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

 

 

Chez moi – deux

Ma chambre et la fenêtre
Ma chambre et la fenêtre

Winding upstairs to the second floor to the rear is the third bedroom which is where I chose to sleep. It is smaller than Rita’s room but looks out to the chateau and is very quiet. A neighbours grand garden winds behind my house and it is like living above a park. Spring and summer, I am awakened by scores of birds singing their hearts out. As you can see, some of these photos were taken before I actually moved in so there is little furniture in the way. Today there is a wicker chaise in front of my bedroom window. The old 3/4 size bed was left here and with the purchase of a new mattress it serves me well. Perhaps you will notice the unusual tile pattern or the black marble chimney breast? Behind the bedroom door is a tiny cupboard and the same type cupboard in the bedroom directly beneath it. Each has two shelves at the top and either pegs or nails for hanging up your clothes. When this home was built, people didn’t have large wardrobes and the houses reflect that.

Across the landing from my room is the bathroom but to the right is a door which opens to yet another flight of stairs which sweeps up into the grenier. There were several pieces of old furniture now removed and a collection of old wine bottles which now house some very aged vinegar. A few other “treasures” remain where the previous owners left them. I have toyed with the idea of one day turning the back room of the grenier into a roof terrace. Time will tell what happens there. As it is, I just continue enjoying my home and discovering more of its stories.

Bisous,

Léa

Ma chambre
Ma chambre
From my window, turn your head slightly to the left and you are rewarded!
From my window, turn your head slightly to the left and you are rewarded!
One of the attic's skylights
One of the attic’s skylights
Grenier room 2
Grenier room 2

Keep walking…

Marker shows flood level of November 1999
Marker shows flood level of November 1999

If I go a bit overboard, perhaps you will forgive me. However, I love my village and can’t get enough of it or of the photos! There were a number of photos I took  that I was unable to access while getting the post out this morning so I am continuing with the walk about the village. Even with this post there are still photos left…

The staircase to the left takes you up to the footbridge that crosses over to the school, the mairie (mayor’s office), the poste and much more. Most of the houses on that side are much newer than where my house is which is just a few meters from these stairs. The marker on the way up the stairs shows how high the water rose during a storm in 1999. The ground floor of my house and many others were under water. The old market and a number of other buildings across the river were destroyed. Yet it proves that you cannot keep a great village and wonderful and determined people down!

As I write this, it has been raining since yesterday afternoon. Soon, once again, it will be filled, flowing and watched for signs of flooding. It is suppose to be on a 40 year flood cycle. However, last year came a bit close.

Thank you for joining me on my walk. I do hope that for those so inclined, you will one day leave your footprints here.

Bisous,

Léa

It is difficult to get lost here...
It is difficult to get lost here…
Stairs to the footbridge looking down
Stairs to the footbridge looking down
More of the tiny apples
More of the tiny apples
Chateau through the pines
Chateau through the pines
Newer builds
Newer builds
Tennis anyone?
Tennis anyone?
Old Olympic souvenir!
Old Olympic souvenir!
Soccer stadium
Soccer stadium
In the pines...
In the pines…
A road less taken...
A road less taken…

Durban Corbières

My first view of the village. (Winter)

Next month I shall celebrate my fifth anniversary of living in la belle France. I arrived on October 31, 2007. The time has gone so rapidly and so much has happened. The first three months were focused mainly on house hunting. Never did I imagine it would take so long. It did give me the opportunity to see a number of different villages and types of house. While many interested me and one in particular in Les Martys which is situated in Montagne Noir (The Black Mountain) I was not convinced. Something held me back.  An agent in Carcassonne (friend of a friend) showed me a few houses but we struck out. Then one day as I passed her office, she waved me inside and said she had a property to show me. Maryanne navigated and I drove.

Something I had not told anyone was that I had a date set when I would start looking out of the region I was convinced was where I wanted to be. That day as I drove closer to the sea than I had considered (thinking it was out of my budget) I tried to keep an open mind to what she would be showing me. It was January 16, 2008 and the birthday of my youngest son. I had been sure that I would have been successful by that date.

Maryanne read her printout from the internet as I navigated the main road then later

View of the mairie (mayor’s office) and school from my front door.

some small windy roads. The thought in my head was that even if this turned out to be the house, I would never find it again. We arrived in the village, parked and walked about waiting for the seller to arrive and let us in. We parked by the stone wall which stands between the house and le berre de rivière (the river berre). Leaning over the ancient stone wall, I saw the bridge (shown above) and felt a tug on the heart-strings.

Monsieur Pollard in the grenier

We didn’t have much time to look about when Monsieur Pollard arrived and we began our look around the house. It is a town house with small rooms and spread over four stories. The top one being the grenier (attic).

The house had been empty for over two years. The structure appeared sound which I later had verified and while small it gave me two guest bedrooms which was more than adequate. The house is over 300 years old and the original tiles remain in all the rooms and stairs.

The kitchen contained a sink (typical of homes in France) and remnants of a chimney which could be replaced should one choose to do so. Any purchaser would have to kit out the kitchen on their own.

The village itself had the requisites that I had been wanting and more. There is the boulangerie, cafe/bar, post office. Yet there was so much more. The village has a piscine (swimming pool), tennis courts, a small market, flower shop, coiffeur, notary, bibliothèque (library) even a botanical garden. There is also a man who brings in fresh seafood every Thursday and a Wednesday morning market offering fresh produce, fresh goat cheese and more. The foyer hosts first run movies each Tuesday night and often additional films especially for the children. There is even a campground with cabins and facilities for those with tents. The tourist season here is quite busy so if you think that camping is something for you, I would urge you to book ahead. If camping is not your thing you can rent a house or stay in the small hotel over the bar. There are also several chambres d’hotes ( bed & breakfast).

Needless to say, if you like a place in the dead of winter, it can only get better. I made an offer the same day and it was accepted. Despite everyone telling me that it would take over three months to close escrow, two months to the day of viewing the house I had the keys and moved in three days later when my bed, fridge, stove and washing machine were delivered. Since then I have picked up a few more pieces. That feeling that I got when I first saw the village have grown. Getting to know the people has been the icing on the cake. I have never felt so at home anywhere.

Anne in the Salle de sejour/ livingroom
Flower shop/ cafe-bar/ restaurant

Bisous,

Cuisine/kitchen

Léa

View of the chateau behind my house from my bedroom window

Château Termes Part II

Surrounded on three sides by a deep ravine, the castle appears to be floating when you reach the summit and look out windows or doors. You can only access it from the south. The north door provides a sheer drop and not recommended.

Village de Termes
Village de Termes

While much of the structure has been destroyed, there is still a great deal to see and experience.

The donjon or main tower is no longer standing and the perimeter walls are seriously damaged you can see the form of several rooms and have the most amazing views from remaining doors and windows. The south-west corner, destroyed, has been replaced by a later building. In the south-east corner lies the remains of an access ramp and gate with what appears to have been a water tank.

Northern entrance (interior wall)
Chapel entrance
Chapel entrance

The western side is marked by a rectangular construction whose vaulted ceiling has caved in. This wall was part of the castle chapel. There remains an opening in the shape of a cross. The chronicles of the crusaders record this castle as an advanced fortified city. As it stands, little remains of date back to before the crusade and what is visible is attributed to the later XIIIth century or beginning of the XIVth century. Demolition was order by Louis XIII in 1635.

Northern wall
Northern wall

With restoration planning under way, it is thrilling to think of what discoveries and treasures will be brought to light.

Bisous,

Léa

Château Termes Part I

Château Termes was first mentioned in records in 1061 in reference to Olivier Bernard. The village and castle wasunder the protection of the Lords of Termenés.

Their power over this ancient district in the feudal era emerging at the beginning of the XI century.

Their allegiance was to the Trencavels, Viscounts for Carcassonne-Béziers. Characteristics of the castle were documented in 1163. In an effort to settle a disagreement between brothers, Guillaume and Raymond de Termes, segments of the Château were appropriated to each. This allowed each of the brothers to append the structure of various portions of the wall. Records also mention the construction of the church below the château in the village. This same church is the present village church and that would place its beginning in the second half of the XII century. From the inception of the Cathar Crusade, Château Termes was under siege.  Due to the need of regulating the Christian faith and the foundation of doctrine. Distressed over the spread of the Cathar religion, the church began to eradicate the heretics. Cathars were also known as Bons Hommes (good men) and Bonnes Femmes (good women) but were referred to by Rome as Albigensians. This was part of the effort to mystify the people of the region believed to protect them. The Church was determined not to just stem the growth of Catharism but to eradicate it altogether.

In 1209 the first Holy war in Europe was initiated by Pope Innocent III. The Cathar or Albigensian Crusade was aimed at the nobility of Southern France who were viewed as protectors of the heretics. The battle raged on for twenty years. In 1229 The King of France moved to intervene. His offering of the Count of Toulouse . Despite the horrific slaughter, along the path of the crusaders, the religious Cathars flourished.

Simon de Montford accuses Raymond de Termes of heresy and declares war on the castle. The siege last four months resulting in the imprisonment of Raymond de Termes in Carcassonne and the property returned to the French crown.

Olivier de Termes, son of Raymond, defied the royal armies in 1228 and this siege lasted until 1240 becoming companion-in-arms to King Louis IX. Becoming part of the stronghold guarding the frontier with Aragon. For four centuries, the castle was occupied by a royal garrison.

The castle walls were demolished by a master stone-mason using explosive charges in 1653 and again in 1654 operating under orders by the King.

The site remained abandoned until the XXth century. Now property of the Touring Club of France it became common property with its protective measures. The hill where the castle stood became classified as a site in 1942 with the castle ruins not being listed until 1951 and later classified as a historical monument in 1989.

Bisous,

Léa

Le Château d’ Aguilar

Le Château d’ Aguilar rises in the Cathar country, ensconced in a landscape of aromatic garrigue vegetation. A stark contrast to the  order of the Haut Fitou vineyards. Set on the rock like a crown, the castle looks over the village of Tuchan. The first mention of Puy Aguilar appeared in the testament of the Count of Besalù in 1020.

 Possession of The Château fell under the auspices of vassals of the Trencavel family. The crusade to eradicate the Cathars began in 1209 lasting until 1255. At the conclusion of this inquisition, the castle was property of the King of France. Ownership was bestowed to Olivier de Termes as a reward for services rendered in the Holy Land.

In 1258, the castle was brought into service in defending the French-Aragon border. In 1260 the castle was integrated  info the royal domain by The King of France, Louis IX and became a royal fortress.

The castle is composted of two hexagonal walls. One composed of two rooms (upper and lower) and constructed in the 12th century. The lower floor was designated for the guards and light came through the vaulted narrow windows. The upper floor served as home to the castle keeper. 

The outer hexagonal wall added in the 14th century and is flanked by six semi-circular towers to impede invading armies. Outside its curtained walls to the east stands the Romanesque chapel of St. Anne.

A traditional Romanesque chapel dedicated to St Anne    stands on the outside of the curtain-wall, on the eastern side. The castle and the surrounding area obtained status as a Historical Monument in 1949.

Information is available in several languages at the bureau located at the foot of the trail. You can purchase books and postcards or grab a bottle of water. The castle is currently undergoing repairs and excavation to the subterranean levels which have long been inaccessible.

Bisous,

Léa