Friday, May 27, 2016

Cité de Carcassonne: A Medieval Fortress

Just a short train ride away from Toulouse lies the old fortified town of Carcassonne. When you're so close to a restored medieval fortified town - and that town is still operational, albeit with mostly shops, hotels and restaurants - and you're with an 8 year-old-boy, how do you not visit it.

Some of the walls were built on Roman ruins because when a perfectly suitable foundation exists, it's used.

We had a good chance to see all the protection for the town: it's built high on the hill, the walls are high, and there was a moat with a drawbridge. 

There aren't many entrances, and all around the walls are little openings from where arrows could be shot. Naturally, Eamon was quite keen on all these little nooks and crannies.

Inside the walls was the old medieval town and the gothic basilica. Of course, I couldn't help myself and have a more than a few photos of the stained glass windows.

The town was mostly restaurants, hotels and shops. But it was still glorious to walk through.

Within the walls there's also the protected château - where the land-owning, fancy, ruling family lived. We saw some more protection bits for the château, such as another moat, which is now a garden. There was also the wide exposed area invaders had to cross leaving them wide open to attack.  And of course, I have to mention the holes at the top of the entrance to drop down unwelcome items like rocks, hot water, hot sand and the like. All things that boys of all ages love.

When we were learning about the château, there was quite a big to-do over the fact that no one ever got through the defences. But as more of the story unfolded, it turns out the château was never properly tested.

By the early 1200s the owners were the Trencavel family. The family had worked hard at maintaining power in the area by forming alliances with the right people at the right time. Their years of hard work and success came to an end given their support of the Cathars.

The Cathars protested against what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church, and they called for a return to the Christian message of perfection, poverty and preaching. Of course, the Catholic Church wasn't too happy about this and the Pope directed the French King to send in some crusaders. And so began the 20 year Cathar Crusade.

In my last post on Toulouse I mentioned the forming of the Dominican order and the Church of the Jacobites -- this was the crusade that played a major role in the creation of the Dominican order, and of the inquisition.

Anyway, Trencavel was a Cathar sympathizer. The crusaders came along terrorizing enemies as they went. The crusaders arrived at Carcassonne and Trencavel surrendered! So no wonder no one successfully invaded the château.

Eventually the fortified city fell by the wayside. It became a bit of a slum and forgotten as the new town grew across the river. In 1849 the French government was ready to demolish the eyesore, but then someone realized just what was there and the restoration began.

For the restoration project, they brought in Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, an architect who specialized in medieval restoration. At the time he was called, he was working on the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris. When his restoration work is discussed, it's sometimes noted as "restored" in quotation marks because he added his own bit to his projects that weren't necessarily correct. In Carcassonne, he added pointed roofs on the wall towers that were more typical of northern France, rather than this area.

We heard Duc's name again in Toulouse. He was responsible for the restoration of the Basilica St. Sernin.

I can't help but feel a bit gleeful as bits of the trip tie together. It gives us so much more to talk about with the kids and hopefully is also tying together various parts of our travels in their minds.

The day was fantastic and it was something that Eamon enjoyed - so much so that he he actually posed for photos and then wrote a bit about it all in his journal without any encouraging/nagging from me. Because really, what 8-year-old doesn't love a medieval castle.

Lost in Translation

We came across and great example today of how some French words just don't work for English speakers. We all agreed that we'd never stay in an auberge of lice. (Lice actually means moat.) An important lesson if ever doing business abroad.

And in other translation woes, I suspect someone used Google Translate and didn't quite pick up the nuances of the word cult.

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