and also the new museum devoted to the ancient city of Narbonne, 'Narbovia'.
Did you know?
The Pont des Marchands is a monument from Roman times and is one of the rare bridges in France that was up until recently used as a foundation for houses. These houses were evacuated in 2023 because the structure has become fragile and needs consolidating. This bridge once had nine arches, identical to the one we can still see today. Eight of them were filled in and privately owned houses and apartment buildings have now been built onto them. This bridge is a part of the ancient 'Via Domitia' route.
Over the past ten years or so, restoration work has been done on the section of the banks of the Robine that crosses through the city, bringing out the best of the historic and urban facades there. The two big mills, the one in the city close to the Charité lock and Gua mill bear witness to the industrial activity generated by the Canal du Midi.
There are some great walks and bike rides to do around Narbonne. Here is a selection of routes to explore the region.
At the heart of the Pays Cathare, here is an idea for a boat trip to explore the charming towns and villages of the region, including Narbonne.