Below, you'll find a brief, but still incredibly boring history of Carcassonne. My pictures show Nancy and Mathilde posing for posterity, an ancient well inside the gates, the plaza where we had lunch, and three pictures of the fortifications. As you may read in the history, the fortifications were restored beginning in 1853 and debate rages till this day about the quality and character of the restoration. Was it historically accurate? No. Did they destroy some anthropologically and culturally significant features? No doubt. Did they save what might have become a large pile of rubble and a source of building block for all of southern France? Yes. Should they have restored it all? Who knows. But is it also unfair to judge the actions of people in 1853 using our knowledge base and standards from 2007?
In any case you can look at the walls and see various kinds of stone and differing types and quality of masonry work. And you can only wonder what the town looked like before restoration began. Did the original walls contain such a variety of stonework or is this an effect of the restoration? If the roofs weren't pointed, and they weren't, what did the city look like from a distance?
What is missing here is a picture of the town from a distance to show the incredible size of the fortifications and the scope of the city. You will have to come and see for yourself, hopefully in the shoulder season, rather than July or August. And having seen pictures of Carcassone lit up at night, that would be something to experience. Check out Carcassonne on the internet for yourself.
A Brief and Abridged History of Carcassonne. Edited from Wikipedia.
Carcassonne became strategically identified when Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC and eventually made it the colony of Julia Carsaco. The main part of the lower courses of the northern ramparts dates from Gallo-Roman times.
In 462 the Romans officially ceded Septimania to the Visigothic king Theodoric II. In 508 the Visigoths successfully foiled attacks of the Frankish king Clovis. Saracens from Barcelona took Carcassonne in 725, but King Pippin the Younger drove them away in 759. In 760, Pippin took most of the south of France, although he was unable to penetrate the impregnable fortress of Carcassonne.
In 1067 Carcassonne became the property of the Trencavel family allied in succession either with the counts of Barcelona or of Toulouse. They built the Château Comtal and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. In 1096 Pope Urban II blessed the foundation stones of the new cathedral, a Catholic bastion against the Cathar heretics.
Carcassonne became famous in its role in the Albigensian Crusades, when the city was a stronghold of occitan cathars. In August 1209 the crusading army of Simon de Montfort forced its citizens to surrender. After capturing Raymond-Roger de Trencavel and imprisoning and allowing him to die, Montfort made himself the new viscount. He added to the fortifications. Carcassonne became a border citadel between France and Aragon.
In 1240 Trencavel's son tried to reconquer his old domain but in vain. The city submitted to the rule of France in 1247, and King Louis IX founded the new part of the town across the river. He and his successor Philip III built the outer ramparts. Contemporary opinion still considered the fortress impregnable. During the Hundred Years' War, Edward the Black Prince failed to take the city in 1355, although his troops destroyed the Lower Town.
In 1659, the Treaty of Pyrenees transferred the border province of Rousillon to France, and Carcassonne's military significance was reduced. Fortifications were abandoned, and the city became mainly an economic center that concentrated on the woollen textile industry, for which a 1723 source quoted by Fernand Braudel found it “the manufacturing center of Languedoc”.
Carcassonne was struck from the roster of official fortifications under Napoleon and the Restoration, and the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided that it should be demolished. A decree to that effect that was made official in 1849 caused an uproar. The mayor of Carcassonne led a campaign to preserve the fortress as a historical monument. Later in the year the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, was commissioned to renovate the place.
In 1853, works began with the west and southwest walling, followed by the towers of the porte Narbonnaise and the principal entrance to the cité. The fortifications were consolidated here and there but the chief attention was paid to restoring the roofing of the towers and the 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 the architect Nodet continued the rehabilitation of Carcassonne.
The restoration was strongly criticized during Viollet-le-Duc's lifetime. Fresh from work in the north of France, he made the error of using slates and restoring the roofs as pointed cones, where local practice was traditionally of tile roofing and low slopes, in a snow-free environment. Yet, overall, Viollet-le-Duc's achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius, though not of strictest authenticity.
Fortifications consists of a double ring of ramparts and 53 towers.