Carcassonne lies about 120 kms northeast of our home base of St-Andre, south of Perpignan. Consisting today of La Cité, the oldest part, and the Ville Basse or Lower Town, the history of the site rolls back over two thousand years.
Carcassonne was first identified as being strategically important in 100 BC and was fortified by the Romans. In the 13th century, the Cité was a major Cathar stronghold.
Catharism was a Christian religious sect that appeared in the Languedoc region and other parts of Europe in the 11th century and flourished over the next two hundred years. They had some radical beliefs for the time including the belief that men and women were equal in God’s eyes. Persecuted for these beliefs, the Cathars sought refuge in several different fortresses in this region of France and eventually, under siege, they were starved and massacred.
Today this UNESCO World Heritage Site welcomes more than 3 million visitors annually, so be prepared if you visit in the high season. In October when we went it was quite manageable, but, we missed out on the mediaeval jousting displays that are held in high season.
We sampled one of the region’s signature dishes, the Cassoulet, in one of the restaurants in the Cité – a rich, slow-cooked casserole typically containing pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton but within the region it varies, each proclaimed as the best, of course.
In 760 “Pepin the Short” wrested southern France from the Saracens, except for Carcassonne – he just couldn’t breach it. But he figured that eventually, they’d starve within its walls and surrender. But Dame Carcas had other ideas – she fattened up their last pig, and had it thrown over the city’s ramparts. Their enemies figured if they could waste such an animal, they must be well-stocked. Once the enemies retreated, Dame Carcas rang all the bells of the city in celebration. “Carcas sonne” (Dame “Carcas rings” the bells) is where the name of the city came from, or so they say. (From Why Go France)
The present church dates from the 11th century and was enlarged between 1269 and 1330.
Outside the city walls:
and a game of pétanque
Amazingly The French almost destroyed this jewel of mediaeval history. In Napoleon’s time it was no longer an official fortification and the Cité fell into such disrepair that the government had decided to demolish it. However the French populace caused sufficient uproar to reverse the decision.
Finally, on the way home through the vineyards of the Corbiere region …
… to another of the les plus beaux village de France. This is Lagrasse, not to be confused with Grasse known as the world capital of perfume.
A full day, a great day, a highlight of our stay in the Languedoc.