Carcassonne and La Cité

Carcassonne will always have a special place in my heart. When I first visited France it was with a backpack, rail-pass with eyes and heart wide open! I was privileged to stay within the fortified cité for a week. That six weeks traveling France went by in a flash. The lovely bridge leads you into the heart of the town and all that lies beyond. Between the ancient fortress and the river Aude are a playground, picnic areas and vast parkland. To the rear are vineyards.

La Cité
La Cité

This ancient Roman town was established around the VIII Century BC, the Carsac oppidum was just two kilometers south of the present city. The town extends over more than twenty hectares on the apex of a plateau protected by both a ditch and the angled entrances. Due to demographic growth it was reorganized around the late VIIth Century. Another ditch was reinforced by levees and palisades of wood and made to protect the new extension. While we don’t know why, the Carsac oppidum was abandoned in the early Vith Century BC then moved to its current resting place on the mound which dominates the Aude plain. Vestiges acquired from archaeological excavations show us that it was occupied from the beginning of the Iron Age up until the Roman conquest. Among the artifacts are drystone walls, grain silos, bronze foundry ovens and pottery. The discovery of the vast number of goods, especially earthenware (amphoras, vases, goblets…) attests to the activities that took place in this colony which was accessible to trading in the region of the Aude and also the Mediterranean basin.

Drawbridge or main entrance
Drawbridge or main entrance

 

A pathway to the side off drawbridge
Drawbridge from the inside
Cité walls left of entrance
Cité walls left of entrance
Un café
Un café
Walking along the central path inside the fortified city
Walking along the central path inside the fortified city
Temptation is everywhere!
Sweets for the sweet!
One of the courtyards inside the walled cité
One of the courtyards inside the walled cité
Souvenirs abound
Souvenirs abound
Off the beaten track
Off the beaten track
One of the many paths you can take
One of the many paths you can take
To the right of the entrance you can see the moat is often dry these days
To the right of the entrance you can see the moat is often dry these days
Below the walled fortress the river forks
Below the walled fortress the river Aude forks

 

This little bridge takes you across the river into the heart of the town. If you look closely you can see some delicate metal arches to walk under.
This little bridge takes you across the river Aude into the heart of the town. If you look closely you can see some delicate metal arches to walk under.
At the bottom you can partially see the local boules club
At the bottom you can partially see the local boules club

The citadel takes its reputation from its 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) long double surrounding walls which are interspersed by 52 towers. The town has approximately 2,500 years of history which has seen it inhabited or invaded by Romans, Visigoths, Saracens and of course, the Crusaders. It originated as a Gaulish settlement then in the 3rd century A.D., the Romans began to fortify the town. It was annexed to the kingdom of France in 1247 A.D., and provided a strong French frontier between France and the Crown of Aragon.

After the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, the province of Roussillon was included as part of France and the town no longer had military significance. The town became one of the economic centers of France focusing on the woolen textile industry and the fortifications were abandoned.

The French government decided to demolish the city fortifications in 1849. The local people were strongly opposed. The campaign to preserve the fortress as an historical monument was staunchly aided by the efforts of Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille and Prosper Mérimée, a renowned archaeologist and historian. The government reversed its decision and the restoration work commenced in 1853. The architect, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was charged with renovating the fortress. Viollet-le-Duc’s work received criticism in his lifetime. Claims were made that the restoration was inappropriate for the traditions and climate of the region. Upon his death in 1879, the work continued under the direction of his former pupil, Paul Boeswillwald and later by the architect Nodet.

If you are interested in the area, may I recommend the book Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Her descriptions of Carcassonne are excellent and her story weaves in and out of the 12th century and modern day.  It was her book that I was reading when I first arrived in Carcassonne.

There are accommodations from four star hotels to the youth hostel within the fortified cité and it can provide an excellent place to stay during a visit. The train station is a short walk away from the centre of town and the airport is nearby. It is not to late to plan a holiday here in the south west of France the summer will be here soon but there are activities here all year around.

Bisous,

Léa

 

 

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40 thoughts on “Carcassonne and La Cité

    1. The book is fiction. Personally, it isn’t something I would normally read but I’m glad I did as it gives a real window into the cité during the 12th century. Her descriptions are wonderful.

  1. Lea it looks amazing and steeped in history and a little mystery. I would not want to leave. Your pictures are amazing. Thankfully they had the sense to preserve such a wonderful city. I could imagine a writer getting carried away in story if they stopped by.

    1. Provence is lovely. You might also check out Aix-en-Provence, Nimes and Arles. I believe I have done posts on each but there is much more there. Léa

      1. Cézanne is the reason, why Aix-en-Provence is on our list. As well as Vincent van Gogh – you know, my wife is a pinter, too 🙂

      2. My friend, you have chosen well. Other than my little village, Atelier Cézanne is my favourite place to visit in France and I do not say that lightly! I have been there more than once and written not only a blog post about it but a poem that has been published and on my other blog. Enjoy!

  2. I’ve never had the chance to visit Carcassonne, but my high school French club spent time in another walled city—Uzès. The archaeologist in me loves places like them!

    1. There is a castle behind my house that is about a thousand years old and there are many more in the area some even much older. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Beautiful photos – it looks like a place from a fairy tale. I can see why it will always have a special place in your heart. The only time I visited France was with a backpack and rail pass. That’s the best way to travel because it’s easy to appreciate everything that way, as long as you have a place to put that backpack down every once in a while.

    1. It is more than a bit touristy but that is what pays to keep it in such good condition. Many of the old chateau are crumbling as there isn’t enough money to repair them all… and there are so many. In fact, there is one right outside my bedroom window.

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