Carcassone, the medieval city of my dreams

Property 345 – The Historic Fortified City of Carcassone, France

Carcassone was a real treat for me. It is a fortified medieval town on a hill in Southern France which has been inhabited since neolithic times. It’s at a crossroads between Mediterranean, Atlantic and Central France, and has historically exploited its location to make money from trade.  

Being a native of Melbourne and used to wide boulevards and logically laid out suburbs, I find the densely packed alleys tunnels of medieval architecture to be intoxicatingly foreign.  Despite the profusion of tourist shops selling all sorts of tacky paraphernalia there is a undeniable feeling of antiquity about the place.  It’s as if all the modern junk could be wiped away with a few strokes of a giant eraser, while leaving the underlying structure of the place untouched.

Carcassonne is filled with myriad tiny medieval details, like family crests over doorways and little winding staircases made for midgets.  Every inch of the place feels ancient, but in a heavily-used and somewhat abused kind of way. The overall effect is like Game of Thrones but without the slaughter or the snow.  The dozens of towers are capped with little witchy turrets of a characteristically French style, giving the city a distinctive profile from a distance.  Sitting on the walls made me feel like I should be explaining to a son that one day all this would be his, providing he could make a suitable match with a princess from Aragon.

No modern tourist attraction is without the accompanying tourist tack though, and the profusion of crap in the main streets is some of the worst that I’ve seen. It didn’t help that I visited in the middle of the year, precisely when everyone packs up and leaves Paris for a month.  Interestingly, much of the paraphernalia for sale revolves around the Languedoc and Basque characteristics of the area and the associated independence movements.  I found this curious as a non-French visitor, but perhaps for the French, who make up the majority of the tourists, it is novel. That said, it was easy to get off the main thoroughfares and find yourself wandering along a section of medieval wall alone.

I only had a day in Carcassone, which was a tragedy. I felt I didn’t really get the chance to get under the skin of the place and I’d love to go back and really explore.  There is a rather swish hotel within the town proper which used to belong to the reigning despot and is now a guest house.  That’s my style of travel!

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