Tuesday, February 09, 2010

June 7, 2009 - Carcassone, France

There are actually two Carcassonnes; an early city contained within a hilltop fort and known as the Cité, and the later ville basse, or lower city, across the River Aude. Both cities are in what is now the Languedoc-Roussillon Region of southern France. Signs of settlement in the area date to 3500 BCE and, by the 6th century BCE, the hilltop community had become a successful trading site. In due time, the Romans made their appearance and began the fortification by building the lower courses of the ramparts. In 462 CE however, the Romans ceded the entire region to the Visigothic king Theodoric II, who had actually held Carcassonne since 453. Theodoric extended the fortifications. In 1067, Raimond Bernard Trencavel, Viscount of Albi and Nîmes, married into the family of the Count of Carcassonne and, in the following centuries, the Trencavel family allegiance flip-flopped between the Counts of Barcelona and the Counts of Toulouse. Next up was Simon de Montfort. He stopped by in 1209, conquered the city, forced the citizens to surrender, captured Raymond-Roger de Trencavel who was subsequently disposed of and promptly appointed himself the new Viscount. Simon added further fortifications as Carcassonne had by now became a border citadel between France and the kingdom of Aragon, current day Spain. Ultimately, in 1247, the city submitted to the rule of the kingdom of France and King Louis IX founded the new part of the town across the river. In 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees transferred the border province of Roussillon to France, creating the current Languedoc-Roussillon and effectively moving Carcassone well away from the Spanish border. Its military significance thus reduced, the fortifications were abandoned and the city became an economic center for woolen textiles. During the Restoration, Napoleon removed Carcassonne from the official list of fortifications and the Cité deteriorated to such an extent that the government issued a decree in 1849 to demolish it. The following uproar led to a campaign to preserve the fortress as a historical monument culminating with the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc being commissioned to renovate the place. Work began in 1853 and the result was belatedly designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 even though Viollet-le-Duc, fresh from work in the north of France, mistakenly used slates and rebuilt the roofs as pointed cones, rather than local practice of low pitched tile roofing, more suitable for a snow-free environment. The restored fortifications comprise a double ring of ramparts with 53 towers. Ville basse, the "modern" city of Carcassone, today manufactures shoes, rubber and textiles but a major part of its income derives from the three million visitors received by the Cité each year. The Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse in the Cité was the area cathedral until 1801 at which time it was demoted in favor of the Cathédrale Saint-Michel de Carcassonne in the ville basse. An 11th century Romanesque structure consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096, the exterior was largely renewed by Viollet-le-Duc, while the interior has retained its original Gothic style. The current Carcassonne cathedral in ville basse, the Cathédrale Saint-Michel de Carcassonne, was built in the thirteenth-century as a parish church and rebuilt as a fortified church following war damage in the 14th century. More picture of both Carcassonnes here.

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