Monday, September 15, 2014

Carcas sounds the bells

Trip to Aude: Day 11
Evening of Day 10 we finally landed up at Carcassonne. We were back in Aude, back with ruined Cathar castles, and back on my original itinerary. Carcassonne was one of the highlights of my original Aude plan, before Blandine threw a fit and upturned it. The reason we were here was simply because it happened to be on the way back home, and Blandine had recovered from the earlier overdose of Cathar castles, and was in a position to take one more.
Carcassonne is the big boy amongst Cathar castles. If you remember, many of the previous castles we’d visited, like Quéribus and Peyrepertuse, had been described as ‘Sons of Carcassonne’. Well, this was the daddy. Carcassonne was the central royal castle in the South of France, and the other castles formed a protective ring around it, guarding the French border with Spain.

 Carcassonne is big, really big. And that is because it is a lot more than a castle. It is a complete medieval town, with two lines of fortification, a moat and a drawbridge. In fact, it is called cité (town), and not château. It was built in the 11th century, became a Cathar stronghold in the late 12th century, was besieged and taken over in early 13th century during the crusades. Later, it became the centerpiece of the defense of the Midi region for the king of France
Carcassonne, by the way, is one of the BIG tourist destinations in France. It is forever besieged with tourists. We had earlier planned to stay in a quaint B&B in the medieval ‘old town’ surrounding the cité (just beyond the fortification). But when we arrived in the evening, there was such a long line of cars waiting to get into the historical zone, that we lost our courage and took a bland Ibis business hotel in the outskirts of the modern town of Carcassonne, which surrounds the historical zone. (Btw. this Ibis hotel was where we had our ‘night of horror’, from overeating cassoulet at lunch). Luckily, we had an easier time entering the historical inner city the following morning.
Here is a pic of ‘the one that got away’: the heritage B&B where we almost stayed, taken the following morning.
More pics of the old town, beyond the historical cité

I loved these lovely copper lampshades that line the streets of the old town outside the cité.
Besides being bigger than any of the previous Cathar castles we’d been to, Carcassonne is also much better preserved. But that is partly due to the fact that it was extensively renovated in the early 19th century by Viollet-Le-Duc, before the modern archeological trend started of leaving monuments in their ‘natural state’, without excessive intervention. Although I find this attitude of modern archeologists occasionally irritating, I do get the point. Despite the fact that it looked so ‘complete’, unlike Quéribus and Peyrepertuse which were just piles of stones, in the end it was unsatisfying. At the back of mind there was always the niggling feeling that this was all renovated structure.
But still, it is a pretty impressive pile of stones. Here are pictures of the imposing double fortification walls, seen from the outside, with a moat beyond the outer wall.

At the gate of Carcassonne, just before the portcullis and drawbridge, is a statue of Princess Carcas, after whom the castle is named. The legend goes that the princess had gotten the guards to sound the bells of the city, on defeating the besieging army of Charlemagne, which gave the castle its name (The verb sonner is ‘to sound’ in French. Carcas sounds -- Carcas sonne -- Carcassonne). But I do feel bad for the poor old princess. I mean, having to go through life being called carcass…
This statue, by the way, is a reproduction. The original statue of the princess is in the castle’s museum.
The portcullis, drawbridge, and entrance to the cité.

The double fortification of the cité, seen from the inside:

Vineyards beyond the moat, from the outer ramparts. Carcassonne is also a prominent wine appellation

The cathedral of the cite (Basilique des Saint Nazaire et Celse).
Interiors of the cathedral.

Some of the medieval houses inside the cité.
The actual castle inside the cité – the château of Carcassonne. The castle houses the museum of the cite de Carcassonne.
View of the cathedral and the medieval cité from the château.

Pictures of the ramparts of the château.

The exhibits in the castle’s museum. These are the original statues around the cité that were removed during the renovation and replaced with replicas.

A statue of a disproportionate Madonna and child that was earlier displayed in a niche above the entrance gates of Carcassonne. Now there is a reproduction there.

This is the original statue of princess Carcas, the reproduction of which adorns the main gate.

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