Fans of river cruises will be well acquainted with the magnificent 150-mile long Canal du Midi, which is well known for the wonderful and varied countryside is meanders through. The canal connects the Garonne River just south of Toulouse with the Étang de Thau lagoons at Sete on the shores of the Mediterranean. |
One of the highlights of any trip along the canal is the chance to visit Carcassonne, the magical walled city of some 80 kilometres south of Toulouse.
A Little History
Carcassonne traces its history way back to the Neolithic period at around 3500 BC. However, it first gained prominence as an important trade centre in the sixth century BC. It was the Romans who realised the strategic importance of the location in 100 BC and constructed a fortified township in the area. The Romans controlled the city until 452 AD when they ceded Carcassonne to the Visigothic king, Theodoric, who had been the de-facto ruler since 453 AD.
By 725 AD, the Saracens, moving in from Spain, conquered the city and large tracts of southern France. Some 40 years later, King Pepin the Short (yes, that’s his real name!) retook most of the conquered land but was unable to drive the Saracens from the seemingly impregnable fortress of Carcassonne. However, as they remained an island in a sea of hostile forces, they vacated the city.
Over the coming centuries, the city changed hands many times, primarily due to its strategic location on the central trade route to and from Central and Northern France. Each successive occupation added to and strengthened the city’s fortifications. Many of these additions are visible today.
Major Points of Interest
As you cruise along the Canal du Midi, the citadel of the medieval city is revealed sitting atop a hill next to the canal. It is a truly magnificent site with its walls, buttresses, towers and ancient buildings.
When you visit Carcassonne, you will discover that it consists of two systems of outer walls with a total of 53 towers and barbicans (fortified gateways) designed to resist medieval siege machines. As you walk along the walls, you can see that they encompass many different periods and styles with sections of the original Roman walls still being visible. The city also has a drawbridge at the main entrance.
One thing that, as a visitor, you should be aware of is the fact that in 1846 the city was in such a bad state of disrepair that it was slated to be demolished. However, public option forced the authorities to begin restoration works – many of which are not necessarily true to the original.
The Basilica of St. Nazaire and Celsus
This magnificent church stands on the site of an older church dating back to the sixth century AD. Construction began in 1096 AD and in the thirteenth century the structure was refurbished in the Gothic style. The central stained glass window, one of the oldest in southern France (1280), depicts the life of Christ and allows multicoloured light to flood through the transept.
Don’t Miss It
Take the time to walk through the cobbled streets and explore the many nooks and crannies that reveal themselves to you when you visit Carcassonne. Absorb the truly magical atmosphere that pervades this wonderful place.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holidays throughout Europe and the UK. On a barge holiday through France you can visit Carcassonne and a huge range of other locations to explore the wonderful landscape and culture. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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