Mel and the Mediterranean

Avenue Foch, Montpellier (Photo: Jonaslange CC Commons Wikipedia)

(There is Roman stuff.)

Mel/Mélisende does a lot of travelling round in Double Pursuit, often on the TGV (train grande vitesse) the high speed train famous in France.

At a critical stage, she has to interview  ‘a person of interest’ in Montpellier, a beautiful city, only eleven kilometres from the Mediterranean. One of the most popular TV soap operas in France Un Si Grand Soleil known as USGS is based there. But Montpellier is  a bit more than a drama serial.

Sadly, it wasn’t Roman –  it was ‘missed’ by the Via Domitia, the great route from Italy along southern France to Spain. The nearest settlement was Sextantio, a mansio –  a stopover for travellers needing food and accommodation, and a change station for horses and chariots for public service couriers. Inscriptions and finds including mosaics usually reserved for public buildings or wealthy individuals people back this up.

Roman places mentioned: Sextantio, Sentius Mons and Agatha (Map from the Digital Atlas of the Roman World CC Commons licence)


In the Middle Ages, Montpellier was an important city belonging to the Crown of Aragon and before its sale to France in 1349. Established in 1220, the University of Montpellier is one of the oldest universities in the world and oldest medical school still in operation, with notable alumni such as Petrarch, Nostradamus and François Rabelais. Oh, and law. Above the medieval city, the ancient citadel of Montpellier is a stronghold built in the seventeenth century by Louis XIII of France.

Curious fact – it was the centre of the spice trade on France and supplied the royal court.

Since the 1990s, Montpellier has experienced one of the strongest economic and demographic growth in the country. 70,000 make up a quarter of its population, one of the highest  proportions in Europe. It enjoys  one of Europe’s largest pedestrian areas, a rich cultural life and Mediterranean climate and is ranked as a ‘Sufficiency’ city by the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network.

But Mel doesn’t really have time enjoy all this.

For Mel, it’s Montpellier station (left in the above photo), the St Roch multi-storey car park (centre) and the brasserie (right).

However, she has to drive to Sète, a gem on the Mediterranean coast, much visited by tourists. Known as the Venice of Languedoc and the singular island, it’s a port and a seaside resort on the Mediterranean with its own strong cultural identity, traditions, cuisine and dialect. The oldest form of the city’s name comes from Strabo, the 1st century CE Greek geographer who called it Sigion oros. Ptolemy (2nd century) referred to it as Sêtion oros  then a Festus Avienus, in the 4th century called it in Latin Setius mons. (Hooray!)

Anyway, back to the present day… Mel drives through the busy outskirts and across the metal bridge (centre of above photo) through the picturesque old town brimming with tourists – she manages not to run any over in her hurry – and then up on to Mont Saint-Clair, the prestigious wooded hill scattered with private villas (the hill rising to the left the original Roman Setius Mons)

Just in case she might be followed, she drives on to Agde on the narrow causeway between the huge Étang de Thau and the Mediterranean. Joy of joys, it has ancient history.

Agde is one of the oldest towns in France. Founded in 525 BCE as a Greek colony settled by Phocaeans from Massilia who traded in anything and everything. They exported grain, wool, basalt millstones and perhaps slaves and are said to have introduced olive oil and vine cultivation to southwestern France. And they there was that very valuable export – salt – produced the plentiful salt pans in the area. Fortunes were made, but then the Romans came along…

In 118 BCE, Roman consul Cneus Domitius Ahenobarbus led a campaign against the Allobroges to conquer southern Gaul . Domitius was active in the early development of southern Roman Gaul, establishing the first Roman colony at Colonia Narbon Martius, and sponsored projects such as the Via Domitia connecting Italy to Spain through southern Gaul.

Roman road

Part of the via Domitia (Author photo with, er, author)

Mel doesn’t see all the pleasures of Agde as she’s on the case, but I strongly recommend you to visit it as well as Montpellier and Séte.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel is out on 19 October 2021.

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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