Yesterday we drove over to the Cité de Carcassonne, a fortified medieval town or citadel, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Considering that this roughly 2500-year-old Gallic settlement first received fortification when the Romans used it as an outpost, one has to allow that it took the Heritage Committee a while to declare it an important habitation.
Carcassonne is gobsmackingly amazing and approaching the Cité never fails to be jaw-droppingly awesome, no matter, how often you’ve seen the looming walls and watchtowers, with their strategically placed arrow slits.
Pretty spectacular, isn’t it? And we haven’t even entered the Cité proper yet, only looking around between the two fortified stone walls, which form a three-kilometer long double ring around the town, its castle, and cathedral.
You first pass through an impressive stone gate, entering the medieval village through a maze of cobblestoned alleys, lined with restaurants, specialized exhibits, like a small museum of torture and gift shops stocked with local products mostly made in China.
After checking out diverse offerings, one has to have lunch, to fortify oneself for a visit of the fortifications around the castle. For example, with a salade de gésier. After our meal, we proceeded to the ticket booth for a visit to the actual citadel, Château Comtal, the surprisingly modest donjon or keep of Raimon Rogièr Trencavel [1185 – 1209] Viscount of Carcassonne & Ràzes, and as such vassal of the Count of Barcelona in the person of Peter II of Aragon. Young Raimon Rogièr was also Viscount of Béziers & Albi, which made him a vassal of his uncle the Count of Toulouse. In 1209 the forces of the King of France and of Pope Innocent III amassed in northern France to bring their Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, who, like Jews, had been welcomed by the largely independent southern rulers. The Toulousian count hoped to save lives and paid homage to the pope, which did indeed spare his people and possessions. Raimon Rogièr also approached the papal legate Arnaud Amaury [Arnoldus Amalricus], Abbot de Cîteaux, who led the Catholic Army against the Cathars, but his submission was denied. Pope Innocent III had promised the northern French nobles, who participated in his crusade looting and pillaging rights and they were all hoping to pick up an additional fiefdom here and there. So the kind abbot decided to let them have a shot at the viscount’s lands. Arnaud Amaury first marched against Béziers and leveled the town. During the attack of Béziers, the abbot was asked, how the soldiers could distinguish between Catholics and Cathars and he answered: “Caedite eos”. Kill them all. “Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius”. The Lord will recognize His own. Later this charming cleric reported to Pope Innocent III that they had put 20 000 heretics to the sword. After their exhilarating massacre, the crusaders laid siege to Carcassonne, soon cutting its water supply. Viscount Trencavel was offered safe-conduct for peace negotiations with Abbot Amaury but was instead arrested, imprisoned in his own dungeon and murdered. The population of Carcassonne was given one day to run to safety, which made it all the more convenient for the conquerors to enrich themselves since they didn’t have to work as hard as during the exhausting Béziers bloodbath.
So let us enter the Trencavel castle and compare its layout with the much stronger fortifications, the French kings put in after they had taken possession of their southern trophy.
|While walking over the bridge crossing the inner moat, we noticed that the medicinal garden needed some tender care quite badly.|
|On the left, you see part of the original castle; the donjon is in the middle and the French rampart (added later) to the right. In front of the donjon used it be Raimon Rogièr’s chapel|
|The modest original castle …|
|… twenty years later, Europe’s largest fortified town started to take shape.|
|This is a metal demarcation strip in the ground, which shows the outline of the chapel the Trancavel family used|
Will shall continue this visit to Carcassonne soon. Stay tuned!