Carcassone

You probably know a little about Carcassone – or have, at least, heard of it … the best preserved medieval Town in (western) Europe, and certainly in France.

But exactly how did it get to be this way?

Well, it’s like this – it was one of the Towns where the Albigensians (a group of Christians declared heretical by the Catholic hierarchy because, well, they said the Catholic hierarchy was corrupt, self-serving and a waste of space in a religious sense … all of which was quite true at that time) were, if not in control, at least present in large numbers and quite well integrated in Occitan (southern French, where they spoke the Langue d’Oc … a dialect of medieval French different from the Langue d’Oil spoken in the north of France … the one that is the ancestor of modern French) society.

So. The Pope was down on them. And the Kings of France wanted to assert their control as they felt they were too independent. So the Pope declared a Crusade – the Albigensian Crusade.

So the Crusaders are not only promised absolution for all their sins and a reserved place in heaven (Holy Jesus and No Quarter and all) they’re also offered the lands of anyone (Albigensian or not) they slaughter …

Carcassone’s Lord holds out for a considerable while but, eventually, surrenders to prevent a worse slaughter … and the Crusaders, not trusting the townsfolk, boot them out of their homes and force them down the hill and onto the other side of the river.

The kicker is that the new settlement was, as it turned out, better placed to be a trade entrepot (and the booted out locals were evidently pretty good businessmen) and, so, within a relatively short period of time the economic life was sucked out of medieval walled Carcassone and it was gradually abandoned … and fell into partial ruin, only to be restored by Viollet le Duc in the 19th century over the course of several decades!

If you can ignore the ‘new town’ in the background, that’s what a real medieval Town look(ed) like back in the day. I actually took this at a viewpoint as I headed out of Town and towards the riviera.
The Main Gate – the ‘Witches Hats’ were added to almost all of the towers by Viollet le Duc and they have been controversial ever since. The general consensus, at present, amongst the National Monuments people is that they are probably accurate … but, of course, that would be for very late medieval periods, probably a century or two after Carcassone’s actual heyday.
The intra-mural space between the Outer and Inner Walls of the town, just inside the Main Gate.
The larger towers on the Outer Wall (or some of them, at least) aren’t full towers – they’re shells with no backs to them and only the two floors, one at the wall walk level and one above it – so they weren’t used (as was common) as accommodation for important persons.
Not even a tower, a projecting Bastion.
That’s not a street, it’s a medieval town street – well, apart from all the Souvenier Shops, Hotels, Guest Houses and Restaurants, that is … though, I guess, their equivalents would have been there back in the day!
The Lord’s Castle – the bridge would, of course, have been wood and would have had one or two destructable or raisable sections back in the day.
The Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus – this was original a Cathedral, but when the business basically depopulated the town the Bishop moved down to the new Town and the place was decommissioned as a Church. Because of its past and past historical status, the Papacy granted it the status of a minor Basilica … today it functions as the local Parish Church, at least sometimes.
The Rose Window. Because of the changing economic status of the ‘Old’ Town the money needed to rebuild the Cathedral in the Gothic style to replace the Romanesque original ran out about halfway through … this is the Gothic end of the half/half church.
The interesting thing about some of the towers along the wall just to the north of the Lord’s castle is that they were originally Gallo-Roman (yes, the town was a Roman foundation) and are shown with a typical Roman tiled roof rather than the Witch’s Hats … that’s also why they’re square … round towers are a later development.
A better view of the Basilica – the blocky Romanesque end is on the left and the Gothic bit on the right.
Another of the Gallo-Roman Towers – this one is half-rounded, another common design arrangement, especially on Town defences.

And that’s all for tonight, folks. Only one more night in Paris … then I fly to London on Saturday, have Sunday in London and fly out of London for Changi and then to Sydney, Monday, arriving Wednesday morning … assuming BA pilots don’t go on strike!

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