Carcassone – A Fairytale City & Chateau Aragon
Monday, 8 February 2010
This UNESCO world-heritage listed city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France, drawing about 3 million tourists each year. As the largest citadel in Europe, it provides many winding cobble-stoned alleyways in which to lose yourself in the romance of this fairytale city.
The town is divided into two parts – the star attraction is the the fortified city, which consists of a double ring of ramparts and 53 towers. Perhaps of lesser interest is the ‘ville basse’ (lower city) which lies in the shadow of the fortifications.
Carcassonne was settled perhaps as early 3500BC, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the Romans that it began to grow into an important city. Recognising its strategic hill-top position, the Romans began to fortify the city around 100BC.
You can still see the part of the fortification which the Romans built: the main part of the lower northern ramparts dates from Gallo-Roman times. It retained its importance throughout the Middle Ages, controlling a vast fiefdom. Throughout this time the city had close connections with Spain – although this was not always a friendly relationship. Carcassonne became a major defence point against Spain, as a border citadel between France and the kingdom of Aragon in Spain.
Yet Carcassone’s real moment of fame came when it played its part in the Crusades. A stronghold of Occitan Cathars, it held out against crusading armies until August 1209, when the city was forced to surrender. After the Treaty of the Pyrenees, the military importance of the city was made redundant. Instead, it made a new name as an economic centre, becoming heavily involved in the woollen textile industry. Under Napoleon, the city was struck from the list of official fortifications. It wasn’t long before the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that talk began of demolishing it altogether. It took an outraged group of French citizens to get a campaign up and running to preserve the city as an historical monument – and luckily, they succeeded. Despite a few minor inaccuracies, the restoration was deemed a work of genius and today still attracts many admiring travellers.
Things to see and do
The first thing on the list is a Tour of the Ramparts – check out the tour times as soon as you get there so that you don’t miss out. Tours of the main residence, ramparts and towers are run from the Chateau Comtal, and are included in the entry price. These areas can only be accessed on one of the tours. The tour puts both the history and architecture of Carcassonne into perspective, and so allows you to fully soak in the beauty of the fortification and the stories behind it.
Visit one of the most impressive Cathar sites just a short drive from Carcassonne in the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain). There are four castles at Lastours – Cabaret, Tour Regine, Surdespine and Quertinheux.
The Basilique Saint-Nazare is a beautiful 5th-century cathedral featuring stunning stained glass windows. Part Romanesque and part Gothic, the cathedral is an interesting mix of architectural styles. Its cavernous interior and the stone tablets and gravestones which hang from the walls give the cathedral a sombre and an imposing atmosphere.
The Canal du Midi was built in the 17th century to link the Mediterrnean and the Atlantic. Today, you can take a 90 minute cruise along the canal from the port in Carcassone. Another lovely option is to take a cycle or a walk along the banks, under the shade of the plane trees which line the canal. Its historical importance was recognised in 1996 when it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There are also a number of museums in Carcassone. In particular, we recommend: Museum of the Middle Ages, Museum of Chivalry, Arms and Archery and Museum of Fine Arts.
For more information, visit: www.carcassonne.org
Chateau Aragon (AU006A)
If you are interested in visiting Carcassone, we have the perfect villa from which you can thoroughly enjoy and explore Carcassone and the surrounding areas.
Chateau Aragon (AU006A) is itself an historical experience — parts of this genuine French chateau date as far back as the 12th century. Only a short drive from Carcassone, you will find Chateau Aragon perched resolutely at the top of a medieval village, from which it has surveyed the surrounding plains and mountains for around 800 years. The Chateau has recently been furnished and renovated, with a refreshing breath of modernism to strike a balance with the weight and depth of the building’s history. All furniture was made to order in Bali, Indonesia – using the rarest, highest quality wood with simple designs to blend harmoniously with this quality villa’s character and medieval history.
This spacious luxury villa can accommodate up to twelve people more than comfortably – an abundance of sofas ensures that nobody is left without a comfortable place to sink into at the end of a day of exploring and activities. In fact, you might get so comfortable that it could be difficult to drag yourself away – a summer-time sejourn may see you immersing yourself in good book by a sunny window, or reclined cozily by the 18th century wood-panelled fireplace in winter.
Yet the luxury of the interior rooms is actually almost overshadowed by what lies outside. On the expansive terrace you will find a large dining table, perfect for Alfresco dinners – what could be better than a fresh meal prepared from local produce, accompanied by views of hilly vineyards? On a clear day, one can even see the snow-capped Pyreenees. Set amongst the blooms of the Garden are 12th Century original Gargoyles. The real jewel in the crown however is surely the ruined historic wall, which provides a dramatic backdrop to the blue of the pool. The magnificent stone edifice was once part of the Chateau’s interior structure – an insight into the evolution of a building which carries the echoes of the past.
Aragon’s Château, during the 800 years since the construction of its original elements, has been the theatre of numerous conflicts, battles and jealousies. Without the ownership or military domination of the Château, the population would not be subordinated and the economic and military domination of the surrounding lands would not be secured.
The Lord of Aragon offered a home to several Cathar priests at the end of the 12th Century to protect them from the terror of the Royal Army. In 1126, as recompense for his loyal services, the Viscount Trencavel honored the Lord of Aragon with the guardianship of a tower of the Cité of Carcassonne.
Today the Château is at last peaceful, a superb villa residence, in which traces of the past harmoniously blend with the interior design and modern comfort.
Nearby activities and attractions:
– Bike hire
– Lakes and Parks
– Superb Wineries
– Mediterranean Beaches
Contributions by Katarina Byrne