Carcassone Castle – aka the City of Carcassone is an incredible sight indeed. Situated on a rocky spur overlooking the Aude Valley in southern France, the castle occupies a highly strategic point and there is evidence of early settlements on this very site dating back to the 6th century BC.
I recently spent a few hours at this impressive structure to see for myself this incredible example of medieval military architecture, and found that more than a short visit is required to see all of the secrets contained within Carcassone.
You will find the following links of interest:
Click on the thumbnails below for larger image.
The first evidence of military occupation of the site we now call Carcassone City dates back to 118 BC when the Roman colony of Narbonne was founded by Licinus Crassus. Between 43 and 30 BC, initial fortifications were built by the Romans but it was not until the 3rd century AD that the first defensive walls and towers were built following the Barbarian invasion of Gaul.
In 406 AD, the Barbarian hordes overran Gaul and the city was occupied by the Visigoths in 412.
In 725, Carcassone was captured again, this time by the Arabs who held the city until approximately 750 AD which saw the beginning of Carolingian rule. Not until 1130 did the construction we see today begin to take shape, and an astonishing series of events took place over the next century which saw the castle besieged no less than three times, the city within razed to the ground and then rebuilt from 1247 onwards.
Carcassone in its completed final form would see an inner city surrounded by a defensive curtain wall and towers, and then a further outer wall with additional towers. It was in 1247 that construction of the outer wall commenced whilst the inner defences were restored behind it.
We will start our tour with the main entrance to the city, the Narbonne Gate. Consisting of two towers which form a miniature keep in themselves, the gate would have been a formidable obstacle to any potential attacker. With a gap of only 2.5 metres between the two towers, the entire gate structure was designed to be self-sufficient in the event of a siege.
A dry moat adds to the considerable defences already on display. Defences like this were added to and enhanced over the many centuries that this site was occupied and constructed.
Here’s the modern road leading up to the Narbonne gate. The City of Carcassone now overlooks a large and prosperous town with the mighty Pyrenees off in the distance. The entire scene is one of picturesque beauty.
As you will see from these pictures, there are dozens of strong towers within both sets of perimeter walls. When originally built, some of these stone towers would have had additional wooden gantries in the top sections – housing soldiers and extra defences, including hatches to pour hot oil or boiling water on attackers who might venture below. These wooden section have rotted and disappeared over time, but the stone towers are as strong as they day they were built.
Here you can see the inner and the outer walls The right hand picture demonstrates the presence of the internal lists, narrow artificial gorges created by the two sets of walls. The inner walls of course house the city itself, the outer walls were added later to provide an additional line of defence, but the angle of the hillside and the construction allows the outer walls to also be defended from the inner walls as well. Thus, anyone approaching would be fired upon from both inner and outer walls simultaneously. In addition, the modular like construction of the walls with sections of fortification in between secure towers, would mean that anyone breaching the outer walls and finding themselves in the lists would likely find themselves attacked from two sides, inner and outer, for only by securing the entirety of the outer perimeter could defenders in the outer towers be silenced. Many of the towers were built as independent keeps to be used precisely as redoubts and for mounting counter-attacks. Thus, anyone caught in the lists would be unable to resupply, manoeuvre, disperse or retreat.
The outer walls had a secondary function, to keep the enemy at bay to such a distance that the vital inner walls would be protected from direct attack by stone-throwers and also prevented the approach of tunnelers who might aim to set light to the fortifications from below and cause a breach in the curtain wall. In addition, even in the unlikely event that the outer wall should completely fall, the very presence of the wall would prevent large siege engines being brought up close to attack the city itself.
[continued on next page]