Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cathar Land

The problem of digital photography is that you take too many shots when traveling. Although I use to clean out as much photos as possible in the evening of an interesting day there remain enough pictures that I take home. Then I sit in front of my computer and spend hours in selecting the best shots and in "photo shopping" them.

What follows is a continuation of the report about my trip to the cathedrals down south in Cathar land visiting Fontfroide Abbey, Narbonne and Carcassonne.

L'Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Fontfroide

Our group visited this former Cistercian monastery located in a secluded valley 15 kilometers south-west of Narbonne. Together with Pope Innocent III the abbey fought the heretical Cathars who were particularly strong in the region. As many monasteries the Abbey was dissolved in the course of the French Revolution.

Church and cloister

A well kept cloister garden

Effective lighting inside the church

Peter Kalchthaler explains a reliquary altar

A midieval pieta


The Romans established Narbonne in 118 BC, as Colonia Narbo Martius. It later became the chief city of the Roman province Gallia Narbonensis. Narbonne was located at the important crossroads of the Via Domitia, the first Roman road in Gaul, built at the time of the foundation of the colony, and connecting Italy to Spain and the Via Aquitania connecting the Mediterranean via Toulouse and Bordeaux with the Atlantic.

Uncovered stretch of the original Via Domitia in front of the bishop's palace
Later the two "seas" were linked by the Garonne river/canal and the Canal du Midi to which Narbonne is connected by the Canal de la Robine.

Shady promenade along the Canal de la Robine
We arrived in Narbonne in time for lunch. With a full dinner in the evening Red Baron generally looks for small things to eat. Strolling along the Canal de la Robine I found a place serving Pastis and later had a Sable Occitan.

Classical set-up: Pastis 51, water, and ice cubes

Cookies formed like Occitan crosses
While eating my cookie I contemplated Narbonne's war memorial for the wars of 1914 - 1918, 1939 -1945, and T.O.E? For me as a physicist the abbreviation means Theory of Everything but a closer look in Wikipedia revealed that it stands for Théâtres d'opérations extérieures, somehow mantling the wars France fought in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia (1952 - 1962) and in Indochina (1945 - 1952) until the US-Forces took over.

A war memorial showing the Gallic cock

Gallic cock from behind eventually announcing PAX (peace)

Narbonne's former episcopal palace
Narbonne's former episcopal palace is now used as city hall. The connected Cathedral Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur, one of the tallest in France, was never finished. The rear of the ambitious building is frozen in time. The continuation of the 41 meter high nave would have required demolishing the city wall dating from the 5th-century. Historians evoke several reasons why the wall was not torn down. The most important causes were the waves of plague between 1348 and 1355 so it was better to retain the city wall.

Impressive construction abandoned


The Romans strategically fortified Carcassonne around 100 BC and the lower parts of the northern ramparts date from that time. Carcassonne became famous during the crusades against the Albigensians for the city was a stronghold of Occitan Cathars. In August 1209 the crusading army of the Papal Legate, Abbot Arnaud Amalric, forced its citizens to surrender avoiding their holocaust as in the case of Béziers but not their slaughter.

Today with its reconstructed fortifications Carcassonne is a Disney-like tourist attraction.

Dame Carcas greets the visitor at the Narbonne gate

The lower layers of Carcassonne's mighty fortifications
date back to Roman times

Basilica of Saint Nazaire and Saint Celse

Inside we listened to impressive Russian singers
selling their album following their brief performance

Saint Roch again

Entrance to the fortress proper nowadays a museum of medieval art

Beheaded Pontius Pilate presenting Jesus as
Schmerzensmann (Man of Sorrows): Ecce Homo

Jesus risen from the dead
Walking through Carcassonne over lunchtime the following sign caught my attention: Degustation of cheese and dry sausage. This looked original and was just enough to keep my stomach quiet. I decided to down the offered specialities with a local dry white wine.

While the patron was preparing the selection of cheese and saucisson a couple from our group passed by and joined me for the treat although ordering red wine.

Atelier du Maître where the patron prepares the plates

The cheese came in various colors. My plate is in front. The food was simply delicious.

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