Occitanie region includes some of the most remarkable site in France. Carcassonne is one of them and is an absolute must-see when visiting the south-west of France. From Toulouse, it is only an hour by train and the trip allows some beautiful views on the Pyrenean Mountains and the landscape progressively changing from typical south west to Mediterranean with pine trees, cypresses and rocky hills.
Our small group very much enjoyed the trip and luckily, the weather was very good without a cloud in the sky. On our arrival to Carcassonne train station, students noticed that the very same canal that goes through Toulouse was there too.
The Canal du midi is a man-made construction connecting the Atlantic ocean in Bordeaux all the way to the Mediterranean sea and going through Toulouse and Carcassonne. Although it used to be for commercial purposes, it is now a highly touristic attraction and a lot of tourists and citizen enjoy walking, running, biking along this Canal. In order for the barge or “peniche”, the traditional boat which navigate the canal to go south or north, it needs to go through a series of locks or “écluse” as shown in the photo below.
After this, our group walked through the lower city of Carcassonne, then up to the fortified medieval city.
Once arrived at the Narbonnaise door, we took a break to catch our breath before starting the little tour of the remparts. During this tour, students got to learn and think about what it was to be a citizen in the medieval times in Carcassonne, when being religious was mandatory and the pope ordered crusades to wipe out any other religious beliefs, like the Cathars, who were very well tolerated in places like this one.
The site has been inhabited since the Neolithic and was a noticeably strategic place since the antiquity occupied by the Romans. The city has seen a lot of attacks and a lot of different civilizations like Visigoth, Franks, Muslims from Spain succeeded each other in the city and undertook changes in the military structure. This is where we learn about the wonderful engineering of the middle ages and had the chance to see with our own eyes how a fortified city could defend itself with moat and Bayley, arrow slits, drawbridge, machicolations, and other more subtle ways to repress an enemy’s attack! All this is possible because Carcassonne is the most well preserved fortified city of Europe. Carcassonne was added on UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.
After this brief and very informing historical tour, our group enjoyed some free time to have lunch and stroll around the city, which is the best way to discover it. Students were encouraged to visit the Saint-Nazaire church but it was unfortunately privatized for a wedding ceremony. They were still able to appreciate the architecture while eating local made ice-cream :
A castle inside the castle
In the afternoon, our group visited the count’s castle and walked on the western rampart which gives an insight in what court life was like, a museum with ancient artifacts and also offers beautiful landscape view of the surroundings.
While on the train back to Toulouse, students shared their impressions and what struck them was the sense of how ancient things were (there is a sarcophagus of the first century in the museum part of the castle) and how it looked like Disneyland, except everything was authentic there!
They loved the view of the surroundings with the vineyards hills and the open horizon with the mountains in the back. Carcassonne is always an impressive outlook in the south west medieval time and fill visitors with good memories. It is always nice for our students to be able to discover such places altogether and share their impressions with staff and host families.