Carcassonne Medieval Inspiration
15 December, 2016
Set in the middle of a triangle comprising the cities of Toulouse, Montpellier and Barcelona is this spectacular walled city, a captivating sight for all who visit it. Fittingly, it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. It is one of the leading tourist magnets in the Languedoc region and the whole of France, attracting around 4 million visitors each year. Here are the reasons why Carcassonne has become a must-visit destination.
Important Strategic Enclave
The city’s strategic location, set as it is on a hillside overlooking the Aude river valley, made it the perfect vantage point for surveilling such important routes as the one linking the Iberian Peninsula to the rest of Europe, and the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Thus, Carcassonne became a key city for centuries. In Roman times it was already an important trading post and was coveted by Gauls, Romans – who built the first walled fortifications – Visigoths and Moors, until it ended up becoming a French royal army garrison.
A Walk Through the Cité
Vestiges of that illustrious past as a strategic bulwark can be seen in the upper city of Carcassonne, now known as the Cité, site of the old walled fortifications. Sightseers touring the interior of this huge walled precinct are immediately transported to a bygone era. The Cité is fortified by two concentric walls – the innermost ring was erected in the times of the Gauls, Romans and Visigoths, while the outer, far sturdier ring with four towers was added from the 13th century onwards. Once inside, visitors are encouraged to stroll through the city streets and soak up the medieval atmosphere that pervades the complex. The major landmarks here are the Château Comtal (Castle of the Counts), in the west of the fortified city and attached to the wall, and the Romanesque Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. Be sure to also visit the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) which crosses the Canal du Midi and links the Cité to the lower part of Carcassonne.
Some Extras On the Way
The counterpoint to this journey into the past, which takes you through the streets of medieval Carcassonne, finds its ideal complement in a culinary break in one of the restaurants you will come across on your tour. Treat yourself to a good glass of wine, preferably Corbieres, the local Designation of Origin, accompanied by duck confit or cassoulet (a local bean stew). The best way to round off your visit to this city.
Viollet-le-Duc – The Other Great Protagonist of Carcassonne
Much of Carcassonne’s appeal revolves around the figure of French architect, archaeologist and writer, Viollet-le-Duc and the “restoration”, as unique as it was controversial, which he carried out on the Cité in the mid-19th century. The fact is that, following the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, the fortified precinct of Carcassonne was abandoned altogether and gradually deteriorated with the implacable passage of time. Indeed, it was so derelict that some voices called for its wholesale destruction. However, by popular request, it was earmarked for refurbishment, a task which was commissioned to one of the leading figures of the moment, Viollet-le-Duc.
Rather than what would now be considered a refurbishment, visitors currently find themselves before a full-blown reconstruction of the old city, including the odd flourish of a Romantic bent added by Viollet-le-Duc himself. He actually applied what was very much in vogue in restoration work at the time, although his endeavours have subsequently drawn considerable criticism from the experts. However, the result admittedly hangs together rather well and achieves the effect of immersing the visitor in a medieval past which the architect purposely set out to reinterpret.
Book your Vueling to Toulouse, which lies less than 100 kilometres from Carcassonne, and travel back in time behind the walls of that wonderful fortified precinct in Languedoc.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Images by Tournasol7
15 December, 2016