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Monday, September 6, 2010

Carcassonne in France

Carcassonne is a fortified French town in the Aude department which is the prefecture in the former province of Languedoc. It is separated into the fortified Cite de Carcassonne and the more expansive lower city, the ville basse. The folk etymology involving a chatelaine named Carcas a ruse ending a siege and the joyous ringing of bells though memorialized in a neo Gothic sculpture of Mme. Carcas on a column near the Narbonne Gate is of modern invention. The fortress, which was thoroughly restored in 1853 by the theorist and architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.

CarcassonneCarcassonne became strategically identified when Romans fortified hilltop around 100 BC and eventually made it colonia of Julia Carsaco later Carcasum. The main part of lower courses of northern ramparts dates from Gallo Roman times. In 462 Romans officially ceded Septimania to Visigothic king Theodoric II who had held Carcassonne since 453 he built more fortifications at Carcassonne which was a frontier post on northern marches traces of them still stand. Theodoric is thought to have begun predecessor of basilica that is now dedicated to Saint Nazaire. In 508 Visigoths successfully foiled attacks by the Frankish king Clovis. Saracens from Barcelona took Carcassonne in 725 but King Pepin Short drove them away in 759-60 though he took most of south of France he was unable to penetrate impregnable fortress of Carcassonne.

The medieval fiefdom county of Carcassonne controlled city and its environs. It was often united with County of Razes. The origins of Carcassonne as a county probably lie in local representatives of Visigoths but first count known by name is Bello of time of Charlemagne. Bello founded a dynasty Bellonids which would rule many honores in Septimania and Catalonia for three centuries. In 1067 Carcassonne became property of Raimond Bernard Trencavel viscount of Albi and Nimes through his marriage with Ermengard, sister of last count of Carcassonne. In following centuries Trencavel family allied in succession either with counts of Barcelona or of Toulouse. They built Chateau Comtal and Basilica of Saint Nazaire. In 1096 Pope Urban II blessed foundation stones of new cathedral a Catholic bastion against Cathars.

Carcassonne became famous in its role in Albigensian Crusades when city was a stronghold of Occitan Cathars. In August 1209 crusading army of Simon de Montfort forced its citizens to surrender. After capturing Raymond-Roger de Trencavel imprisoning him and allowing him to die Montfort made himself new viscount. He added to fortifications. Carcassonne became a border citadel between France and the kingdom of Aragon.

Carcassonne was struck from roster of official fortifications under Napoleon and Restoration, and fortified cite of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that French government decided that it should be demolished. A decree to that effect that was made official in 1849 caused an uproar. The antiquary and mayor of Carcassonne Jean Pierre Cros Mayrevieille and writer Prosper Merimee first inspector of ancient monuments led a campaign to preserve the fortress as a historical monument. Later in the year the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc already at work restoring the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire was commissioned to renovate the place.

In 1853 works began with west and southwest walling followed by towers of Porte Narbonnaise and principal entrance to cite. The fortifications were consolidated here and there but chief attention was paid to restoring roofing of towers and ramparts where Viollet-le-Duc ordered the destruction of structures that had encroached against the walls, some of them of considerable age. Viollet-le-Duc left copious notes and drawings at his death in 1879 when his pupil Paul Boeswillwald and later architect Nodet continued rehabilitation of Carcassonne.

CarcassonneCarcassonneThe restoration was strongly criticized during Viollet-le-Ducs lifetime. Fresh from work in north of France he made error of using slates and restoring roofs as pointed cones where local practice was traditionally of tile roofing and low slopes in a snow free environment. Viollet-le-Ducs achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius though not of strictest authenticity. Fortification consists of a double ring of ramparts and 53 towers. Another bridge Pont Marengo crosses Canal du Midi and provides access to railway station. Lac de la Cavayere has been created as a recreational lake and is about five minutes from the city centre.

The newer part of city on other side of Aude River manufactures shoes, rubber and textiles. It is also center of a major AOC wine growing region. A major part of its income comes from tourism connected to fortifications and from boat cruising on Canal du Midi. Carcassonne receives about 3 million visitors annually. In late 1990s Carcassonne airport started taking budget flights to and from European airports and by 2009 had regular flight connections with Bournemouth, Cork, Dublin, Edinburgh, Frankfurt-Hahn, Stansted, Liverpool, East Midlands and Charleroi.

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