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Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Discover the Fortified City of Carcassonne…

The historic city of Carcassonne is an excellent example of a medieval fortified town whose massive defences were constructed on walls dating from late antiquity. It is of exceptional significance by virtue of the restoration work carried out in the second half of the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in conservation principles and practice.

Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. The earliest known occupation of the site dates from the 6th century BC, when a protohistoric hill fort (oppidum ) was built on this rocky spur overlooking the valley of the Aude and the ancient routes linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula with the rest of Europe. In the 1st century BC, this settlement, Carcaso Volcarum Tectosagum, became the Latin Colonia Iulia Carcaso in 27 BC. During the turbulent years of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, it was protected by the construction of a defensive wall some 1,200 m long. The fortifications, consisting of two lines of walls and a castle, which is itself surrounded by fortifications, extend over a total length of 3 km. Their line largely follows that of the Roman defences, and these are clearly visible over two-thirds of the total length. The Roman walls were strengthened by horseshoe-shaped bastions at roughly regular intervals. The masonry is in characteristic late Roman style: rubble cores faced with courses of dressed ashlars intersected by courses of bricks and built on concrete foundations. The Porte Narbonnaise on the eastern side and the Porte de l’Aude on the west are particularly elaborate defensive works.

It came under Visigothic rule in the 5th century and resisted repeated attempts by the Franks to capture it. The Arabs were more successful in 724, but were driven out in 759, after a siege led by Pepin the Short. The Visigothic period saw the creation of a bishopric at Carcassonne, some time in the 6th century. It is probably that a cathedral was built here, on the site of the present Romanesque cathedral, on which work began in June 1096.

The 12th-century count’s castle was built over the western part of the Roman walls; it was surrounded by a rectangular fortified enclosure in 1226. By the end of the 13th century the town had assumed its definitive appearance as a medieval fortress. A local revolt in 1262 caused the king to expel most of the inhabitants. He allowed them to settle on the other side of the river, where the new town that they set up was itself fortified in 1347.

The main body of the cathedral, dedicated to St Nazaire and St Celse, consists of a central six-bayed nave with an interrupted barrel vault and two narrow side-aisles rising to almost the same height and fully vaulted. The transverse arches of the barrel vaulting spring alternately from square columns surrounded by embedded columns and round pillars. The original Romanesque choir was replaced in the later 13th century by an imposing High Gothic structure. This is a large transept with a six-sided apse at its eastern end. It is at variance with the practice in the High Gothic cathedrals of northern France, where the choir itself was stressed; accenting the transept is more in keeping with a Romanesque tradition, which here is gothicized. Its exterior, like that of most southern French Gothic churches, has no flying buttresses, stability being assured by means of the interior vaulting. It contains some important sculpture, notably the 13th-century tomb of Bishop Radulph. The stained glass in the windows of the apse and the transept is of exceptionally high quality. Three periods can be distinguished: late 13th century, early 14th century and 16th century.

Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken in the latter half of the 19th century by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, one of the founders of the modern science of conservation. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

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Carcassonne was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997