Carcassonne, restored medieval city

Carcassonne, restored medieval city

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Listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the medieval city of Carcassonne is a remarkable and unique example of a fortified town, with its castle, towers and long and mighty ramparts. The city has been the subject of exceptional restoration campaigns since the 19th century, mainly carried out by Viollet-Leduc.

From prosperity to decline

Oppidum of the Iron Age transformed into a Roman colony, Carcassonne owes its good fortune to trade, just like its neighbor Narbonne. Located at a crossroads of peoples and civilizations, Carcassonne will be in turn Visigoth (Septimania), then Muslim (Ommeaydes from Spain) before coming under Frankish influence at the end of the 8th century. In the Middle Ages, it was a strategic stronghold on the Franco-Aragonese border. Fortification works are regularly carried out there, in particular by Louis IX, who integrates it definitively into the kingdom of France.

Rarely worried or besieged, the place gradually lost its strategic importance, in particular after the Treaty of the Pyrenees which moved the border between France and Spain in Roussillon. The fortified city is gradually abandoned by its inhabitants in favor of the suburbs of the lower city. In the 18th century, it became a miserable and out of town district. The roofs are falling apart, the walls are cracking, the walls are used as stone quarries by the inhabitants ... The church loses its title of cathedral in 1802 in favor of that of Saint-Michel located in the lower town.

Saving the city

It is a local scholar, Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, who is doing everything to save his city. In 1840, the Saint-Nazaire basilica was classified as a historical monument. After a visit from Prosper Mérimée, then Inspector General of Historical Monuments, in 1843 he called on Eugène Viollet-Leduc to restore it. It was through the Saint-Nazaire basilica that the architect first intervened in Carcassonne in 1844. He surrounded himself with a team of masons, master glassmakers and sculptors. The operations are directed on the spot by the Carcassonnais Guiraud Cals, because the architect comes once a year, gives directives and leaves on his departure details of execution in sufficient number for the current campaign. The western facade is rebuilt, the stained glass windows, the pillars of the nave, the buttresses and the masonry of the choir are renovated. Then comes the restoration of the Narbonne gate, the Saint-Nazaire gate, the fortifications, then the towers.

Challenged during his lifetime, the architect has his own vision of restoration: "Restoring a building is not repairing or remaking it, it is restoring it to a complete state which may never have existed at a time. given ”. Its choices are therefore sometimes risky and risky. In Carcassonne, he does not hesitate to substitute slates for the original tiles and to accentuate the point of the roofs ...


- Carcassonne: History and architecture, by Jean-Pierre Panouillé. Ouest-France editions, 2011.

- La Cite de Carcassonne, by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Cairn Editions, 2011.

For further

- Historic fortified city of Carcassonne (Unesco)

Video: The Medieval City of Carcassonne (May 2022).


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