Michelle: Carcassonne

April 7, 2011

Contrary to my prior belief, Carcassonne is more than just the Medieval city; there’s a modern city there too. That made things a little bit more complicated than we expected. It was one of those situations where you could always see the fortress, you just had no idea how to get there. After meandering our way through the modern city, we finally made our way to the cité.

The story of Carcassonne starts about 3,500 years ago when it was just a gallo-roman settlement. It served as a buffer between the Wisigoth, Sarrasin, and Franc kingdoms each controlling the city at one time or another. During the Middle Ages, the city was fortified by the Trencavel dynasty. Under their control, the Cathar religion was able to be practiced without persecution. However, in 1208 Pope Innocent III launched a Crusade against the Albigeois (Cathars). Carcassonne was taken by Simon de Monfort who pledged allegiance to the Kingdom of France. He then added and reinforced fortifications around the castle and city itself. I make it sound like the city was invaded a lot; it was, but it was also able to repel many more armies thanks to its strong fortifications.

Unfortunately, after the Treaty of Pyrenees in 1659, the city lost its military significance and time eroded what many armies could not. Luckily, in the later half of the 1800s, a wealthy citizen of Carcassonne took up restoring the city. Thanks to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, today it is easy to imagine how the city looked in its glory days. Stones dating back to before Jesus stand alongside those from around 200 years ago.

The picture below is a view from one of the towers with the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire  in the distance. The church was originally Romanesque. During the crusades, it was demolished and rebuilt in Gothic style.



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