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Here, at the source of the Eure began the 1st century CE Roman aqueduct that brought water 50 km to Nimes, of which the famous stretch is the Pont du Gard, which carries the aqueduct on splendid arches across the river Gardon. Uzès, as Ucetia was a small Gallo-Roman oppidum.
With the arrival of official Christianity in the 5th century, and until the Revolution, the city was the seat of a bishop, a competitor to the local lords. The fourth bishop is locally venerated as Saint Firmin , a sure protection against plague; his relics remain in the Cathedral of Saint Théodorit. As the power of territorial magnates dispersed, the bishops obtained the right to strike coinage, a sure sign of their secular power, and the seigneurial right to dispense justice. In the 13th century, at the height of their power, the bishop was able to purchase a part of the signory of Uzès. Guillaume de Grimoard du Roure, officiated as bishop of Uzès before becoming Pope Urban V. There are handsome monuments of the prestige of this bishopric, once one of the most extensive of Languedoc, but extinguished at the Revolution, and private houses that witness the wealth that the textile trade brought in the 16th century. The 11th century Romanesque Tour Fenestrelle ("Window Tower"), with its paired windows, is probably the most famous icon of the city.
The civilized and tolerant urban life of 5th-century Uzès contrasted with the Frankish north. Jews were settled there as early as the 5th century. St Ferréol , Bishop of Uzès, admitted them to his table and enjoyed their friendship. On this account complaint was made of him to King Childebert, whereupon the bishop was obliged to change his attitude toward the Jews, compelling all those who would not become Christians to leave Uzès. After his death (581) many who had received baptism returned to Judaism (Gallia Christiana, vi. 613; Dom Vaissète, "Histoire Générale de Languedoc," i. 274, 545). In the 13th century, Uzès hosted a small community of Jewish scholars, as well as a community of Cathars. The cathedral was destroyed in the Albigensian Crusade, rebuilt, and destroyed again in the 16th century Wars of Religion, triumphantly rebuilt in the 17th century, but stripped out at the Revolution.
The ducs d'Uzès
The title of duc d'Uzès, in the family De Crussol d'Uzès, is the premier title in the peerage of France, coming right after the princes of the blood. The title of seigneur d'Uzès is attested in a charter of 1088. After Languedoc was attached to France (1229), the dukes' military skill and fealty to the Crown propelled their rise through the nobility, until, after the treason of the last Duc de Montmorency, beheaded in 1632, the title of First Duke of France fell to Uzès, who retain their stronghold in the center of town today, which has expanded round the 11th century Tour Bermond. If France were a kingdom, it would be the job of the duc d'Uzès to cry out, "Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi!" at each state funeral, and defend the honor of the Queen Mother. Twenty-one ducs have been wounded or killed as hereditary Champion of France over the centuries.
The Huguenots of Uzès
Like many cloth-manufacturing centers (Uzès was known for its serges), the city and the surrounding countryside were strongly Protestant during the Wars of Religion in the 16th century, which wreaked havoc in Languedoc. Numerous of the city's churches were trashed and burned by furious Protestants: only two remain.
The present-day city, like many others, retains the trace of its walls as a circuit of boulevards. A Capucin chapel, built in 1635 to house the mortal remains of the dukes, recently become First Peers of France, occupies the site of the 1st century temple to Augustus.
Uzès was the birthplace of:
- Firmin Abauzit (1679-1767), scholar who worked on physics, theology and philosophy
- Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys D'Aigalliers, Count de Brueys, (1753-1798), the French commander in the Battle of the Nile.
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