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!
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!
This castle sits on a crag that overlooks the Dordogne River and has an interesting history – it was used during the Albigensian Crusade and was taken from the Cathar supporting de Casnac family by Simon de Montfort’s forces … then retaken, and the defenders all executed by the de Casnacs.
Later, during the Hundred Year’s War it was held by forces loyal to the Plantagenets facing off castles over the river who were loyal to the Kings of France … but, eventually, of course, it was rendered irrelevant and gradually abandoned and fell into ruin.
In recent decades the owners (it’s privately owned, not a state monument) have restored it to how it would have looked during the late medieval period and have turned it into a sort of half-baked museum to medieval weapons and siege equipment (it’s OK, but it’s a bit hit or miss).
Abbaye de la Sauve Majeure
This was an important Abbey on one of the main pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela (outside of Bordeaux) … but fell on hard times during the Hundred Years War when the lands that it had acquired and which supported it were ravaged by both sides and, of course, was basically taken out of business completely as a result of the French Revolution … the main part of the Abbey is in ruins, but the one of the medieval outbuildings is still partly intact and used as the main entry.
Basques in France
No, they’re not all in Spain and causing all sorts of troubles … there are a considerable number of them down around Bayonne and Biarritz and the SW border regions with Spain … heck, some of them may even be in the photos below of …
The museum also has an excellent collection of post WW2 stuff … including, as you might expect, a fair chunk of obscure and less than obscure French stuff which, of course, was often modified US stuff to begin with … a selection of some of the display vehicles follows …
As usual, there’s lots more photos but so little time to upload … and tomorrow I have to return the Lease car and head in to my Parisian Hotel. I will be there until Saturday week when I fly back to London, one day there and then I fly out of London for Singapore and then for Oz on the Monday … arriving back on the Wednesday thanks to the magic of international time zones (and reclaiming the day I gained flying to Europe).
More later, hopefully from Paris, but it depends on what the WiFi is like at the Paris Hotel …
Started by a group of French Armour enthusiasts, the collection of armoured vehicles at Saumur is second only to the British one at Bovingdon … and, of course, has some rare French vehicles.
World War 1 Room
Unfortunately the upload speed of the wifi at the hotel is, while not as woeful as it was yesterday when I tried to do this and could barely upload the first picture, still sub-par … so the WW2 and later stuff will have to wait for a better connection down the track … hopefully tomorrow!
Nantes is a river port, and, during the pre-modern period, was a major player in sea trade as it was about as high upstream as ships of the day could go. When the Industrial Revolution led to the possibility of iron hulled ships which soon became bigger than any wooden hulled ones, Nantes found it couldn’t handle the larger vessels … and that’s where St. Nazaire came in … it was just a sleepy fishing village until the merchants of Nantes decided to turn it into the front end of their trade.
Anyway, I stopped overnight and hit the Ducal Palace and Museum …
There were some interesting Roman, Medieval and Modern (WW2 German occupation & Resistance) displays in the museum … but, as is all too common, they were poorly situated and badly lit, so no photos of the interior, sorry.
Puy du Fou
This is a French ‘historical’ (for some limited values of ‘historical’) theme park that is, evidently, much better than Disneyland Paris … and on the recommendation of one of the backers of Orbis Mundi I spent two days there …
Sure, it’s a theme park. I get it. But it was annoying.
The real reason for being there was, anyway, the live performances – which were amazing … at least the ones with English commentary (or English commentary that worked) were … around 10 or 11 and it took me two days to manage to squeeze them all in as the place was hugely crowded both days (the end of August and just before most French schools outside of Paris and the deep south went back.
Of course, the performances were even less historical than the villages … but, what the heck, they were huge fun.
The next post will be about the Musee des Blindes (Tank Museum) at Saumur followed by two Loire Chateaux.
The site of some of the German WW2 U-Boat Pens … so big and made of such thick concrete that they are still there … too bloody hard to demolish!
You seriously wouldn’t want to suffer from even mild claustrophobia if you had to travel or work in one of these things … or any of the WW2 or immediately post WW2 diesel-electric subs. SSNs and SSBNs, however, are a different kettle of fish … as Le Redoubtable (Cherbourg) shows.
Famous? Sure! A small island off the coast of France and the site of a famous Monastery … and connected to the mainland, historically, only at low tide.
These days it’s connected by a permanent causeway/bridge and recent works have reversed and will, in future, prevent the silting that the causeway was causing and which threatened to make the island permanently (at least in human chronology) connected to the mainland.
Walking back down the bloody hill was as bad, worse in some ways, than walking up … I went down the main drag, which is narrow, chocka with idiot tourists who thing it’s their absolute right to walk three or four abreast going in either direction, and unwilling to stand aside unless you simply stand your ground and don’t give way … considering the main drag is only 3-4 people wide for 90% of its length, this makes negotiating it a chore.
Not as famous as St Michael’s Mount, but an important Breton port with a well preserved old walled town.
The Old Town was full of narrow, cobbled, streets … what is it with Europe and cobbled streets? The uneven surface is enough to cause severe danger of twisting or breaking ankles … gimme tarmac any day! Still, it looks touristy, I suppose. I understand they are a bugger to maintain and replace as well.
This the last of the D-Day/Normandy stuff … some of the vehicles on display at the various museums as well as the site of the famous Pegasus Bridge which the British Paras took and held against German counterattacks …
There is an excellent WW2/D-Day Museum in Caen, well worth a visit … but a lot of what’s inside, most of it actually, is audiovisual … so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
About 30 klicks or so outside, however, is La Coupole, the remains of the prime German V2 site in France … where rockets would have been assembled from components brought in from elsewhere, prepared and then rolled out to twin launch sites in the adjacent quarry.
Or it was … until about 2-3 months before it would have been completed in early 44 when the Allies bombed the crap out of it. They didn’t destroy it, actually, but it was damaged badly and, after the war, they did do a number on it for security reasons (afraid the French were going to be taken over by the Commies, I guess … reds under the beds … )
In the last decade or so the locals have excavated it and opened up the main levels under the damaged dome as museums … one on the V weapons and the Resistance in the area during WW2.
Again, a lot of the stuff inside the museum was audiovisual and the few physical artifacts were poorly lit or in cramped spaces that made it impossible to capture accurately. Couldn’t get an angle on the V2, for example, no matter what I tried.
The D-Day Beaches
The next several days I spent hitting the various D-Day Beaches (not all by any means) and on a trip up to Cherbourg.
The location of the famous tapestry … rubbish lighting make it impossible to capture on a camera. However, there are some displays in the museum upstairs that are of interest.
Not much in the way of easily accessible WW2 stuff there … but the Cite de la Mer had Le Redoubtable on display, one of the very first French nuclear ballistic missile subs.