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Carcassonne (Municipality, Aude, France)

Last modified: 2017-05-13 by ivan sache
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Flag of Carcassonne - Image by Ivan Sache, 29 November 2009

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Presentation of Carcassonne

The municipality of Carcassonne (48,112 inhabitants in 2008; 6,508 ha; municipal website) is located 80 km east of Toulouse, on the main raod connecting the Atlantic Ocean (Bordeaux) and the Mediterranean Sea (Montpellier). The town of Carcassonne is famous for its medieval Cité, which dominates the Bastide Saint-Louis.

The Cité of Carcassonne (detailed presentation) is located in a strategic area already settled in the Neolithic (8th century BC). In the 6th century BC, for a still unknown reason, the oppidum (fortified camp) of Carcas was transferred two kilometers northwards upon a hill dominating river Aude. Fortified by the Volcae Tectosages in the 4th century BC, the oppidum of Carcaso was revamped by the Romans after the conquest of Provence and Languedoc, achieved in 118 BC; incorporated to the colony of Narbo Martius (Narbonne), the oppidum was the capital of the colony named Julia Carcaso. In the 3rd century, threatened by the barbarian invasions, the inhabitants withdrew into a smaller area protected by a thick wall.

In the 5th century, the Romans were expelled from Spain and South France by the Visigoths, who made in 460 of Carcassonne, then known as Carcasona, a town protecting the southern border of Septimania, and, subsequently (6th century), the seat of a bishopric. The Sarracens seized the town in 725 but were expelled in 759 by King of the Franks Pippin the Short. According to the legend, Dame Carcas attempted to lift the siege by throwing a fat pig over the walls; fooled by this sign of wealth, the Franks withdrew and Dame Carcas celebrated her victory by ringing (in French, sonner) the bells of the town. Carcas sonne (Carcas rings the bell) is therefore the popular etymology of the town's name.

The Carolingian rulers appointed Viscounts to rule the town. When the Carolingian rule faded away, the Viscounts became hereditary, feudal lords. By successive alliances, the Trencavel dynasty emerged in the 11th century as powerful lords. Viscount Bernard Aton Trencavel (1074-1129), Viscount of Carcassonne, Béziers and Albigeois, built a cathedral and a palatium (manor). The town, which already had a few boroughs out of the Cité, was ruled by a Consulate set up in 1192 and confirmed by a charter granted between 1209 and 1229.
Vassal of the Count of Toulouse, Viscount Raimond Roger Trencavel supported the Cathars. After the seizure of Béziers by the Crusaders, Trencavel withdrew to the Cité of Carcassonne, which was seized two weeks later by the Crusaders. He was then ordered by the Pope to transfer all his possessions to the leader of the Crusaders, Simon of Montfort. In 1224, Count of Toulouse Raimond VII reconquerred Carcassonne and reestablished Raimond Trancavel II as the Viscount for a short period, the Cité submitting without fighting to King of France Louis VIII in July 1226.
Carcassonne was eventually incorporated to the Kingdom of France in 1244. In 1248, King Louis IX (St. Louis) allowed the building of a new town on the left bank of river Aude, out of the walls of the Cité. Named Bastide Saint-Louis, the new town became a wealthy trade place, while the Cité remained the symbol of the royal power. Destroyed by the Black Prince in 1355, the Bastide Saint-Louis was quickly rebuilt. In 1659, the Treaty of Pyrenees moved the border with Spain southwards, so that the Cité of Carcassonne, deemed obsolete, lost its strategic significance.

In the 18th century, the Bastide Saint-Louis (Lower Town) was the economic center of Carcassonne, which mostly lived from cloth and wine trade, while the Cité (Upper Town) was a poor and decentered borough. The seat of the bishopric was transferred in 1801 from the upper to the lower town. Downgraded as a second rank fortress, the Cité was earmarked for demolition.
In the middle of the 19th century, the local erudite Jean-Pierre Cros- Mayrevieille (1810-1876) convinced Prosper Mérimée (1803-0870), Inspector of the Historic Monuments, to save Carcassonne. Mérimée commissionned the architect Eugène Viollet-Leduc (1814-1879), who managed the restoration of the cathedral in the Lower Town (1856-1859), of the basilica (1844-1865) and fortifications (1853-1879) in the Upper Town. Viollet-Leduc's choices were criticized by Cros-Mayrevieille, who accused him to have "demolished to rebuild from scratch". The main bone of contention was made by the conic roofs covered with slates, considered as an inappropriate copy of the castles of northern France. The debate was closed in the 1980s, when it was decided to maintain Viollet-Leduc's options (until the next retoration) to keep the homogeneity of his works. This point was recognized by UNESCO in 1997, when the Cité of Carcassonne was inscribed in the World Heritage List (files; "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").
In the early 20th century, the Cité of Carcassonne, restored "as it was" in the 13th century, became the image of an idealized, melodramatic medieval Gilded Age, used for several reenactions and "historic" movies.

The Canal du Midi, designed in the 17th century by Pierre-Paul Riquet (1609-1680) to link the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, was derived through Carcassonne in 1777-1798, allowing the creation of a river port in the town, inaugurated in 1810. The Canal was inscribed in 1996 in the UNESCO World Heritage List (files).

Ivan Sache, 29 November 2009

Municipal flag of Carcassonne

The flag of Carcassonne, as reported by Marc Gassion in April 2008, is white with the logo of the town.

The logo of Carcassonne shows three elements representing the town, from top to bottom:
- the Cité, in red and orange shades;
- the Pont-Vieux (Old Bridge) linking the Cité and the Bastide Saint-Louis, in blue shades;
- the fountain built on Place Carnot by the Italian sculptor Barata in 1767-1771, decorated with a statue of Neptune, also in blue shades.
Below these elements is written, in blue letters, "CARCASSONNE / PATRIMOINE MONDIAL" (Carcassonne / World Heritage).

Ivan Sache, 29 November 2009