May. 7th, 2012

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The second and final post in my series of 'Useful Things To Do With A Sixteenth Century Fortification If You Really Don't Have The Heart Or The Inclination To Blow It Up Or Otherwise Demolish It' features the last of the three surviving bastions in La Bastide de Saint Louis, Carcassone.  This particular example is located at the north-west corner of the bourg.  I featured the exterior yesterday, and today I'm going to give you a tour of the interior.

This public space was one of two 19th century gardens created within La Bastide de Saint Louis  at around the time of the abdication of Napoleon and the return of Louis XVIII, and it was probably intended to celebrate the occasion.  As well as providing the citizens of Carcassone with a series of paths along which to promenade, it doubles up as a religious space, featuring the twelve stations of the Cross and culminating in a depiction of Calvary. 

The path makes excellent use of space and topography, guiding the visitor (whether casual or devotional) round the site in a journey which follows Christ's journey to Calvary.  The walls of the bastion have been cleverly utilised with the creation of a series of niches, each of which features a sculptured stone tablet showing the twelve stages of the Cross.

Since my family background is agnostic with a hint of Anglican (I think I can probably comfortably describe myself as 'pagan with Episcopalian tendencies) all this iconography is quite alien to me (no, Mr Knox, I am NOT going to froth at the mouth and dismiss it all as idolatry,,,) but after visiting countless churches across Belgium, Italy and France, I'm at least starting to get the hang of it.  What really impresses me is the way in which these standard scenes are interpreted and depicted differently in every Catholic church and cathedral: you quite literally don't know what you're going to stumble across next.  I'm not sure whether the niches in this instance (like the one pictured below) made use of existing guard chambers or watch towers, or whether they were custom-built to house the sculptures and cunningly disguised to blend in nicely with the existing fabric:-

We visited the site on Easter Monday, which was rather appropriate, since this is what could arguably be described as one of the most important festivals in the Christian calendar.  The place was deserted which seemed odd (though everybody else might actually have been going to church) but it meant we had the garden entirely to ourselves:-

And a very lovely, peaceful place it is, too, much frequented by birds and the odd lizard.

[Incidentally, the above photograph is dedicated to my noble colleage, The Great Surveyor, who - if she isn't yet sick to the back teeth of rusticated stonework, soon will be.  Surrounded by all this rustication, I immediately had one of those 'I saw this and I thought of you' moments, and this photo was the result!]

After circumnavigating the site and carrying the visitor on a metaphorical journey which follows Christ's ordeal, the path winds upwards to the highest point of the garden, which is surmounted by a sculptural group representing the Crucifixion:-


Situated much lower down in the garden is this little grotto, with its rear niche.  The poor thing has seen much better days, and while it may function as a little chapel, I wondered if it was instead a representation of Christ's tomb.  It was empty, which was of course entirely appropriate on Easter Day - does this mean that the rest of the year, it houses a statue? 

This was, alas, another of these unsolved mysteries that I couldn't get to the bottom of in a mere ten days with just a smattering of French to assist me in my sleuthing....

Altogether, a very lovely place, and one which was completely off the beaten track and obviously not part of the regular tourist trail.  Which just goes to show that you can't take a place for granted, and that if you look hard enough, you can find hidden treasures just about anywhere...


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