Fortified remains

A little while ago, I wrote about my visit to the local history museum in Puisserguier.  There’s a lot more to discover in this town, and today I’d like to take you on a visit of the castle, which is at the heart of the old village.

The origins of the chateau date back to the 11th century, when a fortified castle was built on a hillock.  At that time the people living on the plains were at the mercy of bands of marauders, and very soon a second fortification was built, encircling a small village.  Puisserguier became a circulade, a village built in the round.  Examples of such villages can still be seen in the area – Aigne is one such village which is in very good condition.

This link takes you to a map of Puisserguier.  The chateau is on Plan dals Cathars and the map gives you a good idea of how the village grew up around it.

Entrance to the chateau in Puisserguier

Entrance to the courtyard of the chateau in Puisserguier

The chateau became property of the French state during the French revolution, and was subsequently sold as several lots.  Doorways were created in the outside walls, and the inside was divided into a number of dwellings.

Outside wall of the chateau, with front doors to individual dwellings

When I first visited the chateau many years ago, the vagaries of time had not been kind to it!  Most of the courtyard inside the chateau was taken up by a block of garages, and the arches in the courtyard had been partly blocked up. It all looked in a pitiful state.  The fortunes of the chateau changed, when the municipality decided to claim back this part of local history, by buying up parts of the chateau as they came up for sale.

The garages in the courtyard were cleared away and the arches in the courtyard were opened up again.

Courtyard of the chateau, looking north

Chateau courtyard, looking south-west.

Some of the arrow slits are still visible on the inside the walls; the square holes in the wall would have been for wooden beams, and those beams would have supported walkways for the archers.

Wall showing arrow slit

If only some of those walls could tell their story!!  If you look carefully, you can decipher a little bit of the story:  the top of the wall was added later, probably in the 19th century.  As for the black patch at the bottom of the picture, your guess is as good as mine!

Old chateau wall, telling its story.

On the ground floor of the chateau, only one room is open to the public.  It is used for exhibitions, telling the history of the chateau.  This room was originally divided into two rooms, but the last owner decided to do some alterations!

Room on the ground floor of the chateau.

Room on the ground floor of the chateau.

Plans are afoot to restore parts of the chateau and to open more of it to the public.  As always, it will be a question of funding, but we live in hope!

On my way back to the car, I passed through another gateway, which was in the outer walls of the town.  Where once the walls might have been surrounded by a moat, today there is a car park.  Alongside the car park runs the D612 Beziers to Saint-Pons-de-Thomieres road, going straight through Saint-Chinian, to take me home!

Gateway in the old town walls

Remnants of town walls in Puisserguier

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Good old Saint Nick

We’ve been having some beautiful sunny weather and gorgeous blue skies, and it’s been difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. I thought I could remedy that with a visit to the Fete de la Saint-Nicolas” Carcassonne, and what a good idea that was. On the way I passed through Trebes, where the Canal du Midi runs beside the road for a short while. Take a good look at the picture.  It’s not often that you’ll be able to see the Canal du Midi without water, and it won’t be all that long before it will be filled again. The canal closes to navigation at the end of October, for two months of maintenance works. During that time some sections of the canal get drained of water, to allow work on lock gates and such to be carried out.

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On to Carcassonne though! I found a great parking spot near the railway station and walked right across the lower town and up the hill to the Castle – strictly speaking it’s a fortified town with a castle inside it. It is not as far to walk as you think and it’s a very pleasant stroll down the pedestrian Rue G. Clemenceau, turning left into Rue de Verdun, past the Dome and across the Pont Vieux.

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The Dome is a curious building, and I’ve not been able to find out just what it was for, but my theory is that it might have been the building at the centre of a covered market like the one at Revel, not all that far away.

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From the Pont Vieux the views of the Castle are spectacular! (If you are around for the fireworks on July 14 it’s a good viewpoint, but it will be very crowded!) On the bridge a young man sat playing his accordion, seemingly only for himself, not for an audience. It was lovely to sit in the sunshine, watch the world go by and listen to the music.

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Once across the Pont Vieux you enter the Trivalle neighbourhood, which has a lovely feel to it. There are many old buildings which have been beautifully restored, and others which have a completely original and unrestored feel to them.

To get to the castle there are two different paths: you can either walk to the Porte d’Aude on the western side or to the Porte Narbonnaise on the eastern side. I chose to go to the Porte Narbonnaise as the climb is not as steep; however it’s the principal entrance and might be the busier of the two when you visit.

When I got there the Castle was not as crowded as it usually is during the summer months, but I was there not long after lunchtime, and perhaps everyone was still eating? I was looking for the arts and crafts market, held on the occasion of the Fete de la Saint-Nicolas, from December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day) to December 8 this year. There was a lovely selection of items and the backdrop was of course wonderful. The market was held right next door to the open-air theatre where all kinds of concerts are performed in the summer.

After a stroll around the rest of the castle, and a snack, I was off again, down the hill and across the bridge, to explore the main Christmas market in Carcassonne, which is held on Square Gambetta. From the castle I had already seen the big ferris wheel, and there was a lot more when I got there!

The children’s interests were well provided for with several rides: reindeer for the little ones, a Disney themed magic sleigh ride, and the beautiful carousel which is normally outside the castle, in addition to the big ferris wheel.

The stalls around the square sold a variety of goods, with food and mulled wine being at the fore! I couldn’t resist the sweet pretzels, which were really doughnuts in a different disguise. With a glass of mulled wine they were heavenly! And they got eaten so quickly that the thought of a photograph never even entered my mind :-)! Not far away in Place Carnot a skating rink had been erected, taking up pretty much the whole square.

On the way back to the station there was yet one more stop – by the Andre Chenier car park the sledge runs had been set up! An enormous structure, clad in white fabric, with runs on either side. One side allows the children to race down on small toboggans, the other side is for children and adults and you race down on large inner tubes – what fun!!

Around the sledge runs there were more fair ground rides, a fairly tame reindeer rollercoaster and some lovely “ride-your-own-reindeer” bicycles for the smaller children!

Across the Canal du Midi once more to get to the car, and a quick snap of a lovely scene in the port.

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And then it got dark, and the whole magic of Christmas came to life!!

I don’t think anyone can say “bah humbug” to all that!

IMG_8877A final note:  the market and rides on Square Gambetta and the sledge runs by the Andre Chenier car park are open until January 5, 2014;  the skating rink on Place Carnot is open until December 20, 2013.