Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France Occitan cross

Not just another Ancient Walled-City

Bastille Day celebration

Le Canal du Midi, an engineering marvel for the time in which it was constructed (circa 1680-Pierre Paul Riquet), bisects France from the Atlantic Ocean, near Bordeaux, to the Mediterranean Sea, near Beziers. On the Canal during the summer one will find yachts and barges of varying sizes carrying families, friends and tour groups. Signs imbeded in the stone walls tell boaters what village they are entering and what amenities are available. It is a different world-view than from the road. An ancient Oppidum, which is also an active Gallo-Roman archæological site, is a few minutes away; to the South are the rugged mountains of the Pyrenées and the tiny country of Andorra (approximately 3-hour drive). Along the way east, along the Canal, one finds the medieval fortress town of Carcassonne, in the ancient Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, relatively near the south-eastern French-Spanish border. Cité {centre citadel of Carcassonne}, is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site, along the banks of the Aude River.

Wine has been grown on the southern slopes of the Montagnes Noires above Carcassonne, at least since the Romans settled along the Aude in the 1st century BC. The dry stony soil and the temperate climate made conditions right for low-yield, high-quality wine production. These Cabardès wines (dark, complex and rich with ageing potential stretching from two to ten years) are almost exclusively red. They are the only ones produced in all of France to have balanced proportions of of the Bordeaux and Rhone grape varietals. Fief des Seigneurs de Cabaret qui lui donnèrent son nom, la "Châtellenie du Cabardès" fut de tous temps un territoire, un pays, équilibre entre est et ouest, nord et sud, montagnes et vallons, pluie et soleil, singulière diversité dans une unité de lieu.

The hill site of Carsac, a Celtic place-name, became an important trading place in the 6th century BC. The Volcae Tectosages fortified the oppidum there. Carcassonne became a regional strategic site when Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC. Eventually it became the colonia of Julia Carsaco {named after the first Julian Cæsar), later Carcasum. Indeed, the main visible portion of the lower courses of the northern ramparts dates from Gallo-Roman times. It underwent successive waves of immigration from conquering peoples, receiving greater fortifications as it exchanged hands.

The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire (Basilique Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Carcassonne) was built by the latest owner -- Raimond Bernard Trencavel, viscount of Albi and Nîmes -- about the time of the Normans were deciding how to govern all of England. In 1096 Pope Urban II blessed the foundation stones of a new structure. Cathédrale Saint-Michel de Carcassonne became the chief church in 1801. The town became a Catholic bastion against the Cathar heretics. The city submitted to the rule of kingdom of France in 1247, and French King Louis IX established a new part of the town across the river. Today, the other side of the Aude, the neighborhood la Bastide, seems more like a French country village, complete with its very own Saturday market. Early 13th century bastides arose in strategic positions on the top of hills, but these new towns were built (by the King) as non-fortified positions. This was to avoid an advantage encouraging rebellion. They were laid out in geometric orthogonal format (and in stone), so as to be easier to build and to administer. They were built around a central market square, rather than a church square. As the political situation changed in nearby Aquitaine fortifications, soon were added.

Leaving on foot from le Porte Narbonnaise {and Drawbridge}, the sentier Pierre et Vigne, a century old trail used by pilgrims to reach the Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire (the first bishop of Carcassonne and not Hilaire de Poitiers), is gentle stroll between green hills and vineyards. It presents awe-inspiring vistas of the fortified city, with the river plain in the background. The origins of this fortified Benedictine abbey date back to the 6th and 7th centuries. The Romanesque church dates from the end of the 12th century, with an unfinished Gothic nave dating from the 13th century. The church of Saint-Hilaire houses the white marble tomb of the martyr Saint Sernin (first bishop of Toulouse also called Saturnin); the cloister is of gothic design. Tradition wants the abbey to be the birthplace of the Blanquette de Limoux, a semi-sparkling wine (16th Century). {half the way down the page} Other noteable historic sites described HERE.

Saint Vincent In 1531, the Protestant faith arrived in the area. The fortress Cité remains catholic while the population at its base (la Ville Basse) converts to protestantism. This turns to a bloody conflict between the two parts of Carcassonne. In 1659, the Treaty of Pyrenees, annexes of Roussillon into France. Carcassonne loses any strategic interest, loses its military function; but, in more peaceful times the lower city became a manufacturing center (les hôtels particuliers) while the citadel decayed. The revolution and European wars that followed largely pass it by. In 1849, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, was commissioned to renovate the fortress. Viollet-le-Duc ordered the destruction of structures that had encroached against the walls, some of them of considerable age. The rehabilitation project extended beyond his life and planning.

Stages 13 and 14 of the 2010 Tour de France stopped and started (respectively) at Revel, near to Carcassonne. Our Tour Page for 2011 is HERE, as this year's Tour returns to the area and nearby Limoux.

In the area south of Carcassonne: The relics - possibly documents, and even the embalmed remains of Mary Magdalene - have all been speculation until now, ... Thanks to this discovery, all that may soon change. The discovery of the templar tomb has been officially reported to the French Government, and plans for a full-scale excavation are under way. When the French King ordered the arrest of the Templars and the seizure of their assets in 1307, very little of their gold, treasure, or relics were ever found. Many historians and scholars believe these items were buried in various secret locations in the Languedoc Region. It appears that part of that belief is justified.

Avignon -- Toulouse -- Narbonne -- Béziers -- Montpellier -- Nimes -- Arles -- Orange -- Castres & Castries

Metz -- Belfort -- Troyes -- Colmar -- Mulhouse -- Poitiers -- le Saint-Suaire -- Lörrach -- Lanuguedoc's Fab Four -- AND a few more

Celtic/Frank History -- Germaniæ Historicæ -- Anglo Saxons

Reformation from a French-Protestant point of view

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New: 05/10/08