Carcassonne, la Cité

Coat of arms of Carcassonne, the Cité   Carcassonne, la Cité
  Carcassonne is at the crossing of two major traffic routes used since Antiquity: from the 'Atlantic to the Mediterranean and from the Massif Central to Spain:

The town is divided into two, quite separate parts. The Cité occupies a plateau on the right bank of the Aude. The Bastide Saint-Louis lies on the left bank. The old district of la Trivalle and the famous Old Bridge have been, from that time, the links between their two destinies.
Carcassonne, la Cité
Carcassonne has inherited 2,000 years of history and invites you to discover its heritage of fine monuments. 

The Walled City of Carcassonne is known first and foremost as a fortified medieval town; but this rocky outcrop has been occupied by man since the 6th century B.C., first as a gaul settlement, then as a Roman town fitted with ramparts as early as the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. On the western face of this primitive fortification rests the castle, built in the 12th century by the vicomtes Trencavels.In the early 13th century, Carcassonne was taken by Simon de Montfort during the Albigensian Crusade, then annexed to the royal estate. Fortification works lasted throughout the 13th century, with the construction of the outer wall and the modernisation of the inner rampart, making this place an impregnable fortress. The Cité lost its strategic importance after the signing of the Pyrénées Treaty in 1659. In the second half of the 19th century, it underwent a major restoration project supervised by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and was included by UNESCO in the World Heritage List.

A Town, a Walled City, ... a History...

The oldest traces of man - 6th century B.C.- were found on the promontory where the Cité lies. Around 300 B.C., the Volques Tectosages brought the Iberians of Languedoc to submission. In 122 B.C., the Romans conquered the Provence and the Languedoc. They fortified the oppidum which took the name of Carcaso, and occupied our region until the middle of the 5th century. The Visigoths then became the masters of Spain and the Languedoc. The Cité remained in their hands from 460 to 725 A.D. In the spring of 725, the Saracens took the Cité. They were driven away in 759 by Pépin le Bref, king of the Franks. After the death of Charlemagne, the dismembering of the Empire gave birth to the feudal system. It was under the dynasty of the Trencavels, from 1082 to 1209, that the town began to gain tremendous influence.

Carcassonne, la Cité
The Crusade
  During this prosperous period, Catharism grew rapidly. Raymond Roger Trencavel, vicomte of Carcassonne (1194-1209) both tolerated and protected the heretics on his own lands. He suffered the first impact of the crusade preached by Pope Innocent III and on August 15th, 1209, after a two-week siege, it was all over. The Cité and the lands of Trencavel were first handed to the military commander of the crusade, Simon de Montfort, then to the King of France in 1224. The Crusade
  Destroyed and rebuilt

As the Cité made its entry into the Royal Estate, its destiny took a new turn. Under the successive reigns of Louis IX, Philippe Le Hardi and Philippe Le Bel, it grew its modern-day shape. A new borough was born on the left bank in 1262: La Bastide Saint-Louis. Set on fire by the Black Prince in 1355, it was immediately rebuilt. While this new town was bustling with activity, the Cité consolidated its role as a royal fortress.

The end of the stronghold

The Walled City of Carcassonne is known first and foremost as a fortified medieval town
But due to the use of new war techniques (gunpowder, cannon) and above all to the recession of the Franco-Spanish border in 1659 after the Peace of the Pyrénées, it was gradually abandoned. In the 18th century, the Cité was little more than slum, a poverty-stricken, outlying area in a town made wealthy by the wine trade and the cloth manufacturing industry. Only through the joint efforts of Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, a historian and a citizen of Carcassonne, of Mérimée and the famous architect Viollet-le-Duc was it saved from demolition. Thousands of people today are able to see and admire the most accomplished fortified town in Europe.

Places to See in the Cité

The Cité is still inhabited today. 52 towers and 2 concentric enclosures add up to a total of 3 km of ramparts. Visitors can discover at no charge (except for the Castle) a major section of the Cité: the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, the lists, the ramparts, the Porte Narbonnaise and Porte d'Aude, and life inside the walls.

St Nazarius' Basilica   St Nazarius' Basilica
The first authentic document mentioning this church dates back to 925. In 1096, Pope Urban the Second came to Carcassonne and blessed the stones of the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire et Saint Celse. The edifice was completed in the first half of the 12th century. After being remodeled several times, the building lost its cathedral status in 1801 to the benefit of the Church of Saint-Michel located in the Bastide. In 1898 it was granted the title of Basilica by Pope Leo XIII.

Nave roof

The Romanesque nave has 6 spans. The ribbed vaulting on the barrel vaulted roof is supported on round or square pillars, as are the rounded arches in the side aisles. The shadowy nave was originally only lit by narrow windows in the walls of the side naves and occuli in the west wall. The decorations on the column capitals feature various motifs, including chequers, palmettes and interlacing. The nave comes together with the gothic transept, which replaced the Romanesque choir after 1270, in a movement of perfect architectural harmony. (Cl. M. H. 1840)

Transept and choir - 1269 to 1330 and 17th century

Transept and choir - 1269 to 1330 and 17th century

The transept and chancel in St. Nazarius' Cathedral were built on the site of the Romanesque chancel between 1269 and 1330. Each arm of the transept is 36 metres wide and consists of 3 rectangular spans leading into 3 flat-walled chapels. The chapels are lit by huge stained-glass windows, some of which date from the 14th century. Some of the large stained glass windows in the chapels date back to the 14th century.

South rosace – early 14th century

  South rosace The south rosace in Carcassonne cathedral's gothic transept features the coat of arms of Bishop Pierre de Rochefort (1300-1321). The colours are lighter than those in the north rosace, with shades that tend towards mauve. The central quatrefoil represents Christ in his majesty. The quatrefoils at the perimeter represent animals symbolising the four evangelists and the Church fathers. Peter can be recognised by the keys to heaven and earth, and Paul by his sword. These two saints are also represented in the chapel that houses the tomb of Pierre de Rochefort. (Cl. M. H. 1840)
Stained glass windows in the choir

  The choir is illuminated by five stained glass windows. The central window depicting Christ is surrounded by two windows dating from the 16th century. The columns in the apse and the choir carried 22 statues representing the apostles, Christ, the Virgin and various saints. Many changes were made to the cathedral throughout the 17th century. Under the influence of Italian architecture, bishop Louis Joseph de Grignan (1679 - 1722) ordered the construction of a "Roman" choir with a marble altar surrounded by forged iron grills decorated with his coats of arms. (Cl. M. H. 1840) Stained glass windows in the choir

Tomb of the bishop Razouls (or Radulphe)
Tomb of the bishop Razouls

The tomb of the bishop Guihèm Razouls or Radulphe (1255 - 1266) was discovered by Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille in 1839 in the chapel built by the prelate in 1260. On the west wall, an effigy in semi-relief of the bishop emerges from a niche. Dressed in all of his ornaments, the bishop can be seen holding his crook, without the volute, and raising his right hand in blessing. Beneath the frieze, three lines of text explain the death of the bishop and praise his charity. Sculptures on the lower part of the sarcophagus illustrate the ceremony of absolution, with twelve canons around the death bed, a bishop sprinkling the body and a woman praying. The sculptor added a touch of humour on the left-hand side of the monument in the shape of a hidden, laughing angel.

Tomb of Pierre de Rochefort

Bishop Pierre de Rochefort (1300- 1321) probably descended from a family of heretics from the "Montagne Noire". Under his bishopric, the south rosace was installed in the cathedral of Saint-Nazaire and the roof of the south transept was completed. His tomb is in the chapel between the nave and the north transept. The bishop is represented on the west wall, between the archdeacon of the diocese Pons de Castillon and the archdeacon Gasc de Rochefort. Three gables dominate the triptych. The bishop is blessing with his right hand and offering his crook to his followers. The plinth depicts the funeral procession with thirteen statuettes representing priests, canons and clerics. The ledger on the ground, which was restored in the 19th century, shows the coat of arms of the bishop, while angels praise on either side of the effigy of the deceased.

The siege stone
  The siege stone
This low-relief fragment illustrating a siege is sealed in the west wall of the transept. The fragment dates from the first half of the 13th century. The attackers can be seen trying to enter a fortified town. Several theories exist about the representation of the siege stone, including the death of Simon de Montfort, who was slain by the city walls of Toulouse. The ledger located nearby is supposed to be part of the tomb of Simon de Montfort. Viollet-le-Duc and his successors questioned the authenticity of these archaeological remains.

The Jesse Tree

The Chapel of the Virgin in the northern branch of the transept is illuminated by a stained glass window depicting The Jesse Tree, which represents an allegory of the family tree of Christian peoples through the ascendancy of Christ. The window is read from the bottom upwards and is made of 24 panels, each of which depicts a person. In the centre at the bottom, Jesse can be seen asleep. The genealogical tree emerging from his side represents the seven main ancestors of Jesus: his son, the king David, Solomon, Roboam, Abia, Asa, Josaphat and Joram. By each ancestor, the prophets look at the different generations as they rise towards the coming of the Messiah. In the spandrel of the window, Christ appears in his majesty, presiding over the resurrection, between the Virgin and the apostle John.

The Tree of Life

The window in the Sainte Croix chapel in the south transept represents the tree of life. This theme stems from the meditations of the Franciscan saint Bonnaventure (1221-1274) on the virtues and kindness of the Redeemer. The branches around the central trunk illustrate twelve virtues. Towards the top of the tree, Christ appears nailed to the red cross that is attached to the green trunk of the tree. The tree thus becomes the tree of the cross and the tree of eternal life. When the window was restored in 1853, Noah's Ark was added in the lower left-hand corner. The Ark of Alliance was added on the right-hand side, giving birth to the tree of Life of Original Sin. The Tree of Life was not born of paradise or of original sin, but of the crucifixion of Christ. The lower sections are assumed to represent the apostle John and the Virgin Mary.

The Organ

  Catholic reforms were introduced after the wars of religion. Bishop Vitalis de Lestang (1621- 1652) ordered Crespin Verniole to install an organ. The central part of the case remains, made by two cabinetmakers from Carcassonne: Jean Rigail and Jean Melair. The organ was rebuilt between 1680 and 1687 by Jean de Joyeuse, and was then enlarged between 1772 and 1775 by Jean-Pierre Cavaillé. Between 1900 and 1904, Michel Roger made changes to the instrument, leaving the wind chest and most of the pipes intact. The entire organ was restored between 1982 and 1985 by Barthélemy Formentelli using original parts and new pipes that were copied from the old organ. (Cl. M. H. 1840) The Organ

The Castle

During the early years of the 12th century, Viscount Bernard Aton Trencavel began the construction of a new residence to replace the original viscounts' castle traditionally said to have stood on the site of the towers at the Narbonnaise Gate. The so-called "palatium" was erected at the western end of the spur of rock, backing onto the old town walls and three of its towers, the Chapel, Powder and Pint Towers. The height of these towers was then increased. The castle included two buildings dominated by a square keep. One building lay on the west side; the other was set at right angles to it and was east-facing. At that time, it had only one storey topped by crenelated battlements, traces of which can still be seen in the masonry.

When St. Mary's Chapel was built on the north side, c. 1150, the castle was laid out in a U-shape around a courtyard which may have been closed off at the east end by a light structure such as a stockade. At the end of the 12th century or beginning of the 13th, the vaulted chamber in the keep was decorated with a vast mural consisting of an animal frieze and a scene depicting a battle between Franks and Saracens, perhaps the battles in which Viscount Bernard Aton fought during the First Crusade to Jerusalem or perhaps scenes from the Reconquista in Spain.

Over the years that followed the creation of the royal seneschalsy, between 1228 and 1239, the castle was given new fortifications. An outer wall including crenelations and round towers with slit windows now encircled the buildings along a perimeter of 80 metres by 40 metres. A gateway flanked by twin towers to the east and a carriage entrance to the west controlled access to the walled town. The arrival of a royal garrison in 1242 meant that the castle had to be extended. Lodgings were given an additional storey and, against the south wall, a new building was erected. Its remains are now to be seen in the "South Courtyard" (cour du midi). The stone bases of a colonnade on the ground floor and traceried ribbed vaulting on the upper floor, added during the 14th century, give some idea of the size of the ceremonial hall and residential chambers. To the east, the system of defence was completed by a dry moat and a semi-circular barbican topped by battlements and fitted with a fortified gate.

Narbonnaise Gate

The Narbonnaise Gate on the east side of the walled town is a complex construction combining various military features with other structural elements designed to give prestige and comfortable living conditions. Narbonnaise Gate Two tall twin towers strengthened by projections designed to deviate attacking fire are linked by a small fort containing the gate protected by a system of two portcullises. This system of defence is completed by machicolations in the passageway and by slit windows placed at various heights to provide crossbowmen with positions from which to fire out and down. In a war situation, wooden hoardings supported on beams fixed in the walls could quickly be installed above the gate and at the top of the towers to improve the active system of defence. The domestic amenities equipping the castle (salting house, water tank, fireplaces) shows the intention to maintain a garrison for some considerable time in case of attack or siege. However, the Narbonnaise Gate is not only a remarkable construction designed for the art of warfare. The chambers built one above the other on the various floors express all the elegance of Gothic architecture and show the care and attention paid to the traceried windows opening onto the town, to the ribbed vaulting and to the huge fireplaces.

Dame Carcas

  Dame Carcas The Sarrasin occupation provided inspiration for one of the best-known legends of the Middle Ages. The hero is of course Charlemagne. Dame Carcas The emperor Charlemagne laid siege to the medieval town of Carcassonne, then ruled by the Sarrasin king BALLAK, who was succeeded after his death by his wife, “Dame Carcas”. The town had already been under siege for 5 years when famine overcame the last of its defenders. Now all alone, Dame Carcas kept watch from the ramparts. In order to give the impression that the city remained well guarded, she made straw dummies dressed as soldiers and fired arrows from a crossbow at the besieging army. All that remained in the town was a little pig and a sack of wheat to feed the population.
Dame Carcas stuffed the pig with all the wheat and then threw if from the ramparts. When the pig hit the ground, its belly burst open and all the good wheat flooded out. As soon as he saw this, Charlemagne called off the siege in despair: there was clearly so much wheat in Carcassonne they where feeding it to pigs! Before the huge army had quite disappeared, Dame Carcas had the town bells rung at full volume to announce the good news to the surrounding area. At that point, one of Charlemagne’s vassals said to the emperor “Sire, Carcas sonne!” (which means: “Sire, Carcas is ringing”).

Aude Gate

Below the scarp slopes surrounding the walled town was a wall providing defence for the suburb built on the banks of the River Aude. The wall dates from the 13th century and it prevented enemies from digging in between the Aude and the walled town since it was situated within range of the towers. Aude Gate The Aude Gate (formerly the Toulouse Gate) was built in the Visigoth Wall* in the 12th century. The rounded arch on the outside seems to date from this period because of its bonding and the type of materials used. A long ramp led up to the main barbican from which it could be strafed. It is a fairly steep slope and includes a bend. It leads to an initial gate which was no more than a simple barrier, then to a second gate defended by battlements and overlooked by a structural element in the form of a transom at the top of which, on a level with the parapet walkways along the inner wall, there was a platform and merlons. At its base, the transom includes a gate opening onto the jousting ground on the south-west side. Once inside the outer wall, the ramp climbs up a fairly steep slope within range of the construction hidden behind the Aude Gate in the inner wall. The ramp is overlooked by two towers. Having reached the bend in the ramp, you then have to turn sharply away in order to reach the gate. Although there is neither moat or drawbridge in front of this gate, it was not easy to reach because the space between the two walls constituted a veritable battleground, a large fort overlooked on all sides by formidable constructions. La Cité de Carcassonne par E. Viollet-le-Duc – Re-edition by Cercle Artistique et Littéraire Occitan – 1970
Jousting Ground
Jousting Ground

From the Narbonnaise Gate to the Aude Gate on the right beyond the drawbridge (approx. 500 metres). It is best to begin here because you very quickly find yourself looking at the remains of the ancient wall dating from the 3rd-4th centuries in which the dressing consists of ashlar (small stones), frequently broken up by brick stringing. The towers are flat on the town side but semi-circular on the side jutting out over the countryside. The lower section is blind; the upper storey includes semi-circular windows emphasised by brick archstones.

Claude Marquié – Le patrimoine des communes de la Méridienne Verte
– Editions Flohic – 2000.
La Cité de Carcassonne par E. Viollet-le-Duc
– Neuauflage des Cercle Artistique et Littéraire Occitan – 1970

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