Tuesday, May 26 - Carcassonne

This was the day for our trip to Carcassone, a side trip to Languedoc and not really considered part of southwest France. We started at 10 and had a lecture on the Crusade against the Cathars from Emeline while on the bus. As we approached I was able to get a good picture of the Cite de Carccassonne (as opposed to the modern lower town) from the moving bus. We were there by 11:30. There are two miles of double walls and 52 towers.

First signs of settlement in this region have been dated to about 3500 BC, but the hill site became an important trading place in the 6th century BC. Carcassonne became strategically identified when Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC and eventually made it the colonia of Julia Carsaco, later Carcasum. The main part of the lower courses of the northern ramparts dates from Gallo-Roman times. In 462 the Romans officially ceded the region to the Visigothic king Theodoric II who had held Carcassonne since 453; he built more fortifications at Carcassonne, which was a frontier post on the northern marches: traces of them still stand. Theodoric is thought to have begun the predecessor of the basilica that is now dedicated to Saint Nazaire. In 508 the Visigoths successfully foiled attacks by the Frankish king Clovis. Saracens from Barcelona took Carcassonne in 725, but King Pippin the Younger drove them away in 759-60; though he took most of the south of France, he was unable to penetrate the impregnable fortress of Carcassonne.

In 1067 Carcassonne became the property of Raimond Bernard Trencavel, viscount of Albi and Nîmes, through his marriage with Ermengard, sister of the last count of Carcassonne. In the following centuries the Trencavel family allied in succession either with the counts of Barcelona or of Toulouse. They built the Château Comtal and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. In 1096 Pope Urban II blessed the foundation stones of the new cathedral, a Catholic bastion against the Cathars. Carcassonne became famous in its role in the Albigensian Crusades, when the city was a stronghold of occitan cathars. In August 1209 the crusading army of Simon de Montfort forced its citizens to surrender. After capturing Raymond-Roger de Trencavel and imprisoning and allowing him to die, Montfort made himself the new viscount. He added to the fortifications. Carcassonne became a border citadel between France and the kingdom of Aragon (Spain).

In 1240 Trencavel's son tried to reconquer his old domain but in vain. The city submitted to the rule of kingdom of France in 1247, and King Louis IX founded the new part of the town across the river. He and his successor Philip III built the outer ramparts. Contemporary opinion still considered the fortress impregnable. During the Hundred Years' War, Edward the Black Prince failed to take the city in 1355, although his troops destroyed the Lower Town. In 1659, the Treaty of Pyrenees transferred the border province of Roussillon to France, and Carcassonne's military significance was reduced. It was nearly demolished in the mid 19th C, but protests prevented it and it was heavily restored by Viollet-le-Duc, sometimes without regard to authenticity (e.g. the pointed roofs of the towers.)

We assembled at the gate and entered the city, snapping pictures furiously along the way. We stopped to look at the chart of the city on a sign in front of the Chateau, then went off to the right for a view of the walls near the entrance and for lunch at a restaurant, Le St. Jean. We had a little free time after lunch for some shopping, and then walked back through the dity to the Basilica of St. Nazaire. It had been the cathedral until 1801, but that was now in the lower city. Although built as Romanesque in the 11th C it was heavily renovated over the years with most of the now gothic interior dating to the 13th and 14th C.

After visiting the church we started a walk on the ramparts, entering from the Chateau. We walked about a quarter of the way around, down to the area near the basilica where there is an outdooor amphitheater used for concerts and such. It was a vigorous walk for arthritic knees, with frequent steps up and down at the towers. The weather was great, although a lilttle chilly and with a strong breeze. The sights were spectacular. After the walk we had a little more free time, spent resisting the impulse to buy a crepe from one of the stands. Carcassonne is the essense of tourism, second only to Mont St. Michel in popularity in France, but we were all tourists too. As we drove away about 5 pm the bus stopped for a final picture. A much edited version is not much better than the one from the moving bus in the morning.

We got back to the hotel in Toulouse fairly late and had dinner at a restaurant called Rest'O Jazz. The food was fine and the "jazz" that we were treated to by the Orchestre Ducoin was best described as wierd, but fun anyway. I had already noticed some similarity to Spike Jones when they broke out into one of his standard numbers. In addition to the band we had two girls singing to the accompaniment of a bass saxophone. All very strange. We all stayed for one set and then left.

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