The history of Carcassonne is particularly bound to a period of the Middle-Ages, often called "the Crusade of the Albigenses". This name comes from the city of Albi, about 100 km north of Carcassonne. A question of heresy, a holy war, a conquest, a resistence against the invaders... the interpretations of our history are very numerous. It is impossible not to talk about this Crusade, so we will do a little bit later. But Carcassonne's history cannot come down to the painful period. Carcassonne is more than 2000 years old !
So as to be as clear and understandable as possible, we are going to follow the stream of time, in an chronological (yet not very surprising !) order !
- 3500 years B.C. : neolithic setllements in the region of Carcassonne
- 800 B.C. : occupation of the site on a hill called Carsac, situated some hundreds meters south of the city. This hill was a strategic place, on the crossroads of the ways from the Atlantic, from the Mediterranean, and from Spain.
- 6th century B.C. : the region is occupied by a Celtic people, the Volques Tectosages. Potteries, ceramics and many other objects were found on the site, proving that "Carcaso" was an important trade place.
- 118 B.C. : Foundation of the Roman colony "Colonia Narbo Martius" (the Narbonne of today).
- At the beginning of our era, Carcaso becomes the capital of "Colonia Julia Carcaso". The city is already surrounded by ramparts, and is an important administrative centre. There are beautiful testimonies of that time, as the main part of the north rampart of the Cité are gallo-roman. Roman mosaics are still visible under the basement of the Count's Castle.
- At the beginning of the 5th century, the Visigoths, who settled down in Aquitaine, take Carcassonne. They are followed by the Franks, who try to conquer the city, but unsuccessfully.
- The Arabs, (the Saracens) at the time of their expansion, sweep north across Gaul, controlling Languedoc and occupying Carcassonne in 725. But not for a long time, as King Pépin le Bref chases them away in 759.
- The first counts of Carcassonne are quite independent, out of the influence of their powerful neighbours in Toulouse and Barcelona. But the first dynasty goes out quickly, for lack of heirs.
- In 1067, the City of Carcassonne becomes a property of Ermengarde. She is viscountess of Agde and Béziers, wife of Raimond Roger Trencavel, viscount of Albi and Nîmes. So Carcassonne, thanks to these complicated succession rules, finds itself in the heart of an immense domain covering the current French départements Gard, Hérault, Aude and Tarn (about 24 000 sqkm).
- One year later, the County of Carcassonne passes under the influence of Barcelona.
- Raimond Roger Trencavel, count of Carcassonne is murdered in his city in 1082. His son Bernard Aton proclaims himself a viscount, and tries to balance the influences and ambitions of Toulouse and Barcelona. The Trencavels will always play the rivalry between the two powerful neighbours, successively making alliance with the one and with the other... But this new dynasty is not very well accepted in Carcassonne, and the constant changes of the viscounts will have dramatic consequences for the city and the whole county at the time of the crusade against the Albigenses (the Cathars).
- At the beginning of the 13th century, while dark clouds begin to accumulate in Languedoc's sky, the city of Carcassonne is still surrounded by its old Gallo-roman walls. The viscounts decide to settle down on the highest point of the hill, the Count's Castle we can still admire nowadays. The city is very rich, very crowdy (4,000 inhabitants) and has several suburbs outside the walls : Saint Vincent and Saint Michel, where the Jewish community lives. In 1209, viscount Raimond Roger is young (only 24 years old !). A spirit of tolerance reigns over its domains, as catharism is perfectly well accepted among the population. Catholics and Cathars live all together in the same streets, in the same houses... A contradictory conference even took place between Catholics and Cathars a few years before.
- But... in 1209 the Crusade begins, Carcassonne's history falls over, and the aspect of the city is going to be changed forever... The city is conquered by the crusaders, Simon de Montfort becomes the new viscount of Carcassonne. Trencavel is dispossessed and murdered.
- In 1226 King Louis VIII incorporates Carcassonne into the royal domain.
- Trencavel's son tries several times to reconquest the city of his ancestors in 1240, but he fails.
- In 1247, foundation of the Lower Town, on the other side of the Aude river. From now on two cities are going to live in parallel, united for the best and for the worst according to the adventures of History...
- The kings of France, new masters of Carcassonne, strengthen the citadel, as well as five fortresses along the Spanish border. We call these fortresses "Carcassonne's five sons".
- In 1348, the Big Black Plague decimates the population.
- In 1355 during the Hundred Years' War, the Lower Town is completely destroyed and burnt by the troops of the Black Prince.
- In 1382 the population rebels against high taxes.
- In 1438 groups of prowlers plunder the region around Carcassonne.
Renaissance and "Ancien Régime"
- In 1531 protestantism spreads in the area. The Cité remains catholic while the Lower Town converts to protestantism. This turns to a bloody conflict between the two parts of Carcassonne.
- In 1582, the Lower Town obtains the title of "Ville", granted by the States of Languedoc. Rivalry is very important between the two parts of Carcassonne. Spiritual and political power (bishop and representative of the king) in the "Cité" on the hill, and economic power and wealth below in the Lower Town.
- In 1659 : Treaty of Pyrenees, annexation of Roussillon into France. Carcassonne loses any strategic interest, loses its military function. It is the beginning of the end for the proud Cité.
- However economic activities take the first place in Carcassonne, with the development of textile industry. A royal factory is created in 1694 at "la Trivalle" (still to be seen), mansions of the enriched families grow everywhere in the Lower Town during the 18th century. Many of these mansions still exist ! Carcassonne is then an important exporting centre.
- In 1783, first crisis of the textile industry.
- The French Revolution (1789 - 1799) does not change many things in Carcassonne, as the population doesn't seem to have massively followed the revolutionary ideas coming from Paris.
The 19th century
- Carcassonne's two communities (Cité and Lower Town) merge in 1800.
- In 1802 the Bishop's Palace is transferred into the Lower Town, Saint Nazaire Cathedral loses its title for the benefit of St Michel Church.
- In 1810 the Canal du Midi is diverted and finally flows through the centre of the Lower Town.
- During the first half of the 19th century Carcassonne's textile industry recovers, but doesn't reach the highest levels of the years before the Revolution. The Lower Town develops (gas lighting in 1847), whereas the Cité slowly sinks into neglect... poor and unemployed population, decay of the old fortifications...
- In 1849 the Cité is finally saved from the total demolition and damages of time. It is classified as a Historical Monument, the restorations led by the famous French architect Viollet-le-Duc start.
- In 1857 the first railways arrive at Carcassonne.
- From 1870 the textile industry is declining, Carcassonne and its surroundings become a wine area. Vineyards grow everywhere around the city.
The 20th century
- In 1906 Louis Feuillade shoots the very first films ever realized in Carcassonne : "Departure to the Crusade", "the enchanted guitar" and "the oath". The pictures disappeared, they are known only through postcards which were published at that time.
- In May, 1907, huge demonstrations gather more than 200,000 wine growers in the streets of Carcassonne.
- In August, 1944, deliverance of Carcassonne by the Allies. Many people killed around the train station.
- December 1996, the Canal du Midi is classified as World Patrimony by the UNESCO
- December 1997, the medieval Cité and church St Gimer are classified as World Patrimony by the UNESCO. Carcassonne welcomes each year more than 3 millions visitors.