May. 6th, 2012

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For those of you who were concerned about my ailing begonias, last night - despite the weather forecast - saw no evidence of a frost whatsoever, though the begonias and pelargoniums were tucked up in readiness using garden fleece, old curtains and anything else that came to hand.  It remains to be seen whether the frost-struck plants will recover - I'm pretty sure they will, but...  Who knows?

To Carcassone now, and a more mundane part of the town that conceals beneath its relatively humble exterior a fascinating history and built heritage. While the 'medieval' walled city is undoubtedly the tourist trap which draws in the punters, the business end of the town, where the inhabitants of Carcassone live and work and shop, is much less impressive in character and appearance.

But...  Though it may be hard to believe, this part of town also has its roots in the medieval period, and the keen heritage detective can find a detailed exploration very rewarding.

Carcassone had a defended settlement or bourg in association with its fortified citadel from as early as the 10th century AD,  Several medieval churches still survive, as we will shortly discover.  And, of course, developer-funded archaeology (or its equivalent in France) is further adding to the picture.

This particular part of the town, La Bastide de Saint Louis, comprises a planned town created here after the Albigensian Crusade by King Louis of France.  This sounds like a positive move on his part, but as per usual, the reasons were less altruistic and more a reflection of the political unrest at the time.  Following the removal of Raymond Trencavel, the imposition of peace in Carcassone and its immediate vicinity proved to be a temporary thing.  In 1240, there was a renewed attempt by the Trencavel family to recapture their inheritance, in an affair known as the Guerre du Vicomte.
As usual, the common people of the local area paid a heavy price for their loyalty to the Trencavel cause.  Following Trencavel defeat, many of them were displaced and exiled.  Their houses were pulled down, and a new planned town erected in their place, named after the 'saintly' king who sanctioned its creation.

These days, the buildings of La Bastide de Saint Louis don't show much evidence of their medieval origins.  But as is very common in towns of such antiquity (remember Shrewsbury??) cheapskate developers alter the facades of the buildings to suit 'modern' and 'contemporary' tastes, but they leave much of the guts of the buildings intact.  Modern restoration works undertaken in recent years have revealed a number of historically significant buildings throughout the bourg, in some cases dating back to the 13th century.  And some of this evidence can be spectacular - several houses have revealed painted wooden ceilings dating back to the medieval period, whitewashed in the 16th century then concealed beneath later decorative plasterwork. 

Every bourg should have walls as a means of defence, of course, and La Bastide de Saint Louis is no expection.  The fortifications were in place by 1357, and traces of this feature still survive throughout the bourg.  The visible remains are, however, much more likely to be associated with a 16th century makeover of the defences, undertaken in response to a threatened invasion by the Spanish.
The actual walls have been destroyed over much of their extent, and built over by later structures.  But in some places, they make incongruous survivals within the later built heritage.  This little fragment was spotted just around the corner from our hotel:-

It's a tough job to erase 16th century defensive structures within an urban space, but most of the time, later generations make concerted efforts to eradicate them, usually with the aid of copious amounts of explosives.  In  La Bastide de Saint Louis , the occupants have had other ideas.  Three out of the four bastions which once formed the formers of the town walls still survive, and each has found a new use in the modern world.

The bastion featured below, located very close to the section of wall which I've pictured above in the north-east part of the town, is now in use as a school playground:- 


At the south-west corner of the bourg, another bastion has been used to create the grounds of a most spectacular house.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out what this place actually was, though there were signs nearby referring to a convalescent home for injured servicemen.  This would, I think, have been a most appropriate form of re-use:-

And, last but by no means least, here's the bastion at the north-west corner, which has been turned into a garden with a difference, and which is still open to the public. 

We'll venture inside tomorrow.  In the meantime, I must acknowledge my source material of the day: Perspectives: Du Patrimonie Bati De La Bastide Saint Louis.  Which was the very helpful accompanying guidebook to a marvellous exhibition devoted to the area's built heritage which we quite literally stumbled across on a quiet day spent exploring the neighbourhood.  And where I met a terribly nice amateur historian with virtually no English, and I managed to tell him, using virtually no French, that I worked in developer-funded archaeology, AND HE KNEW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT!!!  WOW!!!!!  [He said, in French, Ah, vous dit 'stop!!! or something similar, and held up his hand in a forbidding manner, before pretending to wield a trowel in a hurried fashion].

And now I must go, because I'm cooking dinner.


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