While la Bastide St. Louis of Carcassonne was founded in 1248, few buildings from that period still stand. That’s because they were built of wood, and had a tendency to catch fire.
Not to mention that in 1355, the Black Prince, aka Edward of Woodstock who was then the Prince of Wales, burned the place to the ground.
If you look at la Bastide from above, you can see that, aside from a grid of streets, not a lot was planned.
The son of our apartment’s previous owner, who grew up there, said rumor is that the whole Bastide sits on a honeycomb of tunnels and secret passageways. Exciting!
I was trying to imagine what life must have been like, back when our place was new. Between 1628 and 1633, the plague killed 1,895 people in the Bastide, or a quarter of the population. Things were worse in la Cité, where residences were smaller and more cramped: 2,146 dead, or half the population of the fortified town.
The people who picked up the dead were called ravens because of the black veils they wore over their faces. Robbers disguised themselves as ravens to move around town with impunity.
The town fell into an economic depression. The authorities let in workers, weavers and artisans to make up for the drop in tax revenues. The fabric industry had been tightly controlled because Carcassonne’s products were renowned for their high quality, sought even in Italy and the Middle East.
Eventually, the Bastide was home to many increasingly rich drapery merchants. The fabric was exported via the Canal du Midi, which was completed in 1681. In 1694, the drapery factory on the Cité bank of the Aude was founded and named, two years later, as a royal supplier. It was the golden age for Carcassonne.
Some of those buildings have been restored. The Manufacture Royale, for example, was renovated for €500,000 euros and now houses government offices. Drapery merchants built their fine homes in the 18th century, such as Hôtel de Rolland, which is now city hall, or Hôtel Roux d’Alzonne, which is now a middle school.
What do the echoes of the past say to you?