The City of Carcassonne, a fortified settlement in France, has existed since the pre-Roman period. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Despite having such long history, its restoration in the 19th century had created controversy. Do you know what’s that controversy?
The fortified city consists essentially of a concentric design of two outer walls with 53 towers and barbicans to prevent attack by siege engines. The castle itself possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep. The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is notably different from the medieval walls, with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th century and is still known as “The Inquisition Tower”.
After the demilitarisation of Carcassonne the city fell into disrepair and there were talks of demolishing the forte. However, when a decree to that effect was made in 1849, it caused uproar and some prominent people of the city had joined the protest. Later in the year, paying heed to the public outcry, the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus, was commissioned to renovate the place.
While inscribing the city in World Heritage List, UNESCO had said “It is of exceptional importance by virtue of the restoration work carried out in the second half of the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in conservation principles and practice.” Despite this, many heritage conservationists had criticised the way conservation was done in the 19th century.
Fresh from work in the north of France, the architect, Viollet-le-Duc, made the error of using slate (when there was no slate to be quarried around) instead of terra cotta tiles. The slate roofs were claimed to be more typical of northern France, as was the addition of the pointed tips to the roofs. Yet, overall, Viollet-le-Duc’s achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius, though not of the strictest authenticity.