It was after the siege by Louis XIII of this Protestant bastion in 1622 that Montpellier quickly gained the status of a provincial capital, with numerous government representatives forming the nobles of the robe who proceeded to build mansions.
But the architects of the region preserved traditional features, such as the vaulted ground floors of the 14th and 15th centuries. The Montpellier elite adapted itself to the constraints of the building plots in the old “Ecusson” district. No gardens, and no more separate covered entrances, there was not enough space: the entrance ways to these noble houses had floors directly above them, unlike the grand town houses of the Marais in Paris.
But a family wishing to maintain its rank would have reside on the high ground, in the main streets. "There are medieval constructions everywhere here," comments Elisabeth, the Tourist Office guide who accompanies us on a journey through time, from the Hôtel des Trésoriers de France where Jacques Coeur lived, a great financier under Charles VII, to the Hôtel de Mirman, in the Place du Marché aux Fleurs, whose foundations date from the 13th century.
The Hôtel de Montferrier has an impressive balustrade staircase in the Renaissance style, as does the Hôtel de Griffy. ''Rather than ornate façades, it was the stairs that reflected the owner’s rank'', our guide explains.
Today, these private courtyards can only be seen on one of the Tourist Office's guided tours. But keep your eyes open! It is not uncommon for doors to be left open for a few precious moments, such as those of the Hotel des Trésoriers de la Bourse, which now houses the German Cultural Centre.
A glimpse inside can be an unexpected treat during a stroll through the city streets.