TO SEE | TOWN
Most people will visit Carcassonne for its magnificent medieval citadel. But there is more! On a beautiful day I decided to cross the Pont Vieux. This is how I discovered the Saint-Louis Bastide, situated on the left bank of the Aude River. It’s also known as the “Ville Basse” or the lower city, being approximately 150 meters below La Cité. And like Carcassonne’s citadel, the bastide is a medieval town, built in 1247 under the reign of Louis IX. Here are eight reasons why you should pay La Bastide of Carcassonne a visit:
1. Pont Vieux
Via the Porte d’Aude I find my way to the Pont Vieux. There are signs everywhere, so I don’t get lost for a change. The old bridge got constructed in the 14th century and was the only connection between the Saint-Louis Bastide and the citadel until the 19th century. Nowadays the bridge is pedestrian only so you can parade your way into the second medieval town of Carcassonne.
2. Portail des Jacobins
I’m pleasantly surprised when I arrive at La Bastide. It is small and cosy and perfectly walkable. I take my time to stroll around while admiring some beautiful and colourful facades. And I notice some nice shops too, mainly on the rue de Verdun and its surrounding side streets. From the rue Courtejaire I walk to the Portail des Jacobins. The bastide used to be fortified, and you could only enter through one of the four entrance gates. Le Portail des Jacobins is the only gate left. Going through the gate, I spot a tiny remaining of the original city wall. History still flows through the streets.
3. Saint-Michel Cathedral
Continuing my stroll, I arrive at the Saint-Michel Cathedral. Built in the 14th century, it only got recognised as a cathedral in 1803 when the Basilique Saint-Nazaire in the citadel passed its title on to the Saint-Michel church. The cathedral got seriously damaged during a fire in 1849, but it was the architect Viollet-le-Duc who came to the rescue. In the 19th century, it was Viollet-le-Duc who renovated many important French monuments like the Mont Saint-Michel and the Notre Dame in Paris. The Saint-Michel cathedral was the first monument to be renovated as part of Viollet-le-Duc’s grand oeuvre: La Cité of Carcassonne.
4. Saint-Vincent church bell tower
From the Saint-Michel cathedral I go to the Saint-Vincent church. From the outside it looks like an ordinary church, but the good thing is that you can go up the tower. 232 steps (don’t forget to count) will bring you at the top of the 54 meters high bell tower. Unfortunately, it was closed when I was there (yep, it was lunchtime…), so I have to go back for that apparently amazing view overlooking the bastide.
5. Place Carnot
All in all, I’m walking for quite a bit by now and I start to feel a little hungry. What timing to arrive at the Place Carnot right at this very moment. I completely understand why La Place Carnot is a favourite meeting place of the Carcassonnais: it is a lively and bustling square full of restaurants and a beautiful Neptune fountain made out of marble. I find the perfect shaded lunch spot, and for a moment I feel very French.
6. Musée des Beaux Arts
Last stop of the day is the Musée des Beaux Arts at the very start of rue de Verdun. Situated in the former Présidial, the museum’s collection consists of Occitan paintings from the 17th, 18th and 19th century as well as some faience and tapestry. You can visit the museum for free, and it is the perfect stop to cool down and soak up some culture. Reflecting my day at the bastide I can only conclude that I should have visited it long before. And I’m planning to go back for reasons 7 and 8, as I missed Les Halles and the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday market on Place Carnot. Hope this post gives you enough reasons to cross Le Pont Vieux!