Carcassonne - La Bastide
Image by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT under Creative Commons License.

France, Carcassonne Guide (A): Carcassonne - La Bastide

Takes the visitor through the unspoiled Bastide St Louis. Rich in Renaissance architecture we see magnificent homes and shops dating from the 14th to the 19th century. Vibrant pavement life, cafes and restaurants enliven the tour which passing through the town ends at the Canal du Midi
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Carcassonne - La Bastide
Guide Location: France » Carcassonne
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 3.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: Le Pont Vieux   Le Dome, Hotel Dieu   Bastion Montmorency   15 Rue Aime Ramond   Hotel Rolland, Mairie   Porte des Jacobins   Cathedrale St Michel   Les Halles and the Poids du Roi   Maison des Memoires   Place Carnot   St Vincent's Church   Carcassonne Harbour - Canal du Midi  
Author: JAD Crocker
Author Bio: An Englishman living in Carcassonne with a passion for most things French and for all things medieval and Renaissance. Cambridge graduate, wide interests, appreciator of fine things anywhere, semi-retired and a deep knowledge of France acquired over 50 years.
1
Le Pont Vieux

1) Le Pont Vieux

This marvel of the middle ages is known to have stood since the early 1300s. It replaces the earlier feudal and wooden Roman bridges, traces of which are to be found in the river bed. Medieval engineering at its most durable, thirteen stone arches span the river Aude linking the two communities of La Cite and La Bastide. There was an arch with a gate originally erected in the centre, where the extended piers can be seen, as the two communities were often in conflict. It was fortified at either end. There are thirteen arches of varying width, wider on the eastern side where the river flow was once at its greatest. The bridge is essentially as it was built although the original parapets are missing In the great flooding of October 1891 the river rose no less than 9 metres. This is a favourite spot for photographing the Cite above. Note also the early C15th chapel at the western end. Named Notre Dame de la Sante or (locally) Notre Dame du Bout du Pont, it is the last relic of the first hospital in Carcassonne. On the side can be seen marked the level of the flood. Go inside if it is open as you pass, a cool haven of peace, and then go another fifty metres along the bank to fully appreciate and photograph the bridge.
2
Le Dome, Hotel Dieu

2) Le Dome, Hotel Dieu

These are the remains of the 18th century hospital inaugurated in 1762 and sadly demolished in the 1970s. The great gate with its wrought iron work gives access to a giant dome on four massive pillars. It once formed the axis of the hospital buildings in the form of a Greek cross and enclosed the hospital chapel. Covered in glazed tiles in perhaps a Burgundian style on the roof, the four great 18th century frescoes of Christ in Majesty remain. Feel the weight of the four pillars!
3
Bastion Montmorency

3) Bastion Montmorency

Francois de Bourbon ordered the citizens of La Bastide to fortify the Bastide in the 16th century, entirely enclosing it. This bastion or citadel is still virtually complete, lacking only the ditch in front and the parapet. Underground are vaulted chambers for the garrison, together with a well. Note the beautiful tall house above and behind, currently (January 2011) undergoing restoration.
4
15 Rue Aime Ramond

4) 15 Rue Aime Ramond

Rue Aime Ramond is an old street lined with Renaissance houses built on the fortunes made in the 17th century textile industry. The Aude region specialized in the production of pastel or woad from which a blue dye was developed. This caught the eye of the French throne leading to an enormous and profitable demand. With their backs to the street the great houses built by the merchants of Carcassonne enclose wonderful courtyards, staircases and gardens although these are not always evident. Were they in Italy they would be called palazzi, here they are 'Hotels Particuliers. The owners generally lived on the upper floors, away from the dirt and stench of the streets; that level being left to countless little tradesmen workshops. Relics of this can be seen further up the block, a laundry and a bakery. Note the yellow and black octagonal house numbers dating from 1776 when it was decided to number the streets. These are original, beautiful and rare.
5
Hotel Rolland, Mairie

5) Hotel Rolland, Mairie

Unlike the Renaissance Hotels Particuliers, with their backs to the streets and their internal features hidden,this beautiful 18th century mansion makes a very public statement. Taking ten years to build in the 1760s it remained in private hands until the 1920s. It is a fine example of Louis XV architecture, some might even say vulgar demonstration of wealth. Admire the sculpted masks on the facade, go inside (it is now the Mairie) and see the 'escalier d'honneur' or grand staircase to the right. The finest French and Italian craftsmen of the time worked here and have left their mark, ironwork, marble and decorative plaster. On the first floor of the southern front, now the Maire's office was a great salon where Parisian orchestras would come to play.
6
Porte des Jacobins

6) Porte des Jacobins

The Bastide was originally entirely surrounded by a high defensive wall with four entry gates.This is the last survivor although it is not in its original form. In 1778 the walls and other defenses were ceded to the citizens by the Crown and this decorative Arc de Triomphe, named the Porte St Louis after the founder of the Bastide, was constructed in 1779 and completed shortly before the revolution. Sections of the original city walls can be seen to the right and left.The royal arms in the centre, ten feet high, were added as a separate contract by Carcassonne's master mason, as were the arms of Carcassonne. They were subsequently defaced, doubtless as a demonstration of anti-monarchist fervour. Inside the gate, where the gatekeepers and guardhouse were situated there is now a handsome drinking fountain of the same period.
7
Cathedrale St Michel

7) Cathedrale St Michel

When King St Louis allowed the building of the new town of the Bastide to house the people formerly occupying the slopes under the walls of La Cite he ordered the building of two great churches, this and that of St Vincent which we shall visit later. This fine example of southern french Gothic was built in the early 13th century, although it has later additions. Incorporated into the city's new defensive wall after the sacking of the town by the Black Prince in 1355 it has a slightly menacing air from the outside. The original ground level of the town can be seen at its base, where it rises from a level two metres below the present street level. Inside it has a wide nave and a relatively low roof which was originally wooden beamed with the present stone vaulting being added later. The pillars and walls are painted with designs intended to give a greater sense of height and space.
8
Les Halles and the Poids du Roi

8) Les Halles and the Poids du Roi

Leaving the meat market on your right, perhaps having stopped inside at the best bar in Carcassonne,cross northwards across Place d'Eggenfelden. You will see the site of the ancient pillory and then the guillotine, a round white stone circle set in the car park. The guillotine was not much used here in Carcassonne. A local woman named Jeanne la Noire was executed as the supposed leader of the food riots caused by the near famine of the early 1790s. A series of poor harvests at that time led to the forced export of local corn along the Canal du Midi and on to Paris where the mob had to be fed as a priority to defend the revolution. A pair of reactionary priests were also beheaded here.

Go into the 'Mediatheque' on the northern and oldest side of the square. This was formerly the Corn Exchange built in the 1770s and the Poids du Roi or official measuring station. The 'Jupiter' beams above are quite remarkable. Recently turned into a library you may read the day's newspapers here and catch up on news from home.
9
Maison des Memoires

9) Maison des Memoires

Come out of the 'Mediatheque' and head own the Rue de Verdun. This house is open to the public. It is a beautifully restored example of a 16th/17th century house done in lovely Renaissance colors. It has traces of even older buildings with two Gothic doorways down the corridor. Enjoy a moment the tranquility in the internal courtyards - go upstairs and see the ornately painted ceilings. Here lived the poet and writer Joe Bousquet. Badly wounded in the First World War, he was the centre of a 'salon' of intellectuals who gathered around his bedside. Temporary exhibitions are often held here appealing to all tastes, but it is the building itself which transports the visitor back into the 17th. century.
10
Place Carnot

10) Place Carnot

Down Rue de Verdun turn left and reach Place Carnot, the central square and the hub of life in the town. A great market of fresh produce is held here every Saturday, with smaller ones on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Lined with pavement cafes, stop for refreshment Chez Felix in the sun on the North side and perhaps have a very good 'plat du jour'. If it is too hot there, go into the shade at the Cafe la Bastide on the south side. The fountain of Neptune with his attendant sea-creatures is of 1771 designed and built by Italians of local marble. The water used was originally brought to the town centre as a means of extinguishing fires which had ravaged the town centre in the seventeenth century. In 1839 the fountain was filled with red wine on the occasion of the visit by the Duc d'Orleans, a practice which should perhaps be revived! Named after the murdered President Carnot of France in 1894, the square at one time was much larger with wooden beamed arcades surrounding it. It was then called the Place des Herbes. Note the magnificent iron candelabra at each corner installed and lit by gas in the late 1880s. The square plays its part during the festival season, with many free concerts being held here.
11
St Vincent's Church

11) St Vincent's Church

Dating from the 13th century this is the largest church in the Languedoc. The later tower is no less than 54 m high and was built not only to hold the belfry of 47 bells but also as a military vantage point. When the size of the Earth was being calculated in the last decade of the eighteenth century, and consequently establishment of the metre (being 1/10,000,000th of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator measured through Paris) the tower played a key role in the measurement of the arc from Dunkirk to Barcelona, the line known as the Green Meridian. From this came the metric system of weights and measures as we know them today.

The church is seldom open to the public, Sunday mornings and concerts excepted, but it holds a splendidly wide vaulted nave and remarkable stained glass dating from the fifteenth century.
12
Carcassonne Harbour - Canal du Midi

12) Carcassonne Harbour - Canal du Midi

The harbour sits between the 19th century railway station and the edge of the town. The Canal du Midi is worth a tour in itself. and it is recommended to take a one hour canal trip or walk up or downstream. While waiting have a glass of something in the brasserie of the old hotel Terminus, opened in 1914 and virtually unchanged since. Good value food here too. Sit inside in the shady cool; much too hot in the sun!

The Canal has often been described as the eighth wonder of the world, and rightly so. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site it is the apogee of structural and hydraulic engineering dating back over 300 years. Inspired and built by Paul Riquet in the face of much skepticism from those who said it could not be done, or more particularly that it could not be supplied with water from the highest point, it was to allow shipping a safe route from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, avoiding the Straights of Gibraltar and the Barbary Coast where it was threatened by pirates and hostile navies. Enormous quantities of merchandise were hauled by horse, oxen and even people from Sete to Toulouse. The burghers of Carcassonne originally refused to contribute to the building of the Canal and were bypassed. The resulting loss of revenue led to a spur being built and the current harbour being opened in 1810. At one time Riquet employed over 12000 men and women on the project, 240 km long, with 86 locks raising the canal from sea level up to 190 metres and down again to the Garonne river at Toulouse. He even devised a form of social security for the workforce. Still a source of wonder, the Canal is very popular as a tourist destination with cabin cruisers available to rent during the holiday season.