Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Great City of Carcassonne

After leaving the sleepy beauty, Lagrasse, we continued our journey across the pittoresque (picturesque) Languedoc countryside and arrived in Carcassonne by late-afternoon. We deposited our bags in our next Chambre d'hôte and set out for the great fortified Cité de Carcassonne.
The Cité is located on a hilltop above the Aude river, where the Romans began to build fortifications in the First Century. These were expanded throughout the Gallo-Roman period, and, at its completion, the fortified city had two outer rings of walls - which still exist, extending over three kilometres - and nombreux (numerous) towers. (Wikipedia says 53, but I can't find verification for this). In the third century the Romans built a city inside the fortified walls.
If only my hair was as long and
flowing as Legolas' is...
Both a cathedral and a Basilica were also built within the city's walls, and these were designed to be bastions of Catholicism in a sea of Catharism (remember the Cathars?). The rest of Carcassonne was actually a Cathar stronghold and it was beseiged in the crusades - Catholic v Cathar - of the 1200s when the city viscount was imprisoned in his own dungeon. Under the new viscount, the city served as an important barrier between France and Spain's Kingdom of Aragon. 

(Trying not to think about the 6 metre drop
 behind me... What tourists will do for a good picture!)
The Castle by Night
One part of the fortified city was used as a chamber of the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th century, and today  a museum shows some of the implements of torture utilised by the Church.

It wasn't long before the city fell to the rule of the Kingdom of France and its leader, Louis IX. It was so impregnable that the city withstood the attacks of the Hundred Years' War, the raid of 'The Black Prince', and some attempts at capture by the Huguenots. 

The city lost its military significance in 1649 when the Treaty of the Pyrénées was signed, and after this it was largely abandoned and the fortifications fell into ruin. In the 1800s, the authorities decided to demolish the Cité de Carcassonne (!!!), but a prominent Archaeologist and Historian (What a man!) led a campaign to make the city into a historic monument. Architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was given the task of restoring the city, and when he died, work passed to a pupil of his. Some of his work has been criticised for being in the style of Northern France (rather than tailored to the climate and style of southern French buildings), however you can't say he didn't do an AWESOME JOB. 

That place is amazing. 

We spent about 3 hours poking around the city and ramparts, and had dinner at a restaurant and crêperie within the city walls before scrambling home in the dark to our accommodation.
The Aude river by night
We stood on the balcony with our (Irish) host and admired the view of the fortified city by night.
Simply stunning.

The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and a (surprisingly pleasant) chat with two lovely Aussies who were also staying at our Chambre d'hôte. The husband was from Tamworth, which is known as the Country Music Capital of Australia, and it was hard to keep a straight face as his accent was so awesomely, stereotypically Aussie. But they were a lovely couple, and it was great to chat to some people from 'back home' (of sorts).

After that, we dashed back to our room to play a hasty game of 'Carcassonne' (an award-winning board game. Well worth the £13 we paid for it... Games are much cheaper over here than back home, I must add) and then set out to explore Carcassonne's 'New City'.

Playing 'Carcassonne' in Carcassonne. Deep.
Otago Rugby!!

This part of Carcassonne was built during the 1200s under the rule of Louis IX, and the town soon became a great hub of the woollen textiles industry. The UNESCO World Heritage document on Carcassonne says that the new city was started after a revolt in 1262 when the King expelled most of the city's inhabitants - who set up shop across the river, building the 'new town'. 

We wandered around the narrow streets of the new town for an hour, passing a vibrant fruit and vege market in la place (the square), and enjoying the fashionable clothes in the boutique stores (I, Michelle, would have loved to have some time - and probably a large wad of cash - to browse the local clothing stores. Perhaps a return trip sometime?!)

One low-light of our time in the New Town was the amount of dog poop. This beat out Narbonne for the France's Most Poo-Covered City Award - A much coveted title, I'm sure - and there was literally another pile with every step you took. My favourite part was the signs saying "Dogs Forbidden Between the hours of 10 - 8" along the pedestrian streets and the total French disregard for this. 

Chiens Interdit! (Dogs forbidden)
Guess this dog - and most of the town citizens - couldn't read.
We saw some guys ride their VTTs (vélos tout-terrain - mountain bikes)
across soon after this picture was taken...
We returned to our B&B, alongside the river Aude, and took one last walk along the riverbanks, hoping to cross the low footbridge and explore the woods beneath the Cité de Carcassonne one last time. Unfortunately the river was high, and splashing across the 'bridge', so we thought it best not to cross the barrier and try it out for ourselves. 

With a vow to return one day and explore the area further, we turned and gingerly made our way across the grass of the park to our car - trying to avoid the copious amounts of caca (poo) that littered the grass, amusingly situated around the first doggy-doo bins we'd seen in Carcassonne... (or should I say Caca-ssonne?)

View across the city of Carcassonne
Poo aside, Carcassonne was great and we'd love to return sometime. Thank goodness that that clever historian lobbied to save it!! Where would we be without historians?!

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