A visit to Carcassone
Last weekend Zoe-Pascale had Saturday morning off from school and we headed west for a three hour drive to Carcassonne. The most well preserved medieval city in the world dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD when the Romans built the first ramparts. Later the city was improved during the 13th and 14th centuries to protect itself from a Spanish invasion. An inner and outer wall rendered the city impregnable as if the soldiers managed to climb over the first set of walls they would find themselves trapped between the second rampart. Standing in the middle you could imagine what this must have felt like.
Here is Zoe, Pantoufle and I trapped between the two ramparts.
The name Carcassonne is an old Occitan name which Zoe-Pascale proudly told us as she learned about it during her studies of the Occitan language this year in school. She was thrilled to be in the capital city of Occitan as she described Carcassonne.
Carcassonne is the only medieval monument of its kind in Europe. Built on a hill of 50 metres, the uniqueness of Carcassonne lies in its two sets of intact fortifications, which surround a tiny town of latest count 800 inhabitants overlooking the modern city. The old city is full of hotels, restaurants and stores and gives the impression of the original Disneyland. Walt must have traveled here to get his model of Disneyland's Fantasyland with it's 52 towers climbing high into the sky.
To understand the defense the city must have had you must hear the history and wonder who were all these invaders that are rarely heard about. Carcassone was inhabited by the Romans in the 1st century BC. Okay we all know the Romans; , the Visigoths in the 5th, Charlemagne and Dame Carcas, the 8th century Saracen queen after whom the city is named, the Albigensians in the 13th, (and how many of you have studied any of these invaders?) and last the Nazi Occupation in the 20th. It makes you realize how old the European history is that we rarely learn about in American history classes.
In entering Carcassonne you pretty quickly realize that Carcassonne is a town divided. The medieval Cité was restored in the second half of the 19th century and sits high on a hill on the right bank of the Aude and as of the late 90s become a UNESCO Heritage site and the second busiest tourist destination next to Paris in France. When we heard about this we were glad we were there after the busiest part of the tourist season had ended.
On the other side of the river is the Bastide Saint-Louis. First built in the 14th century, it is now a fashionable shopping area with pedestrian only streets, cafes and a business district all lined along a grid of narrow cobbled streets. For more than 600 years, the two halves have been linked by the perfect medieval stone-arched bridge, the Pont Vieux. A battered metal crucifix halfway across marks the point at which the old and new towns meet.
Zoe spent our time wandering through the old Cité with newly purchased plastic sword with jewels in her belt or fighting the imaginary enemy as she crossed the moat to the chateau. Once in the chateau she acted out a complete play with princess, prince, ladies in waiting, soldiers, and fairy god mothers. She saw herself back in time living as a princess should among the ancient walls.
Zoe ready to do battle with sword in hand
Pantoufle (before she got her hair done) listening to the video recording as we took the Petite Train around the Cite.