Friday, June 17, 2011

From the other side of the Pyrenees...

It's about time I posted again for those of you who are wondering where we are and what we're doing!
We're staying at a B&B in the village of Verzaille just south of Carcasonne. Last night and this morning we explored Le Cite of Carcasonne, a fortified city restored to its former medieval glory in the 19th C, one of the first French monuments to be preserved. We had an excellent meal last night in the old Cite and this morning enjoyed the museum in the chateau (castle) with an audio guide, and that's about it for Carcassone unless you want to shop! There must be over a 100 shops crammed into a very small space, all vying for the tourist euros. This was one of the last strongholds of the Cathars, a religious sect which the Roman Catholic popes of the 12th and 13th C launched a few crusades against, viewing them as heretics. Well, they were not Roman Catholic but they were Christian. It was a power struggle and land grab--and the Cathars lost. There are some gruesome stories about the ethnic cleansing that ensued--eyeballs being torn out, lips and tongues cut out, and burning alive...all in the name of religion.
This afternoon we spent a couple of hours scrambling around Lastours, another Cathar monument which is actually 4 crumbling towers and castles on lofty peaks. It's a good thing there was a wind because it was 28 degrees and we drank a bottle and half of water during the climb.
This was similar to our experience a couple of days ago at Monsegur, which really was the last stand of the Cathars a few hours south of here. Now that is a lonely place and wonderful actually in that you really have to work to climb up, and there are no explanatory panels or restorations or audio guides--all making it easy to imagine what it might have been like 800 years ago looking out over the plains and seeing the enemy approach. The Cathars held firm under siege for about 10 months and then they capitulated. Anyone who didn't convert to Roman Catholicism was burned alive--and there were 250 of those "Perfects" who chose this route.
We're just about to go out for dinner at a local restaurant...Ah, the life in southern France!

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