Hello from Carcassonne in south western France, a town that’s easily the most interesting that I’ve seen in France.
Let me tell you why.
Of course, I’m almost entirely talking about the medieval fortified part of the town, but I’ll add a point or two about the bit outside the city walls too 🙂
Also, if you wanna hear these points explained with a heck of a lot more enthusiasm, you should listen to today’s podcast episode.
Click play below.
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Now, where were we? Ah yes, Carcassonne.
If you’re even vaguely interested in history, this is the town for you. There are thousands of blogs, websites, and books dedicated to it, almost all of which will be more informative than this blog post, but here it is in my words based on the week I spent here, the tours I did, and the books I read about it.
The first thing you need to know is that it’s old, very old. I’m talking 2,500 years old. And what makes it all-the-more interesting is that over the years it became a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Why? Because it was torn down, damaged, occupied, rebuilt, and left to ruin over and over again throughout history.
As a result, no one really knew what it was supposed to look like. Was that tower an original piece? Who added the second fortified wall? Was this really the main entrance?
Almost 200 years ago, the place was left largely to ruin and inhabited by a bunch of squatters in ramshackle shacks. It was so far beyond hope that the French government planned to knock it down, though a fierce backlash from the public made them change their mind.
But the real game changer was when a local man found the tomb of a bishop and decided this almost-abandoned village was worthy of some attention.
Word of the discovery got to Paris, where Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, France’s biggest history buff with unparalleled renovation skills, got wind of the forgotten town of Carcassonne.
Having already renovated such classics as the Notre Dame Cathedral and Mont Saint Michel, Le-Duc came to Carcassonne with his tools and designed a plan to return it to its former glory. This was in 1849.
He looked the renovation efforts of the past city-dwellers, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Crusaders (and more) and carried out perhaps the biggest renovation job France had ever seen.
He razed all the ramshackle shacks too, giving the old town the semblance of being an old town again, not an overrun ruin. And over the course of it was thanks to Leduc that Carcassonne became the tourist attraction that it is known as today, attracting 3 million visitors each year – even though the town is very hard to get to. Indeed, it took me six weeks to get here (though I am travelling by scooter).
The saddest part of it all? Le-Duc never got to see the finished product, dying in 1879. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in this story to read Le-Duc’s Wiki Page – a fascinating man indeed. He basically changed the face of France.
As for me, I’ve been captivated by Carcassonne, its magnificent ramparts, and its charming old town. I’ve been four times in four days, filmed a few videos, and will certainly revisit one day.
Now, a quick word about the rest of the town. The “new” part of Carcassonne, just outside the old fortified part (and where you would probably stay if you visited), is incredibly interesting too. It’s said to be one of (if not the) oldest existing example of a checkered street plan. In other words, the streets were designed in a grid (like in Manhattan) and have remained so for 1200 years.
It’s also a very charming part of the world, regular food markets in the town square, beautiful old city gates, and friendly faces left and right. I got on first-name basis with the strawberry seller in the space of a week.
There are also really good door knockers, if you’re into that kind of thing (I am). I honestly believe this town to be one of the best I’ve ever seen and I highly recommend it.
And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, we were in the tannery apartment on this link mentioned in the episode. It was lovely.
As for me, time to hit the road again and complete this heart shape honeymoon tour.
That link for the podcast episode again, here.
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