Carcassonne is a fortified town situated in the southwest of France. A French proverb says, “you can’t die before you see Carcassonne.” It is an admirable town.

This year (2009), I had a chance to stay here and greet the New Year. The sky was gray, and maybe visitors were not many compared to the high season. On New Year’s Day people are usually supposed to stay home with their family, so I think it was normal. My husband and I could enjoy a quiet time in one of the most popular tourist sites in France! It was a quite experience.

This town is divided into two areas. One is the fortified Cité, and the other one is the ville basse (or the lower city).

The hotel we stayed in stands on the Aude River, opposite from the Cité,
This hotel commands a great view of the Cité,
especially at night the landscape is marvelous.
It’s also romantic to take a walk at night.
There is a footpath along the river.
The Cité is lit up, like in the photo below.
Totally different from the view in the daytime.

Click the images in the middle and on the right.

Pont Vieux (Old Bridge)
I don’t know how in summer,
but in winter I hardly saw tourists on this bridge at night.
100 % silent and calm.
We could enjoy the small light show with no disturbance.

Click the image on the left.

History of Pont Vieux

  • The stone bridge called Pont Vieux (or Old Bridge) was built in the Roman time as a replacement of the old one from the feudal age. The date goes back to the 14th century. The construction was already in process in 1315, and 5 years later it came to completion. Special taxes were introduced to cover the construction expenses. This bridge also has 12 arches, but each size is slightly different. Their diameters vary from 10 to 14m. What we can tell from this fact is that the construction was proceeded on and off according to the budget. In other words, these arches were built one by one, not
  • Pont Vieux was once separated into two parts by a stone arch, which means that contact between Cité and Ville-Basse was interrupted. There was an internal split involving the citizens of the two cities. However it followed that they concluded a peace treaty.
  • The looks of the bridge didn’t take much change until 1820. In those days it had a light and strong rail attached to the two sidewalks. In 1436 two arches collapsed, and restoration of other parts as well as repairs of the two arches took place in 1559. After this accident several readjustments were done, but the bridge never lost its taste. Then in 1820 the time finally came when Pont View had to accept reconstruction work that would change the original form.
  • In 1999, Carcassonne City and l’Architecte des Monuments de France examined the condition of this area, and they approved of the project to make the east side of Pont Vieux look nicer. Keeping the 13th arch on the east side, the ground was leveled and became a nice terrace. Now behind the planted trees along the foot pass there is enough space for a parking area.

On the side of Cité across Pont Vieux,
there is a space for picnics.
Ideal to take a rest under the trees.
It was not only us but other friends resting there.

On the west side of Pont Vieux,
There is a small chapell.
Chapelle Notre Dame de la Sante

History of Chapelle Notre Dame de la Sante

  • This chapel was built as a hospital facility in order to save people suffering from the plague. Jean de Saix donated to the construction. There was once a regular guard here because the area was very important from the strategical point of view, and this building was starting to function as a castle wall.
  • Today, we can see the number 1692 on the ceiling which tells us the date when the construction was completed.
  • Every year many believers and tourists come to see this chapel, and likewise in the past more and more people paid a visit to this hospital facility. In 1685 this chapel was expanded and a strong wall was added so that it could resist river floods.

Now let’s walk toward the Cité.
There are two main gates to the Cité.
Porte d’Aude and Porte Narbonnaise.
These photos above were taken from the side of Porte d’Aude.
The view from below the buildings is very powerful.
The church standing below the hill is Eglise Saint Gimer.

History of Eglise Saint Gimer

  • A young man named Eugène Viollet-le-Duc discovered Carcassone. It was 1831 when he was going on an expedition to the Pyrenees. After visiting Italy, he was most likely to show up in Carcassonne again in 1839. He was charged to write a report about restoration work of Saint-Nazaire in 1843, and the following year he became a supervisor for the work. The relation between Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and Carcassonne lasted until 1879 when he died.
  • Viollet-le-Duc was in charge of 4 construction sites, and Saint-Gimer is the least known of the four. Although he played an important role as an architect at the time, he is now rather considered to be a renovator. This is because he could realize only 3 churches in his career; Saint-Denis de l’Estrée, Aillant-sur-Tholon and Saint-Gimer。
  • Saint Gimer was built from 1854 to 1859, and being simple was one of the objectivities in this construction. Viollet-le-Duc wanted to realize genuine work within the budget.

History of Porte d’Aude

  • The Aude gate stands below the cliff and its castle wall once guarded the area around the riverside. This wall dates back to the 13th century. The Aude gate was made in the wall of Visigoths in the 12th century. It has an arch form, and the interior brings us back the atmosphere which it used to have.

This is Porte Narbonnaise
On the other side of Porte d’Aude

History of Porte Narbonnaise

  • Porte Narbonnaise is situated in the east of the Cité. This gate was built to raise dignity and enhance comfort, and these elements were well integrated into military establishments.
  • From 16th century, this fortified castle was starting to lose symbolic power, and to maintain the fame several legends were appearing. One of the most famous stories is Dame Carcas. When the Cité was occupied by Saracens, Charlemagne kept attacking the Cité for 5 years. Dame Carcas, who lost her husband, grand duke, led the Cité order. The attack continued and the people in the Cité were running short of provisions and water. Then, Dame Carcas tried to make a list of what was left in the Cité. One citizen brought one pig and wheat, and she came up with an idea. She let the pig eat the wheat and threw it outside the Cité. When Charlemagne found the pig, he thought that there must be still enough food inside the Cité, and he withdrew. People rang all the bells in the Cité to celebrate the victory. One of the soldiers on the way of withdrawal noted down 《 Sire, Carcas te sonne 》. It means “Carcas is ringing the bell”. 《Carcas sonne 》, that is, Carcassonne! This is the origin of the city name. The statue of Carcas stands at Porte Narbonnaise.

Now, let’s go through the gate and see the inside of the Cité.

Joseph Poux (1873-1938)
Joseph Poux is the historian who studied this fortified castle.

History of 2500 years of Carcassonne

  • In the 6th century BC Celtics settled here, and it developed to be a city in the Roman time.
  • In the 3rd century BC a strong castle wall was starting to be built.
  • In 435, it became part of Visigoth.
  • From 725 to 759 Muslims occupation, and then by Franks.
  • In the feudal age, Trencavel dynasty began.
  • In 1208 the Cité became the king’s territory. Trencavel II tried to take back the Cité but failed.
  • 1997 registered as a UNESCO world heritage

The castle wall is reinforced double,
and it’s 3,000m long.
There are 52 towers.

This is a hidden device to trick on enemies.

Grand Puits
The oldest well in the Cité.
There is a legend that treasure is hidden in this well.
But never found.

Many shops inside the Cité now.
I bought some cookies to fill my stomach.
Many souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants too.

Basilique Saint-Nazaire
There are many figures like this on this church.
To prevent evil?

I had a little more time to look around the Cité and found some interesting things. I’ll show you some of them.

Maison dite « de Montmorency »
The house named Montmorency.
Built in the 16th century.
The first base is made of stone,
the other three floors are made of wood.
The wood helps support the wall made of sand.

The photo on the right shows gutters.
They look like dragons.
When it rains, the water comes out of their mouths?

Notre-Dame de l’Abbabye
Strange paintings.
Look, it’s got three legs?

It is also known as a place
where Christians in Carcassonne gathered for the first time.

This is the street I found in Carcassonne.
Indeed, it was a quiet night when I visited there.

It was a short trip, but there were many spots to see and I walked a lot! Most of the shops and hotels are found in the lower city, but you can find a few good hotels and restaurants in the Cité too. If you prefer to eat and stay inside the Cité, you’d better make a reservation, of course. The list of the accommodations and restaurants in Carcassonne is found at Carcassonne tourism official website. They can send you a city map and a guide booklet, or you can download them at their website. They also show more details about history for each spot in their homepage. I suggest you studying a little about the history before your trip. It’s good to know it, and you will enjoy your trip more.

I found people there nice and friendly. A nice landscape and nice food too. Don’t forget to taste their specialties!!! Food from the southwest of France is known to be one of the best in France.

On New Year’s Day we had dinner at a Brasserie near the station because we didn’t make any plan for this trip except a hotel. Actually we didn’t expect anything special. We were kind of giving up on food, but they serve excellent food. They had a special menu for the day too. After the meal they gave us a small sachet of chocolate as a New Year’s Day gift. They made my day.

Carcassonne tourism office more info and a city map.

( reference: Carcassone tourism office guide, Wikipedia)