Carcassonne: A Photo Essay

Last post in this series was Driving the coast road

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.

Legend and folklore provides this theory on how Carcassonne got its name:

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)

Believe it or not – the wooden door on the right leads to a Best Western, tastefully camouflaged to fit in.

The Basilica of St. Nazaire.

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 small village of about 600 souls, the bridge over the River Orbieu dates from the 12th C.

A full day, a great day, a highlight of our stay in the Languedoc.

34 thoughts on “Carcassonne: A Photo Essay

  1. Beautifully shot, Lynne, lingering on that stonework and the extraordinary engineering that has the citadel rise as though fused with the rock. Carcassonne is one of those magical places, but sad, somehow (glad you gave us the carousel and horse as antidotes!),

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    1. I think you will enjoy it wherever you go! I think half the fun is in the research. If you haven’t already, check out Troye, Dinan, St. Malo, Mont St Michel, Eze, Collioure, Villefranche de Conflent, Cabris …

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  2. Hey Lynne,
    I love the old old old buildings in Europe, we don’t have that here in the U.S. some of Europe’s buildings our older than this country. I really am hoping to get to Europe someday soon.
    Thank you for posting these pictures and a very well written post 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Jim. We often talk about that, how they were building these massive and majestic cathedrals CENTURIES before Canada and the US were even discovered. It boggles the mind as you walk about these places, for anyone at all interested in history it is absolutely fascinating.

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  3. Beautiful and stunning photo series. Love the lady in a blue dress leaving the stone passage way. And the carousel was a nice almost whimsical surprise. Really well done.

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  4. It is just incredible the structures man was able to create back in those days when they had no cranes or heavy equipment and had to rely on the strength of animals and men.

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    1. I know, my husband and I often talk about that. It’s mind boggling. Have you read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett? It’s about building the beautiful cathedrals back in the 12th C. It’s a great read.

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      1. Hi Lynne, I loved the photos of Carcasonne, and know that I want to go there, but my sister and her friend are thinking of a trip to Turkey, and it might be fun to join them as long as they are going to be there. We are fortunate in that we can wait to see which way the wind is blowing.

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