Thursday, May 10, 2012

We're getting medieval on your a$$

One of my regrets when we left Europe in 2005 was not getting to Carcassonne in France. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it always intrigued me. When I realized that Argeliers is only an hour or so from Carcassonne, it was one. 

Get ready for some medieval.

Eric at the gates

When they say "fortified city", they aren't messing around. I doubt we could protect a city better today, so it must have been quite a sight back when the was a threat other than marauding tourists.

You can tell that Carcassonne is meant for many visitors. I read four million yearly. Based on the amount of parking and infrastructure, I believe it. From the time I was a little kid, I have always loved the idea of putting my feet in the same place where human feet have trod for hundreds of years. I picture all the different shoes that have set foot on those giant, worn stones. My Toms, Eric's New Balance...right back to...well, whatever they wore a thousand years ago. Somehow, imagining my feet right with theirs, separated only by time, I feel a window through the ages.

Alright, enough. I really liked time travel books as a kid, obviously.

Back to today...

The Ramparts

You have to stop for a moment and really pity the poor foot soldier who was told to scale the city walls. Not one set, but two. Imagine all the crazy stuff they would have thrown down off those walls. Bad place to be.

But not today. Today it was lovely.

We found a door that was clearly open only by mistake. I went just a couple of steps inside, but then got freaked out. This was as far as Eric went. It seemed way too much like a portal into another, it was filled with all kinds of gross garbage. It smelled weird, too. As much as I want to be the person who sees such an opportunity and bravely blazes in to explore the underbelly of medieval castles...I am not. It was too creepy and I am too cowardly.

This was the view from the top of the ramparts. At least you had a delightful vista to enjoy as you rained arrows into the faces of your invaders.

Of course, no walled city is complete without a huge cathedral. Lots of crazy stuff was done in the name of this place. Blood was spilled, yes it was.

Eric and I talked about all the secret, clandestine meetings that must have gone on in the back rooms of this church, plotting and strategizing against the Cathars and anyone else in the way of the faith. Makes your blood run cold in that chilly space.

Of course, the people couldn't live on faith and evil plots alone...they needed their taverns and pubs to keep the old medieval spirits up. There appear to have been lots to choose from. Nowadays, they are stuffed to the gills with tourists.

The number of people there on a quiet day made me very happy to visit on a weekday in early May and not with the hoards in the summer weekends. The state of the public bathroom was already a little too medieval in its scent and state of cleanliness. Add a few hundred thousand tourists and it won't improve.

Behind Eric is the castle within the walls.

And of course, for some Carcassonne is just their home town. This cemetery is in the shadow of the rampart walls.

Wars sure didn't stop in the Middle Ages. Carcassonne may have protected its citizens from the Moors, but modern times can seem just as barbaric. Georges Sige wasn't protected by his city walls in 1915.

When confronted by the utter brutality of mankind, there's nothing to do but drink a beer in the sunshine to combat it, right?

Well, that's what we did anyway. There is a newer, but still very old, city at the base of the fortified city. It is called la Ville Basse.

Fortified by our beers (get it? fortified...?), we headed to a nearby town called Minerve. I knew it was nice, but I wasn't expecting this:

Situated at the confluence of two rivers, Cesse and Brian, you cannot drive into the town. You park and walk.

On the path to Minerve

This is some really old stuff, here. There are ancient paths from the Middle Ages carved into this rocks. If you look very carefully in the middle of this picture, you can see the tiny bridge at the bottom. It was the foot bridge for trade between towns. There was a wheat mill down there, too.

 This is the path approaching the city.

It is perched on the rock. Truly on of the most spectacular (and secure) places I have ever seen.

I am remembering that in Europe, beauty often equals inconvenience. I think this would be a totally frustrating place to live today, but my god, the beauty.

Ancient things are just thrown around here, unnoticed and unheralded. 

I can imagine the sense of humour this resident must have had, carving a dog licking its owner on one side and a pig on the other.

Ancient place are not built for people Eric's size.

How many people have passed through this gate? How must they have changed in appearance over the years? The mind boggles.

The city on perched on the rocks pictured on the right in the photo below. You can see the walls.

There are ancient foot paths built into all the rocks. Eric braved this super dodgy looking bridge.

And climbed the stairs to nowhere.

This is a new replica of the catapult that ultimately forced the surrender of Minerve when Simon de Montfort destroyed the fortified passage to the town's well in 1210. As a result, many people were burned on giant pyres. No mercy for the Minerve-ians.

I wonder how the idea to have the replica house stairs into the town passed through the local city hall. I think it is kind of mean to have the same stupid catapult still busting people into this sleepy little town. I bet they wish this catapult would just leave them alone!

Dove monument for all those Cathars burned alive here.

Again, the best antidote to being confronted by our human cruelty

Here I am in Homps. I am "Homping" it up in this picture. I don't think the locals would appreciate how funny the name Homps is to us. I am laughing typing it.

This is one of the boats you can rent. We think we need to try this some time...any takers?

Dinner to end the day at La Peniche. It was a great family restaurant and we ate around back in the garden.

Tomorrow, I am off to the flower market in Beziers with Julie and then Eric and I might hit some local beaches. Dinner tomorrow night at Le Chat qui Peche. Stay tuned.

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