Location and History of Carcassonne (continued)
The outcrop on which the fortified city of Carcassonne is built commands the main communication route between the Mediterranean and Toulouse.
The origins of Carcassonne reach back to the 4th C BC. Early traces can be found on the promontory on which the old city stands.
In the 2nd C BC this was strategic outpost fortified by the Romans, who gave it the name Carcasso. The Visigoths succeeded the Romans and overran Gaul in the 5th C AD. When they converted to Christianity, it became a bishopric. In the 8th C the fortress fell to the Franks. Later they defended the city against attacks from the Saracens.
The Emperor Charlemagne besieged the town in 795, which was held by Dame Carcass, a Saracen princess. After a five year siege, the only food left was one little pig and a bag of corn. Dame Carcass gave the bag of corn to the pig and sent it out to the ramparts. Charlemagne raised the siege, since he thought there was enough food even to feed a small pig. Before the Emperor left, Dame Carcass rang out the bells making them sound the word Carcassonne.
In 1209, Crusades from the north came down the Rhone valley to stamp out the heretic Cathars.
Raimond Roger Trencavel publicly offered protection to all those being hounded by the northern invaders.
After sacking Beziers, the crusading army besieged Carcassonne. Despite the leadership of the youthful Trencavel, only 24, the town was forced to surrender after only two weeks through lack of water.
The Army council appointed Simon de Montfort, Viscount of Carcassonne in place of Trencavel. Within a year Trencavel was found dead in the tower where he was being held prisoner.
In 1240 Trencavel's son tried in vain to recapture Carcassonne by siege. Although his mines and missile breached the walls, he was forced to retreat by the royal army.
St Louis IX had the small towns around the ramparts razed and the town's inhabitants paid for their rebellion with seven years in exile. Upon their return they were permitted to build a town on the opposite side of the river Aude- the present Ville Basse. The walled city was repaired and reinforced. When finished, it was so well fortified it was regarded as impregnable.
Successive kings reinforced Carcassonne because of its strategic importance close to the border with Catalonia. However, in 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees restored the region of Roussillon to France. The new border was now 200kms away, The city of Perpignan now guarded the frontier. Carcassonne's military importance dwindled and was eventually abandoned and left to decay.
In 1835 the inspector of Historical Monuments, Prosper Merimee, made a study of the ruins. A local archaeologist, Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, persistently demanded the restoration of the city. Viollet-le-duc was sent to the city and returned to Paris with an enthusiastic report. The Commission of Historic Monuments agreed to undertake the restoration of La Cite in 1844.
Two concentric rings of curtain wall surround the city, the ramparts cover a total of 3km. Parts of the inner wall show remains of Roman times. The second wall is separated from the first by the tiltyards and was constructed in the 13th Century.
In total, there are 52 towers surrounding the city and the Chateau Comtal, the heart of the fortifications. Originally palace of the viscounts, it was reinforced and protected by a semi circular barbican and a moat. « Back to location page