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The Cathars - Part 2
The terrible carnage at Bezier served as a warning to others and the Crusaders' harshly threatened "Any castle which resists, any stubborn town shall be taken by force and reduced to a charnel-house. That no living being should be left, even new-born babies." (Guillanume De Tudele). Narbonne submitted and surrendered the Cathar Archbishop of Narbonne as well as those of Montpellier and Arles. However, all did not heed the warning. In August 1209, the Crusaders, commanded by Simon de Montfort, laid siege to the walled city of Carcassonne.
La Cite, the great medieval fortress and walled city of Carcassonne, has a long, long history. Excavations show that it has been inhabited as early as 600 years before Christ.
At the time of the Albigensian Crusade, Carcassone was ruled by Raymond Roger Trencavel, the Viscount of Carcassonne (1194-1209), who was sympathetic towards the Cathars and offered them refuge. The Crusaders feared that because of the high towers and fortified walls that it would take a year to overcome it (which was more time than they wanted to invest, even for the extra points they would get in heaven, they only needed 40 days of Crusading for their sins to be requited after all….). The number of refugees however was Trencavel's undoing. The city fell after a two-week siege due to the lack of water, the terrible heat and disease.
Later that century, the king of France annexed Carcassonne and it became a frontier post fortress. During the 13th and 14th centuries La Cite took on its present form when the outer walls were built around the inner wall. An entire medieval town was built within these two concentric rings and if you can forgive the tourist 'stuff' in the shops, it is without a doubt, a step back in time, a place for wandering and imagining….
We arrived very early (9a.m.) and found that this was an ideal time if wandering was what you wanted to do. Most of the shops were closed and the streets were not yet filled with shoppers and tourists. We soon discovered that La Cite had 'everything' you could possibly want in a medieval fortress and town, e.g. A castle, a basilica, miles of stone walls and ramparts to walk along, towers (lots of towers!), a drawbridge, crooked streets to get lost in, a cemetery with a backdrop of ancient walls and towers, and lots and lots of shops (you can't help yourself, you will go into a few of them…). Stand on the inner wall and look out on the outer wall and think catapults, battering rams, pots of molten lead, archers, knights, fair damsels (well, why not!).
My recommendations for getting the most out of your visit is to go early, don't worry about the touristy stuff (just blank it out), walk around and get lost for a while. It's fun to 'discover' something around a corner, especially along or between the walls. Then after a while, get out your map and find the sites you want to visit. When you are tired out, find a warm, inviting restaurant and enjoy a two-hour lunch - you will deserve it!
Minerve takes you by surprise. Sitting on plateau at the intersection of two deep ravines it appears far away and unreachable, like a magical Xanadu. You can't help but marvel.
We saw no cars crossing the narrow bridge and were uncertain that it was for vehicle traffic so we took a road going downward into the ravine. From there we got a marvelous view of the town and bridge from below but it did not take us up into the city and so we backtracked, parked and walked over the bridge. The town was quiet and the streets empty. Perfect for walking around and looking. A restaurant overlooking the ravine looked like a wonderful place to eat but as it was only 9am it too was empty. We vowed to return. But we never did. It is another place however, in which it takes only a little effort to imagine the events of 1210.
Simon de Monfort conquered all of Minervan lands with the exception of Minerve itself in the spring of 1210. In June Monfort advanced on Minerve where Guillaume de Minerve and several other lords had barricaded themselves. The fortress, walls of the city and high walls of the ravines made this position difficult to capture. However Simon bombarded Minerve with four powerful catapults destroying the walls, roofs and access to the well. After five weeks of siege, Guillaume surrendered. 140 Cathers were burnt alive after refusing to forswear their faith.
Chateaux de Lastours
North of Carcassonne, are the Castles of Latours, a group of three castles which belonged to Pierre-Roger and Jourdanin de Cabaret: Cabaret, Fleur d'Espine and Quertinheux and a fourth, the Regina Tower, added later by the French. They sit high atop a precipitous and rocky mountain between two gorges. The lords of Cabaret gave refuge to the Cathar heretics and defended them.
For a 'tariff' you can walk up the steep hill on the footpath, which will take you to each of the ruins. We opted instead to drive to the panoramic viewpoint on the opposite side of the valley. Set amongst a housing development is a trailer-gift shop-ticket office. We set out from this small establishment on a tiny dusty footpath with a party of two young mothers, half dozen small children and almost as many dogs. It was almost worth the tariff just to watch the mothers 'herd' children and dogs (have you ever heard the expression 'like herding cats'….)! The view of the castles was terrific. But I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
Oh, I know you'd like to know what became of Simon. He wreaked more death and suffering (we only saw a portion of the areas affected by this time in history, you could spend weeks on the 'Cathar Trail') and was killed at the second siege of Toulouse in 1218. I wish I had read more about the Albigensian Crusades before the trip. Bloody but fascinating!!!
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