My adventures in southern France travel blog

Panorama of the fortifications of Carcasonne

Two of 52 towers at Carcasonne

Another view of Carcasonne

Another tower of Carcasonne

Yet another view of Carcasonne

Beautiful angel sculpture in the necropolis of Carcasonne

The necropolis outside the walls of medieval Carcasonne


Today we decided to do laundry as the skies were clearing and we thought there was a reasonable chance of getting our clothes dry if we hung them on the clothesline. Both of our guest houses have provided washing machines but neither had clothes dryers. I guess most people around here assume the usually warm Mediterranean sun will do the job most of the time. They must count on a clothes rack and a warm radiator during the winter. It was kind of a blast from the past for me as I don't think I've had to use a clothesline since I was about 13 years old many decades ago.

After we hung out the laundry we headed for Carcasonne. Carcasonne is a fortified medieval city caught in the center of the violence known as the Albigensian Crusade where Crusader knights sought out and killed members of a Christian sect that are now known as Cathars. I didn't remember much about Catharism so I bought a book to refresh my memory.

The Cathars believed in dualism - the existence of two gods - the Good God who dealt with spiritual matters and reigned in heaven and the Evil One who ruled the physical world and hell. Cathar practices are still not entirely understood as much of our knowledge of them was extracted through torture during the Inquisition. It is believed they would not eat meat except fish because animals were created through the carnal act of fornication. They believed each soul would be reincarnated a total of nine times before final dispensation where the individual must choose to give up all evil and go to the kingdom of the Good God or choose to go to the realm of the Evil One where the individual would have a choice to continue to do either good or evil things. (I found this part really confusing). They did not recognize Christ's ability to assume the sins of others and therefore did not believe in baptism until a person was on their death bed where they could receive absolution without fear of regression later in life. The ritual of the death bed absolution of sins involved fasting and if someone did not die as expected they were expected to fast unto death or assisted in suicide in some cases. Other reports were that they were expected to become a prefect (priest) and thereafter adhere to the very strict traditions regulating practicing clerics (celibacy, etc.). Unlike the medieval Roman Catholic religion, the Cathar religion allowed both men and women to become prefects of the church.

Anyway, Carcasonne was the headquarters of one of the four bishops of the Cathar faith. In the mid-12th century, Cathar practices came to the attention of the pope of Rome which eventually led to a flurry of excommunications and firing of papal legates until Pope Innocent III called for an outright crusade against the Cathars in 1209. What followed was years of violence including a brutal massacre of the entire population of 20,000 at Beziers (where we had lunch yesterday). The crusaders didn't even bother to sort out the Cathars from the non-Cathars. The battle cry was "Kill them all, God will know his own!" that was thought to have been uttered by Simon de Montfort, an evil villain of the conflict. But modern scholars think the quote was created by a German Cistercian monk named Caesar of Heisterbach who was not even present at the battle but sought to immortalize the animosity felt by most Crusader participants. Although Montfort was not responsible for this famous quote, he did, in fact, organize a number of massacres in his campaign to eradicate the Cathars. He was rewarded with control of both Carcasonne and Beziers after their fall. He finally met his death during the seige of Toulouse in 1218. The book I purchased has a copy of a drawing made of his death and he was so hated that he was obviously killed "with extreme prejudice". His arms, legs and head were severed from his body accompanied by depictions of copious gore.

Although Carcasonne was heavily fortified, in subsequent centuries it fell into ruin like many other castles that dot the countryside here. But in th 19th century the old citadel was restored at great expense to the French government. Now the crenalated walls stand defiant once again along with 52 watch towers with brilliant blue roofs. It is a tourist destination that attracts over 1/2 million visitors per year. Needless to say the interior is stuffed with shops selling medieval-themed souvenirs as well as treats and restaurants. I finally found a small Santon doll of a peasant woman carrying bundles of lavendar and a little figurine of a noblewoman in medieval dress. Richard bought himself a full battle cloak as he and Cecelia are members of a medieval reenactment group. Since I take a lot of photographs, I agreed to meet Richard and Cecelia near the main gate in three hours rather than have them standing around impatiently waiting for me.

I wandered around the battlements taking pictures from all different angles until I came to the cathedral. I sat down outside so I could listen to the choir singing as it was Sunday. I got a sugared crepe which helped keep my hands warm as the day was still a bit chilly and blustery. I fnally got back to the main gate and wandered over to the cemetary just outside the city compound. A lot of the vaults are above ground. I assume this is because the hilltop is so rocky it is probably too much work trying to chip a grave out of the solid rock. I used the silouettes of the various crosses on top of the grave monuments to add an interesting element to the foreground in some of my pictures of the city walls.

We had planned to stop at the grocery store to pick up something for dinner but all of them were closed. In some places in France this does occur on Sunday but it is not usual. Richard asked around and found out it was Ascension Day that is celebrated with as much reverence here as Easter. So, we ended up going to an Italian restaurant for dinner. I ordered a pizza with fresh cream, ham, bacon, mushrooms and onions on it. It was quite tasty although I couldn't eat more than about half. The restaurant also had free wifi so I was able to upload my post about Enserune. My brother popped up on a video Skype call but I told him the restaurant was so noisy I couldn't here him and my food had just arrived so I signed off.

For dessert I had cream puffs that were actually filled with vanilla ice cream with whipped cream served beside them. They were good although they were served with hot chocolate sauce that was a bit too strong for my taste.

Tomorrow we're headed for Minerve, a village with beautiful little bridges and gardens and unfortunately the first site of a death by burning (the primary method of execution for the Cathars) ordered by Simon de Montfort on July 22, 1210.

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