The Port of Sete is France’s main commercial port in the country’s west-central Languedoc-Roussillon region on the Mediterranean shores just over 27 kilometers southwest of Montpelier. Lying at the foot of Mont Saint-Clair on a strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Thau Lagoon, the Port of Sete is sometimes called the “Venice of Languedoc” because the town is linked to the lagoon by a network of canals.
The Midi Canal links the Port of Sete through the lagoon to the Garonne River and the Rhone Canal. You won’t see gondolas, but you will see motor boats in the canals. Each summer, the Port of Sete is the site of the joutes natiques, a water jousting tournament that began in the 17th Century. The Port of Sete is a popular resort for tourists and home to manufacturers of chemical products, spirits, and phosphates. The town boasts a sandy beach and beautiful yachting harbor. In 2005, over 43 thousand people called the Port of Sete home.
When it was the island of Mont Saint Clair, the Port of Sete was a colony and port of ancient Greece. During the Roman period, it was famous for its pickled fish. Over the years, the Port of Sete became a busy fishing port. As other Mediterranean ports became silted over by the 1200s, the Port of Sete became the most important in the region.
The first jetty for the Port of Sete was started in 1596 to protect the port from storms, but it was not finished until 1666. The Port of Sete started growing in 1681 when the Canal du Midi was completed. Until 1927, it was named Cette. From the mid-17th Century, the Canal du Midi opened the Languedoc region an inland shipping route between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Silting has attached the former island to the mainland.
In 1673, the council of state created the town by decree. In 1710, England took the port and held it for a time. This moved Languedoc to improve the Port of Sete’s Fort Saint Pierre and the Citadelle Richelieu.
During World War II, the Port of Sete was all but destroyed as the Allies liberated France. Today, the modern city is restored and vibrant, with over 43 thousand people. Rebuilding the Port of Sete after the war allowed the port to receive large vessels and add facilities to handle minerals, fish, and miscellaneous products. In the 1960s, the port was expanded only to see the nearby oil refinery close in 1986 and imports of crude petroleum vanish.
Today, imports dominate the cargo moving through the Port of Sete, including refined petroleum goods and agricultural products. Exports include vegetable oils, cereals, and cement. The modern Port of Sete is visited by cruise liners today, and it provides ferry services as well as a modest traffic of containerized cargo. It is still an important fishing port, especially with the oyster and shellfish raised in the Thau Lagoon.