When I was 10 years old, my parents took me for the first time to Carcassone – -a medieval city enclosed in a fortress, located in the county of Aude in southern France. During our trip, my father told me about the story of the fortress and even now when I hear the name Carcassonne, I remember the legend that surrounds this wonderful city:
Dame Carcas was in charge of the castle while her husband Saraceen Balaak was away fighting to protect his land. Charlemagne, the King of France, siege the castle for 6 months, food became sparse inside the castle. The castle army was composed only of women, children and old people. Dame Carcas by a clever trick gave the illusion that many men were still on the walls. When Charlemagne wanted to starve the castle, and Dame Carcas heard of his plans, she threw her last pig over the wall, filled with sweet corn. When the pig exploded on the ground, his belly was filled with food. Charlemagne thought if she could feed a pig that well then there was still enough food left to outlast him, so he packed up and left. On the site of his retrieve, she triumphantly rings the church’s bells. Every villager heard the peals of the bell and shouted “Carcas sonne” (Carcas is ringing the bell). Since then, the name of the fortress and city remained Carcassonne.
When my father finished telling the tale, we had arrived and there in front of me stood the fortress overlooking “La cite Basse” (the Lower City) and the river Aude, which makes a sharp right turn for the sea at Carcassonne. Violet le duc restored the city in the Thirteenth Century and even now with its pink towers topped with showy banners, Carcassonne glitters like a dream.
The only entrance into the Medieval City is through the back door at the Porte Narbonnaise. We crossed over the moat on an old wooden draw- bridge and to my surprise the air inside the thick stone walls smelled like fresh pastries and coffee. We followed the smell and went into an old bakery where we bought light, flaky chocolate croissants. When I ate it, the chocolate melted deliciously in my mouth, but we were there to visit not to eat.
The military sophistication of Carcassonne’s defenses is outstanding. There are two walls which formed the city’s main defense: a thick outer wall and a taller inner wall. The inner wall held up rounded bastions where the defenders would be and mow down the attackers when they became trapped between the two walls.
One can circumnavigate the walled city through an open space called “les lices” where the knights trained themselves and participated in tournaments. They would just joust, practice sword fighting, and compete at archery. Even today the walls seem to echo the clangs of metal on metal and the rushing of arrows as they pierced brightly colored targets.
This wonderful old city holds much history and for the most part the ramparts and the massive stone walls appear as they had in the middle ages. Here time has stood still. Every time I visit Carcassonne, I can imagine myself back in the days of chivalry and honor