On Wednesday of the third week of the program, the entire group went to Carcassonne for the day. Carcassonne is a hilltop town in Southern France. It is known for its medieval citadel. This city has been inhabited since the Neolithic Era (around 3500 B.C.), however, it is now only inhabited by around 40 people and is mostly a tourist destination.
The hilltop location was recognized as being a strategic military location by many civilizations. In 122 B.C., the Romans fortified the city and it became known as Carcaso. The town was held by many different civilizations following the Romans. The most notable of these rulers was the dynasty of the Trencavels. This dynasty controlled Carcassonne from 1082 to 1209. This dynasty allowed the city to prosper, until they lost power after the Crusades. After this, the city became a royal fortress. Eventually, by the 19th century, the city was no longer controlled by anyone. It had lost its splendor and become nearly abandoned. It was on the verge of demolition. It was then that the famous architect, Viollet-le-Duc renovated the city.
With each group that controlled the citadel, it was changed and improved. Eventually, the castle was built for the counts of Carcassonne. The castle had thin windows for shooting arrows out of with improved aim. It also had a well so that the counts did not have to leave the castle for water. Viollet-le-Duc restored the city to what it would have looked like during Medieval times. He restored all the décor and, eventually, topped the numerous watch towers with pointed stone roofs.
His renovations were somewhat criticized on the basis that they romanticize the town and may be somewhat inauthentic. One critic is that there would not have been pointed stone roofs in Southern France. This architectural style was used in Northern France to protect the towers from snow; however, this innovation was not needed in Southern France. Regardless, tourists and visitors of the town (of which there are many) are encouraged to form their own opinions. Carcassonne is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When we arrived in Carcassonne, we went on a two hour walking tour. On this tour we learned much of the history that I have just shared about Carcassonne. Experiencing the town and imagining what it was like to be there so many years ago was an eye-opening and captivating experience. After the tour, we were free to wander the town for around 5 hours. We ate the dish that the town is known for, Cassoulet. This dish consists of sausage, meat (often duck meat) and white beans. The dish is made for the winter, however, it was just as delicious in the heat.
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