Carcassonne History

Une Ville, une Cité, une Histoire

From dawn to glory

The oldest traces of man - 6th century B.C.- were found on the promontory where the Cité lies. Around 300 B.C., the Volques Tectosages brought the Iberians of Languedoc to submission. In 122 B.C., the Romans conquered the Provence and the Languedoc. They fortified the oppidum which took the name of Carcaso, and occupied our region until the middle of the 5th century. The Visigoths then became the masters of Spain and the Languedoc. The Cité remained in their hands from 460 to 725 A.D. In the spring of 725, the Saracens took the Cité. They were driven away in 759 by Pépin le Bref, king of the Franks. After the death of Charlemagne, the dismembering of the Empire gave birth to the feudal system. It was under the dynasty of the Trencavels, from 1082 to 1209, that the town began to gain tremendous influence.

The Crusade

During this prosperous period, Catharism grew rapidly. Raymond Roger Trencavel, vicomte of Carcassonne (1194-1209) both tolerated and protected the heretics on his own lands. He suffered the first impact of the crusade preached by Pope Innocent III and on August 15th, 1209, after a two-week siege, it was all over. The Cité and the lands of Trencavel were first handed to the military commander of the crusade, Simon de Montfort, then to the King of France in 1224.


Destroyed and rebuilt

As the Cité made its entry into the Royal Estate, its destiny took a new turn. Under the successive reigns of Louis IX, Philippe Le Hardi and Philippe Le Bel, it grew its modern-day shape. A new borough was born on the left bank in 1262: La Bastide Saint-Louis. Set on fire by the Black Prince in 1355, it was immediately rebuilt. While this new town was bustling with activity, the Cité consolidated its role as a royal fortress.

The end of the stronghold

But due to the use of new war techniques (gunpowder, cannon) and above all to the recession of the Franco-Spanish border in 1659 after the Peace of the Pyrénées, it was gradually abandoned. In the 18th century, the Cité was little more than slum, a poverty-stricken, outlying area in a town made wealthy by the wine trade and the cloth manufacturing industry. Only through the joint efforts of Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, a historian and a citizen of Carcassonne, of Mérimée and the famous architect Viollet-le-Duc was it saved from demolition. Thousands of people today are able to see and admire the most accomplished fortified town in Europe.


The legend of Dame Carcas

The Saracen occupation inspired medieval writers with one of our most famous legends. Charlemagne is of course the hero!

The emperor sieges Carcassonne. The Saracen king, BALLAK is killed and it is then that his wife "Dame Carcass" decides to intervene.

The siege has been going on for 5 years already and famine got the better of the last defenders. Alone, behind the ramparts, Dame Carcass watches; she has the straw mannequins; she shoots crossbow bolts at the besieging army to make the defenders still numerous.

In the city, there is only a small pig and a measure of wheat left to feed the population. So Lady Carcass stuffed her pig with the rest of the wheat and threw it over the rampart. The pig bursts upon touching the ground and from its torn belly escapes a flood of good grain.

Charlemagne immediately raised an unnecessary siege: there was so much wheat in Carcassonne that we fed the swine!

Before the great army disappeared, Dame Carcass recalled Charlemagne to make peace.

She sounded the trumpets "Carcass sonne" (which means rings in french). Then the emperor retraced his steps to receive his allegiance!