Saturday, 18 March 2017

Carcassonne and the Crusade Against the Cathars

I am half way through my two week stay in Carcassonne and want to do a bit about its turbulent past.

This medieval walled town sits high above the Aude River.  The Romans were here in the 2nd century BC and built the original walls.

By the 12th century the town and surrounding areas were ruled by the Trencavel family, who built the cathedral and chateau.  This area was not as yet part of France.

A religious sect, known as the Cathars, had taken root in this area.  They were pacifists who eschewed material wealth.  In 1209 Pope Innocent III launched a crusade against the Cathars, declaring them heretics.   The crusaders attacked the nearby towns of Beziers, slaughtering every man, woman and child, including the Roman Catholic priests. Simon de Montfort, the leader of the crusade reportedly gave the order, saying  “Kill them all and let St. Peter  sort it out ".

Carsaconne was their next target, and was known to be a city which gave sanctuary to Cathars.  The crusaders laid siege to the city cutting off their water from the river.  Although there were two good wells in the fortified town, the population had swelled, as people poured in, in search of protection.  In a few weeks the situation was desperate and the young Viscount Trencavel tried to negotiate terms for his people.  He was thrown into his own dungeon where he died 3 months later, at the age of 24.  The people of Carcassonne were spared, although they were banished from the city, by some reports naked, to ensure they did not take any valuables with them.

The Catholic Church, and eventually the French thus gained control of Carcassonne.   The walls were reinforced, and a second outer wall was added.  The city still retains much of those fortifications along with more than 50 towers.  Restorations were carried out in the 1800s, much of it still controversial today.  Apparently, the roofs on the towers were either not there at all originally, or, if there, would not have been pointed!

In any case, a lot of it is original, and it is a joy to walk around.  There are lots of pictures!

Photos: March 09: Carcassonne
Photos: March 10: Carcassonne
Photos: March 15: Carcassonne
Photos: March 22: Carcassonne
Photos: March 26: Carcassonne
Photos: March 27: Carcassonne