Friday, 21 March 2014


So when I was in France last week, I stayed in Carcassonne for 4 very happy and calorie-heavy days

This was the view of the citadel from our hotel :-)

Carcassonne is in the south-east of the country, in the Aude region. If you like castles, this really should be on your list of holiday destinations - not just for the spectacular citadel itself, but for all the Cathar castles scattered around the area (of which, more in a later post).

Statue of Dame Carcas at the main gate
The city is named, in local legend, after Carcas, the wife of the local lord (Saracens at that point, in the 8th century). When the castle was under siege for 5 years and her Turkish husband Baalak died, she took charge and held out to the point of starvation against the Emperor Charlemagne's army. Then she took the last pig and the last bag of wheat to the top of a tower, fed the wheat to the pig and pushed the pig off. "Sacre bleu et zut alors!" said Charlemagne: "They've got so much food left they're throwing it away!" So he lifted the siege and went home, and all the bells of the city rang out. "Ecoutez-vous, you smelly lot!" said the locals in Franglais. "Carcas sonne!"
(Boom-boom-tish. And don't blame me because the French like a bad pun just as much as the English!)

Front door

The citadel of Carcassonne itself was built over thousands of years, with contributions from the Romans and various medieval owners. It is VAST. I mean, stupidly big for a castle. There are 53 towers on the 2 miles of walls. Think Harrenhal.

Outer and second walls

Second (inner) walls
It eventually fell into disrepair but was rebuilt in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc , the same guy who rebuilt Notre Dame in Paris. So it's a bit of a disneyfied Victorian idea of what a castle should look like.

The inner town

Bridge from the inner barbican to the third (inmost) set of walls

The outer defensive wall surrounds a big  dry area, and then there's an inner wall, which surrounds a whole village (including a cathedral), and then in the middle of that village is ... the inner chateau! It takes a couple of days to look around properly.

Exploring the battlements of the inmost citadel

The "modern" town of Carcassonne lies across the river at the foot of the hill. It is very very quiet. Not as quiet as Bruges (obviously), but it does have the distinct air that most people have run away from the zombies or died of the plague or something.
Maybe it's just Europe.

A light snack before dinner

The few remaining inhabitants eat a lot of duck and drink a lot of beer and go to bed early.

We helped them out with the beer-drinking. To the utmost of our abilities.

They have an entertaining line in local artworks:

!!! This well-endowed gargoyle is on the modern cathedral
Can't resist, eh?

There was (coincidentally) supposed to be a Game of Thrones convention on that weekend in the citadel ... but the organisers went bust and cancelled two days beforehand, leaving the poor bloody nerds high and dry. Local papers reported it thusly:

But I am proud to report that we played the game Carcassonne in Carcassonne - even if it was on a tablet!
The geek - it burns...


Jeremy Edwards said...

Wait... gargoyles are circumcised?

Vida said...

I love 'le cruel fiasco'. Cruel indeed, though no doubt they're used to grief and disappointment at this stage, c/o George RR...

That house reminds me of Dulac from Shrek.

Janine Ashbless said...

Probably not most of them, Jermemy. I imagine gargoyle circumcision is a rare and specialist skill ...

Janine Ashbless said...

"Le cruel fiasco" would not have got us any points in our French exams at school, I can tell you!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Probably not most of them, Jermemy. I imagine gargoyle circumcision is a rare and specialist skill ...


I'll be right back.

[Runs out through citadel walls, down to newer part of Carcassonne. Dashes into luncheonette, where very old woman with a family resemblance to Jeremy sits frowning in confusion over a menu.]

"OK, it sounds like you'll need to ask the chef, Grandma. Sometimes it's kosher, sometimes no."

Nano said...

A place I've always wanted to visit and your post has whetted my appetite! Throwing pigs off the walls of the castle sounds very Monty Python and the Holy Grail to me. They didn't shout 'and I fart in your general direction' as well did they?

Janine Ashbless said...

Ah guys, you crack me up!