Saturday, 27 May 2017

Carcassonne Day 1

Today our guide Antoine picked us up in Toulouse and drove us to Carcassonne as the trains were on strike, and it is also a public holiday long weekend in France, so what should have been a 1 ¼ hr drive was 2 ½ hours ducking either side of the highway to avoid the traffic jam at a standstill on the highway. Which for us was just lovely driving through the countryside looking at the wheat growing, the vines etc.

As we drove we went through many corridors of trees that were just beautiful, Antoine said they were planted by Napoleon to provide shade as the soldiers would walk an additional 5 kilometres a day in the shade. Unfortunately though they have a rot which is making them unsafe and within the year he said they will all be removed which is really sad as they are just delightful.

After we settled in we went into the old city for some lunch and then went for a tour through the castle.

In Cathar country, at the heart of the fortified city, the château of the Counts of Carcassonne and the ramparts, a UNESCO World Heritage site can be seen.

The earliest known settlement of the site where Carcassonne now stands dates from the 6th century BC, when a hill-fort was built on this rocky spur overlooking the valley of the Aude and the ancient routes linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula with the rest of Europe. In the 1st century BC, this settlement was absorbed into the Roman culture. During the turbulent years of the late 3rd and the early 4th century it was protected by the construction of a defensive wall some 1,200 metres in length, the impressive remains of which still survive around two thirds of the interior fortifications of the later town.

Today the citadel derives its reputation from its 3 kilometres long double surrounding walls interspersed by 52 towers. Although the outer curtain wall of the cité is French, and the whole site has been substantially restored, the Château Comtal has a strong claim to be called a "Cathar Castle", since when the Catholic Crusader army arrived in 1209, after attacking Raymond-Roger Trencavel's castrum at Bèziers, they then moved on to his main stronghold at Carcassonne.

The castle consists of two single-storey buildings, dominated by a square tower, arranged at right angles in a courtyard, enclosed by palisades on the east side. Built in a variety of styles, the oldest parts of the castle can be seen from the courtyard today, and are mainly medieval, as well as Romanesque and Gothic structures, consisting of the west wing, the south wing, and the ground floor of the ‘Pinte’ tower; a watchtower 28 metres in height.

A ring of walls with slits for firing arrows and round towers with embrasures run along the walls along the eastern side where the main entrance is. The second entrance to the castle is on the western side.

Views of the city from the ramparts

It is almost impossible to believe that today was 33 degrees and here in the distance just 1 ½ hours away are the Pyrenees with snow still on top of the mountains.

This is one of the ancient buildings in the fortified city. We will be back tomorrow to explore more of this amazing little town.

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