Carcassonne – Medieval City

Carcassonne – Medieval City

Carcassonne is a beautifully restored fortified French town in the Aude department, in the former province of Languedoc.

It is divided into the fortified Cité de Carcassonne and the more expansive lower city the viCarcassonne (Medieval City)lle basse. Carcassone was founded by the Visigoths in the fifth century though the Romans had fortified the settlement earlier. The fortress which was thoroughly restored in 1853 by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.

First signs of settlement in this region have been dated to about 3500 BC, but the hill site of Carsac – a Celtic place-name has been retained at other sites to the south, it became an important trading place in the 6th century BC. The Volcae Tectosages fortified the oppidum.

Carcassonne became strategically identified when Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC and eventually made it the colonia of Julia Carsaco. The main part of the lower couCarcassonne (Medieval City)rses of the northern ramparts date from Gallo-Roman times. In 462 the Romans officially ceded Septimania to the Visigothic king Theodoric II who had held Carcassonne since 453; he built more fortifications at Carcassonne, 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 Pepin the Short (Pépin le Bref) drove them out in 759-60. Though he took most of the south of France, he was unable to penetrate the impregnable fortress of Carcassonne.

Carcassonne (Medieval City)

 The fortified city itself consists essentially of a concentric design with two outer walls with towers and barbican to prevent attack by siege engines. The castle itself possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep. The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is notably different from the medieval walls with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th Century and is still known as “The Inquisition Tower”. Today there is a museum “Musée de la Torture”, which shows some of the original torture equipment employed by the Catholic Church.

In 1853 works began on the west and southwest walling followed by the towers of the Porte Narbonnaise and the principal entrance to the cité. The fortifications were consolidated here and there but the chief attention was paid to restoring the roofing of the towers and the ramparts. Carcassonne (Medieval City)Viollet-le-Duc ordered the destruction of structures that had encroached against the walls, some of them of considerable age. Viollet-le-Duc left copious notes and drawings on his death in 1879, when his pupil Paul Boeswillwald, and later the architect Nodet continued the rehabilitation of Carcassonne.

The restoration was strongly criticized during Viollet-le-Duc’s lifetime. Fresh from work in the north of France he made the error of using slates and restoring the roofs as pointed cones, where local practice was traditionally of tile roofing and low slopes, in a snow-free environment. Yet, overall, Viollet-le-Duc’s achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius, though not of the strictest authenticity. The fortification consists of a double ring of ramparts and 53 towers.

Carcassonne (Medieval City)