Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The medieval extravagance of Carcassonne

La Cité de Carcassonne

Our recent ladies' bicycle journey continues 50 km down the Canal du Midi to Carcassonne, a medieval city best known for its breathtaking fortress on the hill known as La Cité. Contained in its walls are a castle, a basilica and a village.

La Cité de Carcassonne

We first visited Carcassonne five years ago on my husband's maiden voyage to France. With its 53 towers, stone walls and drawbridges, La Cité seems to be something out of a fairy tale. But its history, like much of the history of this part of France, is anything but a children's bedtime story. The fortress was built by the Romans about 2,500 years ago. After the Romans were kicked out, Carcassonne was fought over by various waring tribes. Ultimately the well-developed fortress was able to defend against an invasion of Edward the Black Prince during the Hundred Years' War.

An expressive gargoyle on the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire
in Carcassonne's medieval city

For several centuries, France and Spain went back and forth laying claim to Carcassonne, but after the Treaty of the Pyrénées, the area was finally claimed by France and La Cité's strategic importance faded. The 19th century found the fortress in serious disrepair. The famous architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc took on the task of renovating La Cité, and today it is one of France's most visited sites.

A peek through a wall in La Cité de Carcassonne

This is fellow cyclist Veronica-from-Vancouver's first visit to Carcassonne, so we opt to skip our late-afternoon siesta and instead walk up to La Cité. Not everyone is enamoured with the medieval city. With an over-abundance of shops and restaurants, it's very touristy, and in the high season it is way too crowded for my taste. But on this gorgeous autumn evening, most of the visitors have either left or are eating dinner, and Veronica and I enjoy a leisurely hour exploring the city.

La Cité de Carcassonne begs to be photographed in black-and-white.

Back in the new part of town, la Bastide Saint-Louis, our friends dine in an outdoor café in Place de Lattre de Tassigney, and we join them for a glass of wine. It's been a long day, and we all sleep well this night.

Place de Lattre de Tassigney in Carcassonne

Before we set off on our last day of riding, we have a few hours to tour Carcassonne. Bastide Saint-Louis, Carcassonne's town center, was built in the 13th century. The city sits on the Aude River (as well as the Canal du Midi). Among the highlights of this visit is a walk through Square Gambetta, which contains a good assortment of modern sculptures focusing on women and children.

Bronze sculpture in Place Gambetta in Carcassonne

Bronze sculpture in Place Gambetta in Carcassonne

A building with a decorative clock Place Gambetta in Carcassonne

We take a little break in the courtyard of Saint Michel Cathedral before heading up to le Jardin du Calvaire. This unusual fortified garden in the southwest corner of Carcassonne is one of three remaining bastions in the city. Along its shady paths, dotted with cypress, olive and laurel trees, we pass the Stations of the Cross, a chapel built into the hillside and a large crucifixion tableau.

A gargoyle on Saint Michel Cathedral in Carcassonne

A gargoyle on Saint Michel Cathedral in Carcassonne

Joan of Arc statue at Saint Michel Cathedral in Carcassonne

Plaza at Saint Michel Cathedral in Carcassonne

The crucifixion table sits atop the Calvary Garden in Carcassonne.

The chapel at the Calvary Garden in Carcassonne is built into the hillside.

Except for the Château et Remparts de la Cité de Carcassonne, the city is not extremely touristy although it holds many more sites than we are able to visit on this day. After packing our paniers we get on our bikes and head on down the Canal. 



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