An open-air book which tells the story of a thousand years of history
You can turn the pages from the Romans to Viollet-Le-Duc, the 19th century, romantic saviour of a ruined monument.
Evidence of all the different periods of construction can still be seen in the walls, stretching from Antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages. The monument's stones breath the hopes and fears of the Cathar era to this day. Now, fewer than a hundred or so people and the pupils of the Calendreta, the Occitan school within the Cité, live according to the seasons in this film set. But the monument's heart still beats strongly, because of the 'pilgrims' who come from the world over, the concerts during the Festival de Carcassonne or events like the yellow concentric circles on the ramparts, created in 2018 by the Swiss artist Felice Varini.
History in the Cité has a capital 'H', it's a bit like a fairy tale, with princesses, knights, duels and a happy ending.
From the Romans to the Francs
The Cité's first stones were placed in 122 BC by the world's greatest conquerors at the time, the Romans. They occupied the Languedoc until 5th century, until the arrival of the Visigoths.
The Cité changed 'owners' various times, with the Saracens in 725, then the Franks scarcely four years later…
The legend of Dame Carcas: a princess, a pig and a victory...
According to legend, Dame Carcas, wife of a Muslim prince of Carcassonne, drove back Charlemagen's Frankish army, using various strategies. She had a whole pig, which had been fed on the last bag of wheat, dropped from the top of the ramparts to show her enemies that the Cité still had plenty of provisions to withstand the siege.
This pig was the deciding factor in Charlemagne's decision to lift the siege, as he thought the residents were not going to give up. In reality, it was the last pig, and there was not actually anything else left to eat! Dame Carcas decided to that the bells should be rung to celebrate the victory, from where the name 'Carcas Sonne' comes, sonner meaning to ring.
Troubadours, Cathars and Crusade
The Cité became a stronghold between the 11th and 13th centuries, with the construction of the château comtal of the Trencavels, Viscounts of Carcassonne. This was the time of troubadours and courtly love.
In 1209, a crusade from Pope Innocent III began against the Cathars, who were under the protection of Viscount Raymond Roger Trencavel. Carcassonne was under siege for fifteen days, Trencavel was poisoned and died in his own château's prison, aged just 24 years old. The Cité was then turned over to the northern baron, Simon de Montfort, who led the crusade, and then the King of France, Louis VIII.
It then became a real fortress, particularly during the reign of Philippe le Bel.
Decadence and Renaissance
With the arrival of new war techniques and the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, the Cité lost its defensive role and became a poor district. Houses were even built against the ramparts using stones from the monument. Lots of the Carcassonne residents preferred the low town…
The Cité was going to simply disappear. We owe its survival to two men, one of whom, Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, lawyer, historian and local politician had the declassification order cancelled, which would have authorised the destruction of the cite walls.
In 1853, the occasionally controversial restoration of the cité was started, under the direction of the second key man, the architect du Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, and then his student, Paul Boeswillwald .
the Cité Médiévale, with three kilometres of ramparts, two walls and 52 towers and barbicans, is the largest and best-preserved of the medieval fortresses in Europe. It is the 5th most visited monument in France.
"My God! I can die happy having seen Carcassonne!"