Lounging in France 8: Carcassonne

If you want to think about medieval defense, this is a great area of the world for it. And here we come at last to the biggest and best example of them all, the citadel at Carcassonne.

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What’s fascinating about this World Heritage site, what strikes you like a blow over the heart, is that it looks so new. Look at that arch above my head, the chains for the drawbridge. So sharp and clean and fresh from the forge or chisel, as if Raimond-Bernard Trencavel, viscount of Albi, just stepped out for an anachronistic cup of espresso. The beauty of it is overwhelming. The place is mobbed, year-round, because everybody has to see this.

It wasn’t always this way. In Victorian times this site was considerably more ruinous than the towers at Lastours, to the point where the city fathers proposed demolishing it. That set off an outcry, and French architect Eugène Violett-le-Duc undertook to restore the castle. Since the site has been occupied since the Neolithic, he had to select a version. And he prudently decided to go for max grandeur and cool:

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And he succeeded, I think you’ll agree. This is the inner moat — there are three, two of them now grassy to save on maintenance. Those wooden structures on top of the walls and tower are hoardings, to shelter the defenders as they fire arrows or drop burning oil onto the besiegers. The preservationists didn’t preserve, so much as make everything absolutely perfect. This is not a ruin. It’s more like a time machine back to the 12th century. Absolutely fascinating, essential for anyone writing about the 12th or 13th century.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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Lounging in France 8: Carcassonne — 5 Comments

  1. We were in Orkney, at the Bishop’s palace in the mid90’s. There were workmen there, “doing maintenance, so it won’t fall down,” we were told. Only, I found a postcard of the palace from the mid50’s in a bookshop, and clearly, at least half of the palace dated from after the postcard. Preservation, reconstruction, time machine. A lot of overlap.

  2. Brenda, I’m drooling over this citadel and adding it to my list to see if we get to travel again. I was wowed by the amazingly well-preserved medieval town/fortress on Rhodes (another World Heritage site), but Carcassonne looks even more spectacular. Very “spruce and point-device” with its repairs.

  3. Oh, you should. (Let me know if you need advice about where to stay.) The other fortress of crazy perfection, although not as maniacal as this, is Aigues-Mortes. The entire town is surrounded by the wall, so you can stay inside.

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