Cité de Carcassonne


Walking along one of the outer ramparts

Located in the south of France, the Fortress of Carcassonne is an outstanding example of medieval defense. Positioned in the Languedoc-Roussillon region near the border of Spain, the location of Carcassonne has been occupied for thousands of years, the earliest proof dating to the 6th century BC. When Gaul was absorbed into the Roman Empire, the Celtic settlement that was Carcaso Volcarum Tectosagum, became the Latin Colonia Iulia Carcaso in 27 BC (UNESCO).

Control changed hands several times over the centuries, from Celts, to Romans, to Visigoths, to Saracens, and lastly, to the Franks under Pepin the Short. The last count of this dynasty was childless and without heirs. In 1067 AD, Carcassonne became property of Raymond Bernard Trencavel, Viscount of Albi and Nimes, when he married the count’s sister.

Interior of Carsonne's Basilica de Saint-Nazaire

The Trencavel family built the Chateau Comtal (Castle of the Counts) and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire (a Romanesque-Gothic style cathedral). The reign of the Trencavels ended during the Albigensian Crusades, where the Pope declared war on the Cathars of Southern France. In 1209 the crusading army of Simon de Montfort terrorized the neighboring city of Beziers. Distinguishing between the Cathars and Catholics living  in the city was easy for the army; the decree being ‘kill them all, God will recognize His own.’

After that, Beziers was looted and burned. Marching west, the Crusaders arrived at Carcassonne, demanding surrender. The terms of the surrender allowed the twenty-four year old viscount, Raymond-Roger Trencavel, and eleven companions to leave the city unharmed. Raymond-Roger refused. The only weakness of the strongly fortified, bravely defended city was its moderate distance from the nearest river. The crusaders quickly cut off the defenders’ water supply by denying them access to the River Aude. Wells in the town were drying up, due to the intense August heat and to additional water consumption by the refugees from Beziers. Morale was sinking as the crusaders offered another form of surrender: all of their lives would be spared if they left everything behind, and abandoning Carcassonne wearing nothing but shirts and breeches. Raymond-Roger met with the besiegers under the law of safe conduct to discuss and accept the terms. Going back on their word, the crusaders did not allow him to return to the city but instead captured him. He died under mysterious circumstances, found dead in his own prison a few weeks later (History Today). According to the terms, the Cathars left. Simon de Montfort became the new Viscount of Carcassonne, adding new fortifications to the walls. In 1247 the city became a part of the kingdom of France under King Louis IX. He and his successor, Philip III built the outer ramparts (Wikipedia Contributors). Cité de Carcassonne had become so well fortified that not even the Edward the Black Prince could break through its defenses.

Aerial view of the 'Cité de Carcassonne'

Aerial diagram of Carcasonne. (1) Count's Castle. (4) Defensive entrance to the Chateau. (7) Gallo-Roman Ramparts. (9) Deuxieme Enceinte (or 2nd wall). (13) La Basilique Saint-Nazaire

Works Cited

Froissart, Jean. Chroniques de J. Froissart : 1346-1356 (Depuis le siege de Calais jusqu’à a la prise de Breteuil et aux preliminaires de la bataille de Poitiers).  Google eBook. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

“Carcassonne Falls In The Albigensian Crusade.” History Today 59.8 (2009): 10. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

“Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne”. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Carcassonne.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. (diagram pic)


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