Monday, September 13, 2010

Carcassonne's Cité's walls at night

The Cité of Carcassonne, perched on the hill overlooking the valley and the modern city of Carcassonne is still beautifully fortified by stone walls which have either been preserved or were carefully restored in the 1800s.  The site for the medieval Cité was already inhabited in the first century BC.  In the 8th century BC, people lived in the oppidum of Carsac, about 2 kms south of the present city. This was clearly one of several important fortifications, population centres and places for trade in the Languedoc.

Today, it is nearly impossible to imagine just how dark a city could be at night in the 12th century.  The occasional window might emit light from a fireplace, or a brave pedestrian might carry a burning stick in order to see his way home, or he might prefer to grope his way in the darkness, hoping to elude the ever-present troublemakers working under the cover of darkness.  Guards were posted above the inner wall and between the inner and outer walls throughout the night, and the city's doors would have been firmly closed throughout the night.

I photographed these walls on the evening of May 10th.  As night fell, the electric lights were lit, often casting a decidedly orange hue over the walls, something nobody would have witnessed in the middle ages.  I felt sorry for all the tourists I saw throughout the day, sorry that, in their hurry to see far too many things, they had to move on before nightfall. 

I begin with a photo I took on the way home that evening.  As the weather reporters predicted, the sky became overcast, quite possibly filled with some of the fine dust of the volcanic eruption in Iceland as its contents drifted southwest.

But in the early evening, the western walls would be lit by the setting sun, with an occasional waning ray reflecting off a window to those of us standing far below in the old stone bridge commuting between the modern and medieval cities.

Walls which looked severely formidable in daylight, were transformed turned into magical towers and archways as darkness descended, pierced by electric lights.

It is difficult to see in the photos above that there were two walls, the lower outer wall, which offered the first line of defense, and the higher inner wall which was the final defense for the Cité's citizens and rulers.  But once you are walking between these two walls, you can start to imagine what it might have felt like to be a nightwatchman or night guard keeping lookout while others slept.


 On the more steep side of the hill, the distance between the outer and inner walls is less wide, yet it offers an excellent view of the valley and modern city below.

The space between the two walls and their respective towers is considerably wider on the higher eastern side, now offering a stone road and a lovely grassy area, perfect for leisurely strolls as evening falls.  You can hear the throbbing of the Cité's nightlife as sounds drift over the high inner wall from the inner street cafés.