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

Carcassonne: La Cité- Part2

Carcassonne: La Cité- Part2

La Cité

The Historic Monuments Commission agreed to undertake the restoration of La Cite in 1844. 

Two concentric rings of curtain wall surround the city, the ramparts cover a total of 3km. Parts of the inner wall show the remains of Roman times. The second wall is separated from the first and was constructed in the 13th Century.

There is a total of 52 towers surrounding the city and the Chateau Comtal, the heart of the fortifications. Originally the palace of the viscounts, it was reinforced and protected by a semi-circular barbican and a moat.

The genesis of Carcassonne goes back to pre-Roman time. The Cité’s structure today derives from the 11th and 12th centuries. Throughout this time, Carcassonne was ruled by the Trencavel family. The Trencavel’s were central to the development of the Cathar religion.
The Cathars were generally known as “bons hommes” “bons chrétiens” and “parfaits”, they were regarded as heretics by the Catholic Church, and the ensuing conflict was characterized by unspeakable violence and persecution. In the summer of 1209 forces led by the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury, consisting of “crusaders” and armies of the King of France, laid siege to Carcassonne.

Despite this, in August 1209, Carcassonne fell. The young Vicomte, Raymond-Roger Trencavel, was thrown into his own prison and died there aged 24. Simon de Montfort was installed as the new Viscount.
Today the Trencavels’ Château Comtal is a powerful reminder of the medieval need to protect one’s home – a fortified sector within a heavily fortified town. Only one gate was wide enough for carts to pass into the Cité

La Cité is a must for most tourists to this region and children all find something to fascinate them. Money generated by the businesses there insure that the attraction will be there for future generations.

Bisous,

Léa

Carcassonne: La Cité – Part 1

The origins of Carcassonne are traced back to the 4th C BC.

In the 2nd Century BC it served as a strategic outpost fortified by the Romans, who gave it the name Carcassonne. The Visigoths succeeded the Romans and overran Gaul in the 5th C AD. When they converted to Christianity, it became a diocese. In the 8th Century the fortress fell to the Franks who later defended the city against attacks from the Saracens.

The Emperor Charlemagne besieged the town in 795, and was held by Dame Carcass, a Saracen princess. After a five year siege, the only food left was one little pig and a bag of corn. Dame Carcass gave the bag of corn to the pig and sent it out to the ramparts. Charlemagne raised the siege, since he thought there was enough food even to feed a small pig. Before the Emperor left, Dame Carcass rang out the bells making them sound the word Carcassonne.

In 1209, Crusades from the north came down the Rhone valley to stamp out the heretic Cathars.
The Viscount
Raymond Roger Trencavel publicly offered protection to all those being hounded by the northern invaders.

After sacking Beziers, the crusading army besieged Carcassonne. Despite the leadership of a youngl Trencavel, in his early 20’s, the town was forced to surrender after only two weeks through lack of water.

The Army council appointed Simon de Montfort, Viscount of Carcassonne in place of Trencavel.
River Aude
Within a year Trencavel was found dead in the tower where he was being held prisoner.

In 1240 Trencavel’s son tried in vain to recapture Carcassonne by siege. Although his mines and missile breached the walls, he was forced to retreat by the royal army.

St Louis IX had the small towns around the ramparts razed and the town’s inhabitants paid for their rebellion with seven years in exile. Upon their return they were permitted to build a town on the opposite side of the river Aude- the present Ville Basse. The walled city was repaired and reinforced. When finished, it was so well fortified it was regarded as impregnable.

Successive kings reinforced Carcassonne because of its strategic importance close to the border with Catalonia. However, in 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees restored the region of Roussillon to France. The new border was now 200kms away, The city of Perpignan now guarded the frontier. Carcassonne’s military importance dwindled and was eventually abandoned and left to decay.
La Cité
When I first visited France in the spring of 2006, I spent a week in La Cité staying at the hostel and exploring the area. Before arriving, I began reading the book Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Her descriptions of the area were so vivid and I felt I had stepped into the pages of the book.
Bisous,
Léa

Un gout de Narbonne

Un goût de Narbonne! (A taste of Narbonne!)

The city of Narbonne looked nothing like this when Roman troops descended on it. Yet they left their mark as did others. Today, you can still walk along the Via Domita and it is  the heart of this city. As you travel through these photos, be sure to click on and really take it all in.

 

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Plaza Centrale de Narbonne et Canal de la Robine

From this side of the canal you can proceed to the first small street to the right. There are shops on both sides and from some of them you can look out over the canal. At the end of the street is the heart of the village and VIA DOMITA lies directly in front of you.

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Canal de la Robine avec Les Halles

Les Halles has been in this enclosure since 1901 and is only closed a few days of the year. There are stalls all around and in clusters in between. On offer is fresh seafood, breads and pastries, fruits and vegetables, cheeses, olives and so much more. There are restaurants inside but they are all set up as bars and the food cooked to order. If you want to have lunch there, don’t wait too long as they get crowded quickly. Different seasons and festivals will have specialties on offer. Of course, there is plenty of wine. Do your shopping early as it closes up at noon except for the restaurants.

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Les Halles depuis 1901
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l’estagnol Restaurant

Just after Les Halles is l’estagnol restaurant. It has changed little over the years I’ve been here. A few menu changes and decor but the biggest change is the additional space in front. As the season progresses, additional chairs and tables will be brought out to the newly tiled area between buildings and the canal. Thursdays is market day in Narbonne and as large as the extended plaza is, the vendors and café’s fill it so you can just about make your way through.

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Bon appetit!

A light but delicious lunch at l’estagnol was just the thing.

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L’art

l’estagnol like many of the other restaurants and shops have begun displaying are by local artists. I prefer to sit outside, weather permitting, or a window seat. However, I had not seen this work before so decided to take the rear view.

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Plaza grande centrale

It is my hope that these photos will give you an idea of just how large this area is. Make sure you are clicking on each photo to get an enlarged view. To the right you may notice the elevator to provide improved access to the canal.

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Plaza grande centrale

A view of the other side of the canal with the heart of the city in the back right corner.

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Le canal de la Robine

The canal is still a bit quiet but that changes rapidly as the tourists stream in. Narbonne is a very popular destination here in Europe. Often I’ve sat at a table in Place de Ville and practically made a game out of the variety of languages coming from the nearby tables.

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Walking over the canal

This little street opens out to the heart of the village . If you turn right you go back to the grand plaza. Left will take you to the tourist office.

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Le coeur de la ville – The heart of the city
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Centre

Soon many more café tables and chairs will encroach on the center of the city. You could not choose a lovelier place to have a café or glass of chilled rosé. On sunny days I will spend an hour or so at my favourite café reading and people watching.

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VIA DOMITA

Yes, you can actually walk on the VIA DOMITA.  There is a plaque on one end and a map on the other. The next photo and a few others were shot while standing on the ancient road to Rome.

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Hôtel de ville

Behind the windows where you see the flags is a very large room, ballroom size.  It is hung with elegant tapestries and filled with ornate chairs and other such furniture. The mayor’s office is also inside as are other offices.

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Entry to museum and chapel

Once you enter this arch way, it is much like walking on the Via Domita.

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Saint-Juste

Saint-Juste is one of the most impressive cathedrals. Alas, no photos were allowed inside. I’ve taken many photos from other cathedrals, including Notre Dame de Paris but not here.

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Cour Saint-Eutropé Cathedralé

There are a few more photos of this cathedral but with all the other photos I’ve taken, I’ve decided to do a part II so we shall return to Narbonne soon.

When I began putting this post together, I had made many historical notes but then decided to just show you around a city I spend so much time in. If you come to Narbonne one day, you may see me out on the Place de Ville with a book or journal and a glass of rosé.

Bisous,

Léa

La Plage at Saint Malo

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Saint-Malo was founded in the 1st century BC a short distance away from where it stands today. The Romans later fortified the city.  A monastery was established in the 6th century by Irish monks. Around that time the rocky island in the north was named after the celtic bishop Maclou.

The rock known as Saint-Malo was connected to the mainland by a mere causeway of sand. This was its natural defence during the raids conducted by the Vikings. What remains of the ancient ramparts were added in the 12th century by Bishop Jean de Chatillon.

Saint-Malo’s citizens traditionally exhibited a fiercely independent spirit. This strength of character and determination kept them in frequent conflict with the rulers of France, Brittany and England.  This spirit was epitomized by the city’s sailor merchants. They gained their riches from pillaging foreign ships out of The English Channel. Granted license by the King of France, they were free to go “coursing” after enemy vessels from which they retained a percentage of the profit of all captured ships and were known as corsairs. Squint your eyes on the shore as the sun is setting and it doesn’t take much imagination to visualise corsairs on the horizon.

While Saint-Malo sustained heavy damage during WWII, much has been done to restore it to its former glory. Today it is one of the most popular places to visit in Brittany.

Regardless of the time of day, the beach of Saint Malo can take your breath away.

Yet, the beaches are stunning and deserve a post of their own. Perhaps they can entice you to visit this charming city? Dig your feet into the sands and gaze out to where pirates once ruled the waves.

Bisous,

Léa

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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

Arles

Déjà’-vu is not an uncommon feeling even on ones first visit to Arles. As you meander the winding streets and find yourself at the foot of the colorful houses and enjoy a cafe in the squares, it is as if you have wandered into a painting by Vincent Van Gogh.

This captivating city perched on the Grand Rhône River bears the footprints of previous occupants, During the Bronze Age it was a Celtic settlement before becoming a Greek colony then in 49 BC the Romans settled in and its prosperity and political standing soared when the powers of the day backed Julius Caesar. Caesar had never experience defeat throughout his illustrious career. Marseille had made the error of not supporting Caesar choosing to back Pompey the Great. For this error in judgment, Marseille was seized and pillaged. It cost them the power that is associated with being the region’s major port.

Along with power came growth and within the next century it accumulated both an amphitheatre which would seat 20,000 and a 12,000 seat theatre. The citizens were invited to partake in the entertainment of the day which included chariot races and contests among the gladiators. Amazingly, these two structures are still intact and in use. However, the gruesome sports of the past have been replaced by events such bullfighting (in France, the bull is not killed) and concerts. Regardless of the change in what is offered there is still the air of excitement when the season begins again each spring. The venues are packed with locals and tourists alike.

 While Arles was memorably rendered by one-time resident Vincent van Gogh. Sad to say, not one of the 200-odd canvases Vincent painted here, in just over a year, remains in Arles, but the town has made him a starring attraction nonetheless. From the re-creation of his bedroom to exhibitions in the former hospital where he had his ear stitched up, there’s a whole lot of Vincent to enjoy. Don’t miss the Van Gogh trail, a walking tour of sites where the artist set up his easel to paint canvases such as Starry Night.

Bisous,

Léa