It has taken us a while to get here, following the train of thought that it was a Disneyfied idea of a castle fortress, that it was all a reconstruction, that Viollet le Duc had drawn on his fanciful imagination and so on. And truth be told, there were plans to knock the fortifications down in 1844 and it was Viollet’s research that helped shape the plans for reconstruction instead. So we figured what the heck, Viollet helped reconstruct the ruin of Vezelay, of St Dennis and of Notre Dame de Paris, and people find much to admire in those places. So into the plans it went.
First stop today is Lautrec outside Albi, a pleasing little medieval village with lots of roses, some lovely old advertisements on the walls and a few shops selling clothes coloured blue with “pastel” a dye which created much wealth for merchants in Albi and the surrounds. Turns out it is another name for woad.
As we continued we passed through those so typical arches of trees one sees along French roads, and finally got a place where I could photograph my field of poppies: most satisfying as we are a week or so too early for the lavender and several months too early for sunflowers.
The city itself is a fortified town with walls and towers surrounding a castle which has formidable defences. The audioguide was supposedly narrated as if by Viollet le Duc and he was careful to point out that his conical tops on the towers and protected walkways around the walls were correct from research and have been acknowledged as such. While the place is well visited by tourists and the town part rather reminded me of the tourist hordes struggling up the main street in Mt St Michel, the historical side of things was actually fascinating and the reconstruction not at all fanciful or fairytale.
Like “Many towered Camelot”
First to the cathedral, much restored by Viollet in 1884. On entry you are in a severe Romanesque church with alternating round and square columns and rounded arches, very solid and dark. As you move forward you gradually move into the light of the transept and apse, glorious walls of glass and two superb rose windows. The shape is actually a large capital T with the apse/choir extending at the head; quite unusual and very beautiful, deliberately like that of Ile de France. It reminded me of Ste Chapelle in Paris. This section was added in the late 13th century, and while some glass has been replaced most seems original. Some stones were funerary in nature, but one is regarded as a treasured document of warfare in the times of the castle.
In the castle as it stands now, reached over a formidable drawbridge and under many defences, one can walk the walkways around the walls listening to the purpose of each section and understanding how it fitted in with the overall defensive structure as well as the needs of the people of the town. Mind you, once the Count’s Castle was built it was never really besieged. It was seen as invulnerable but its strategic importance also declined.
Within the castle was a small museum of pieces from there or from surrounding houses, churches or abbeys. Not a lot but some lovely things.
A rather magical dinner in the fading sunlight looking at the castle; well magical until I discovered lots of little maggotty looking things in my cassoulet. Bean skin I was assured but by this time I was rather full and also rather put off. Later research on Google showed it is a common misconception and is actually the radicle of the cooked beans, the little part inside when you open the two halves, that turns into the first root. I felt much better! (and later verified it myself with some beans)
So a very short trip to Carcassonne but I am glad we included it.
Next stop: Vaison la Romaine in Provence