Today we’re going WAY back in history, to the Visigoths. Everybody gets all excited about the Middle Ages, but there were plenty of things that happened in these parts a good 1,000 years earlier.
The Visigoths were a Germanic tribe that moved into southwestern France as the Roman Empire started falling apart, around 400 A.D. In fact, the Visigoths sacked Rome (it was the second time for Rome, having been sacked the first time 800 years earlier, by the Gauls), which speeded the empire’s decline.
The chief of the Visigoths was Alaric, whose name graces the peak of a small mountain just outside Carcassonne. Mont Alaric, at 600 meters high, makes for a nice hike that affords wonderful views.
The countryside in the south is riddled with Visigoth traces. Near the village of Villarzel-Cabardès, about 12 km from Carcassonne, a Visigoth cemetery, known as the “Moural des Morts,” is nestled under some pine trees. The Visigoths are thought to have lived in the area from the fifth to seventh centuries.
The cemetery has 44 stone tombs, oriented east-west. The Visigoths don’t seem to have been big people. Obviously child mortality was high back then, but even the biggest tombs seem pretty small.
The archeological artifacts from the area, apart from the tombs themselves, are collected at a small but fascinating museum in Villarzel. It’s the passion of Louis Guiraud, whom one must telephone to open up the museum. He’s an excellent guide.