An early departure from Toulouse, put us in Caracassonne in the middle of Saturday markets of every kind, farmers’, swap meets, antiques, books and flowers to name a few. A gorgeous hectic hodgepodge of family activity and weekend tasks.
We climbed up the cobbled path to the Cathar castle and citadel, a walled cite, enclosed by ramparts which are intact. Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, one of the founders of the modern science of conservation. Built in a unique southern French Gothic style from local brick in characteristic red and orange colors, the lofty fortified Cathedral (late 13th century) dominates the city, demonstrating the power regained by the Roman Catholic clergy. Alongside the Cathedral is the vast bishop’s Palais de la Berbie, overlooking the river and surrounded by residential quarters that date back to the Middle Ages.
Today the walls enclose every tourist tout imaginable, every fast food known to the western world and even one good quiet one. Keeping in mind that this is the “off season,” tickets to walk the ramparts were sold out and the line was interminable. What can it possibly be like in summer. We walked the space between the inner and outer walls to escape the shops and to get a feel for the vast structure. This castle and others in Southern France were a part of a religious breakaway heretical Christian sect called the Cathars which flourished between the 11th and 13th centuries. Cathars were only brought to heel by the Inquisition in the 14th century and today remain as an historical footnote.