TO SEE | TOWN
One very touristy, but still not-to-miss monument is the Citadel of Carcassonne. It is even in the top five of most visited monuments in the whole of France! No wonder so many people are attracted to stroll around the well-preserved citadel, with its Gallo-Roman military architecture, 3 kilometres of ramparts, 52 towers and 4 gates. Here’s part 1 of 2 posts about beautiful Carcassonne (click here for part 2).
In fact, there are two medieval cities. On the south side of the River Aude you will find the Bastide, built in the thirteenth century. And on the north side of the river is the citadel, called Cité in French, of Carcassonne. The citadel is lovely situated on a hilltop, giving great views of the bastide and the region. You can enter La Cité by two gates: La Porte Narbonnaise and La Porte d’Aude. I usually take the first one, which you are automatically directed to when following the signs from the motorway.
When entering La Cité by La Porte Narbonnaise, you will meet “Dame Carcas”. A replica of her statue is welcoming you right at the entrance of La Porte Narbonnaise. The actual 16th-century statue is safely kept at the castle. According to the legend, the citadel of Carcassonne was at that time taken by the Saracen. Their king got killed, so his wife “Dame Carcas” took over.
As the emperor Charlemagne wanted to reconquer the citadel, he held it under siege for already five years. The last defenders were outnumbered and hungry. However, to give the besiegers the impression that there were still many of them with lots of food, Dame Carcas fed the last little pig with a hand full of wheat and threw the pig from the highest tower of the city wall (harsh times back then…). Seeing this well-fed pig, made Charlemagne think. If the Saracen could still feed their pigs, there clearly was enough food. Conclusion: Charlemagne decided to call it a day. To celebrate this victory, Dame Carcas let the bells chime, or in French: “Carcas sonne”.
Bright blue sky
The best time to visit Carcassonne is Spring or Autumn, as it does get quite crowded in Summer. This time of year you can still walk around the town leisurely. I have visited Carcassonne numerous times, but I had never walked around the citadel. Carcassonne is a perfect example of a fortified medieval city. An important one, as it has two city walls for extra protection. As the weather was perfect, not too hot and a bright blue sky, I enjoyed a spectacular view of “La Bastida”, the other medieval part of Carcassonne.
Like it or hate it
But the real reason of my visit to Carcassonne was the artwork “Concentriques Excentriques”, created by Felice Varini to celebrate its 20th anniversary as Unesco World Heritage. This gigantic piece of art is made on the actual citadel itself. Entering La Cité from the Porte d’Aude, you notice strange yellow lines marked on the rampart and towers. Once standing in front of the gate, the yellow lines merge to form 15 circles. This work of art keeps the discussion going in Carcassonne and surroundings, as it seems that you either love it or hate it. I belong to the first camp: I absolutely love it. No worries if you don’t like the yellow stripes on the historic site though, they will be removed as of the end of September.