The Walled City of Carcassonne in Languedoc, France
At first glance, Carcassonne ignites visions of Camelot with conical roofs and medieval soldiers returning from battle. If only the legend matched the history.
Carcassonne in Languedoc is situated in the picturesque region of southwest France, standing upon ancient trade routes between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Believed to be a site of significance during the 6th century, Carcassonne may have been a place of commerce and trade.
The Romans fortified Carcassonne in 100 BCE, eventually making it the colonia of Julia Carsaco, the highest status of a colony. In 462 CE the surrounding kingdom of Septimania passed to Visgoth King Theodoric II, who fortified the city of Carcassonne. In the latter half of the 11th century, Carcassonne fell under the control of the Trencavel family. Bernard Aton headed the large domain that included Carcassonne, Béziers, Limoux, Agde, Albi and Nîmes. Aton reigned from 1074 to 1129, building several significant structures that changed the geographical landscape of the town. The palatium was built around 1120 against the ancient ramparts on the western facade shortly after the Trencavel family built the Chateau Comtal and the Basilica of Saint Nazaire.
Several of the ancient towers served as foundations for the fifty three towers that now exist at Carcassonne. Those include the Narbonne Gate and the exquisite Gothic inspired Tresau Tower constructed during the thirteenth century. At the same time, Carcassonne served a prominent role in the Albigension Crusades, led by Simon de Montfort. Montfort captured Raymond-Roger de Trencavel, imprisoned him and allowed him to die, making Montfort the new viscount.
“The Plague, famine and the Hundred Years War combined to put an end to the town's ambitions. In spite of the resistance put up by the people of Carcassonne the Prince of Gaul (the Black Prince) had no difficulty in subduing, burning and pillaging it in November 1355. It was quickly rebuilt with particular care being taken to construct, although it covered a smaller area, a rampart with circular towers which was protected by a wide ditch. From then on a bridge (the Old Bridge) spanned the Aude, linking the Lower Town and the Upper Town (la Ville Basse and la Ville Haute).”
Carcassone remained a military stronghold until 1659 when the border moved south to the Pyrenees. The fortifications of Carcassonne lay abandoned, while the woolen textile industry gave way to an economic rise. Citizens moved to the Ville Basse and the city of Carcassonne continued to fall to ruin.
Due to its informal status as a fortification under Napoleon, it was once again abandoned and due to be demolished in 1849 after a decree was set forth. Citizens were in an uproar, wanting to save what had been left of the walled city of Carcassone.
Architect Eugene Violett de Duc had already begun restoration on the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire at the time, so the city commissioned him to renovate the walls of Carcassonne. As a result, the pointed cones atop the towers are the beloved reminders of what could have been lost.
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