Gabian in Herault


From the main road between Roujan and Bédarieux,
Gabian looks like just another picturesque, medieval
village tucked away in a corner of Languedoc. In fact,
over the years, Gabian has been the centre of much
activity. For example in not so distant a past, oil
rigs were set up and the tiny railway station (which
is no longer operational) was busy.

It is said that Gabian was one of the first sites
in Europe to use the "cracking" refining
technique. Not that Gabian is about to unbalance world
energy policy, but from 1924 until the 1950’s, oil
was extracted from the "Foun de l’Oli",
that had been discovered and used for various purposes,
mainly medical, since Roman times.

Pechelbronn, an Alsatian company managed to extract
4000 litres of oil per day between 1924 and 1927.
At the time Gabian and the village of Pechelbronn
in Alsace were the only known oil-fields in France.
The site was occupied by the Germans during the second
world war who used the refined oil for their tanks
and lorries.

Long before that, for years the Foun de l’Oli belonged
to the Catholic church and in 1608, a bishop, Jean
de Bonzi, set up a system to tap, decant and store
the oil. At the end of the 18th century the oil was
used as " miraculous " remedy to heal wounds,
burns, worms, colic, and stomach pains. All this was
managed by the bishops and sold bottled or in pills
as " Gabianol ". The Revolution put an end
to this lucrative private business, which all became
state property and consequently remained dormant until
the end of the 19th century.

But going back much further, traces of Neolithic
man, as old as -4500 BC, have been found nearby at
the Resclauze spring overlooking the village. Pottery,
ornaments, axes and flint-stones have been found around
Gabian and other villages in the immediate area :
Roquessels, Magalas, and Roujan.

In Roman times the Resclauze spring was the starting
point of an enormous aqueduct to supply water to Béziers.
Several other springs were also tapped on the way
down at Fouzilhon, Magalas, Puismisson and Corneilhan.
Remains of this aqueduct and some traces of Roman
habitat may be seen at Gabian.

Records of "Villa Gabianii" were made as
early as the 10th century and the Castrum or castle
is noted in 1153. The fortified village remains to
this day, and part of the church dates back to the
early Middle Ages. Market day has been Wednesday in
Gabian by order since 1180.

During the 14th and 15th centuries the village suffered
from war and the Plague. A band of thieves lived in
the town in 1360 and Gabian was nicknamed at that
time a "village de brigands" and as it is
hard to shake off a bad reputation, some people in
other villages still claim this is so (which is quite
unfair !)

All the more so as from the 12th century on, Gabian
is tied and tithed to the church, as an ecclesiastical
domain. The bishops of Béziers had a residence
built in the village in 1230 and used the premises
until the Revolution.

It is strange to find such a mixture of bishops and
brigands in this village. Driving from Gabian to Roujan
you cannot miss the grand Priory of Cassan, the history
of which was closely linked with that of Gabian for
a thousand years.

For example, Black death caused havoc over the years
in Gabian and in 1543 a pious procession between the
village church and the priory of Cassan seemed to
rid the village of the disease. Tradition wears hard
in this area and a procession was made every year
to protect the villagers from the plague until the
French Revolution in 1789, when such practice was
considered anti-Republican.

The community of canons – a learned order – at Cassan was originally founded
by Charlemagne. But the priory as it is today was built in1754 and is a beautiful
example of neo-classical architecture, financed by the gifts of the families
of the well-to-do canons.

In recent history the building had a very chequered history and considerable
damage and neglect occurred as it was used as a circus school and a centre for
juvenile delinquents. However both the building and a lovely Chinese garden
discovered under decades’ growth of weeds and rubble have undergone extensive
renovation the priory is now well worth visiting. It is open to the public every
day from Easter to September 30 from 3pm to 7pm and non-stop from 10am to 7pm
in July and August.