- Albi, Carcassonne and Dordogne -

Carcassonne 1

LINKS to other pages in the Albi, Carcassonne and Dordogne website and the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

1 : Home Page
2 : Introduction (Hotels etc.)
3 : Albi
4 : Najac
5 : Cordes Sur Ciel
6 : Bruniquel
7 : St Antonin Noble Val
8 : Gaillac Vineyard
9 : Castres
10 : Carcassonne
11 : St Cirq Lapopie
12 : Rocamadour
13 : Sarlat
14 : La Roque Gageac
15 : Cahors
16 : Guest Book:

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"CARCASSONNE is a unique example of a double fortification. The older part dates from late antiquity, the more recent part from the 13th century. The first without doubt inspired the second. The projection of the towers from the wall, and the fact that they therefore commanded it, made possible a more flexible system of defence."

John Julius Norwich in 'The World Atlas of Architecture'.

Carcassonne, capital of Aude Department, is situated on the Aude River and the Canal du Midi. It is divided into two sections separated by the river; the Ville Basse (Lower Town) and the medieval walled community known as the Cité, which stands on a hill on the east bank of the river. The main business of Carcassonne is concentrated in Ville Basse and is an important centre of clothing manufacture and of trade in wine, grain, and fruit produced in the surrounding region. The Cité contains some of the finest remains of medieval fortifications in Europe and is a popular tourist attraction (or a 'tourist hell' in high summer !). The history of Carcassonne starts in the 2nd century BC when the city was an important location on the old Roman trade route between Bordeaux and Rome.

In 122 BC the Romans built the first wall around the city and eventually made Carcassonne the capital of a colony of Julia Carsaco, later Carcasum. Main part of the northern ramparts date from those times.The Romans were conquered by the Visigoths (Germanic tribe) in 466 AD. The Visigoths built more fortifications which still stand. They successfully repelled attacks by the Franksbut the Saracens from Spain later took Carcassonne in 725. In 759 armies under the control of Pepin le Bref (Pepin the Short), father of Charlemagne, drove the Arabs out. The Saracen occupation, however, inspired some authors in the Middle Ages to write the legend of Dame Carcas which has since been stated to be chronologically innacurate.

Carcassonne9.jpg - 88931 BytesThe legend is as follows:   In the eighth century, Pepin took most of the south of France, although was unable to penetrate the impregnable fortress of Carcassonne. Undaunted, he situated his army around the walls of the castle with the intention of eventually starving out the inhabitants. The plan began to work, and soon the citizens suffered from starvation. However, legend says that Dame Carcas, the widow of one of the castle's nobles devised a clever bluff. All of the remaining grain that could be found in the castle was brought together and fed to one pig. The fattened pig was then killed and catapulted over the walls toward the offending army. When Pepin saw that despite all the waiting so far, the villagers were still able to feed large portions of grain to their livestock, he and his army became demoralized and they withdrew their offensive. The people of Carcassonne were so pleased with Dame Carcas, that bells across the castle rang in her honour. Many historians believe this legend is the source of the name Carcassonne, derived from "Carcas sonne" ('Dame Carcas rings').

In 1067 Carcassonne became, through marriage, the property of Raimond Bernard Trencavel, viscount of Albi and Nîmes. In the following centuries the Trencavel family allied in succession either with Barcelona or Toulouse. They built the Chateau Comtal and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire and more ramparts and towers. During the 13th-century crusade against the Albigenses (Cathars) Carcassonne was captured and its inhabitants massacred by Simon de Montfort. Monfort had Trencavels killed and he became the new viscount. In 1240 Trencavel's son tried to reconquer his old domain but in vain and Carcassonne became a possession of the French crown in 1247.

During the Hundred Years' War, Edward the Black Prince failed to take the city in 1355, but his troops did manage to pillage and destroy the lower town. Carcassonnemap.jpg - 101137 Bytes Numerous battles and sieges continued through the centuries until 1659 when Carcassonne, following the the Treaty of Pyrenees which transferred the border province of Roussillon to France, lost its status as a frontier establishment. The necessity of having massive defences at Carcassonne no longer existed. The city fell into disrepair over the following two centuries.

In 1849 the historian Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille and writer Prosper Mérimée led a campaign to preserve the fortress as historical monument. Later that year the architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc was commissioned to conduct a massive restoration. Work was completed in 1910.

The fortress was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Today one can visit the old city of Carcassonne with its double line of ramparts and fifty-three towers together with its castle. The complex is regarded as being the most complete surviving fortress town in the world. The city also served as inspiration for the German board game, 'Carcassonne', by Hans im Glück!

Map with acknowledgement to Michelin Green Guide to France 1991

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Three thousand hectares of vineyards are situated around Carcassonne and the individual wine makers together produce wines under the appellation of 'Vin de Pays de la Cité de Carcassonne'. Other nearby wine growing areas situated 10 kilometres or more from the city centre include Minervois, Cabardes, Corbieres, Malpere and Limoux. Grape varieties include syrah, merlot, cabernet, grenache, chardonnay, marsanne, and chenin. Increasing use of modern wine making techniques have resulted in some very fine wines being produced in these areas. The countyside, with its vineyards, as viewed from the ramparts of the Old City are shown here (Right and Below).

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The Narbonnaise Towers and Gateway are visible behind the drawbridge gateway (Right). Constructed by the engineers of Philippe the Bold in the 13th century, the building is an exceptional example of military architecture. Note the projecting 'beak' in the wall of each tower.

Above the arch of the gateway is a small niche containing a Gothic statue of the Virgin. also dating from the thirteenth century. During the French Revolution, the statue was decapitated but later repaired. The drawbridge is actually an addition by the 19th century architect, Viollet-le-Duc, who was responsible for the restoration of the old city.

The Treasury Tower seen to the right of the picture is often described as one of the most beautiful in the city. It was probably one of the last towers to be constructed in the inner ring during the reign of Philippe Le Hardi ('The Bold'). In spite of its name it was never used to hold money or treasure !

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The Porte Saint-Nazaire was constructed in a style developed by Philippe the Bold and recognizable by the use of rectangular stones embossed to withstand impact. Note the 'beaking' of the tower in the foreground.  (Left)

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On the left of the picture (Right) the Tour de la Peyre is in the foreground and situated on the outer rampart with its sentry walkway behind the crenellations and the Tour de la Vade is in the background. They are separated from the walls and towers of the inner ramparts (on the right of the picture) by the Lice Hautes.

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The Tower of the Vade ('La Tour de la Vade') erected under the reign of Saint-Louis to strengthen the eastern side of the city. The structure was almost totally separated from the curtain wall and was provided with its own well and fireplace. The tower, being totally enclosed, would more easily resist the enemy attack. For many years it was the main residence of the "mortes payes", a company created by Saint-Louis to ensure the protection of the city and of the castle.

Each year around Pentecost Sunday a wooden parrot was fixed to the top of the roof. Those who wished to be 'king' had to shoot it down with a crossbow. Winners of the competition, organized by the consuls, would be eligigle to reside in the nearby 'Camp of the King'.

The visit to Carcassonne continues on the next page.
Please click on the 'Next' button (lower right).

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