Carcassonne

The Cité of Carcassonne, a fortification of Roman origin, had been substantially modified in the thirteenth century, and never conquered since that time. It had survived with its military function until the French Revolution, but, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, its

Carcassonne Reconstruction
Figure 6.13 West side of the Cité of Carcassonne in a drawing by Viollet-le-Duc, showing the actual state and a reconstruction in the mediaeval form. (Arch. Phot. Paris — CNMHS)

military status was removed, and its stones were gradually removed as building material. The upper parts of the fortification were then lost. After some local initiative, the site was again classed as military to avoid further destruction, in 1820. Viollet-le-Duc visited the site in the 1830s, and from 1846 to 1864 he was commissioned to supervise the restoration of the former cathedral of Saint-Nazaire. Mérimée had reported of it: 'The architecture of the choir of this church is so light and so rich, that by merely preventing the building from collapse and neglecting to re-establish the profusion of decoration that covered it, one would completely alter its character and replace admirable ruins by a ridiculous con-struction.'28 While the interior of the building was in fairly good condition, the architectural features of the exterior had been completely lost due to weathering of the relatively weak stone. Restoration consisted of a full reconstruction of external surfaces including most sculptural details. The remaining parts of the stained-glass windows were preserved and reintegrated with new figures imitating the original, although not without some errors.

In 1846, Viollet-le-Duc was asked to study the Porte Narbonnaise at Carcassonne, and given the excellent results, his commission was extended to the entire fortification, consisting of an archaeological study with measured drawings of the present state and hypotheses of the different phases of construction. After some preliminary works in 1853, he was commissioned to initiate the restoration of the fortifications in 1855, a work that continued until his death: the walls were provided with tops, and towers with roofs for a major strategic impact although the work was quantitatively limited to about 15 per cent of the whole. The existing original parts were left intact, but the idea was to restore the lost parts of this spectacular 'war machine' as they would have been at the end of the thirteenth century. The works continued until 1910 under the supervision of Paul Boeswillwald (1844-

Figure 6.14 An antique Roman defence tower of the Cité of Carcassonne, reused as part of the mediaeval fortifications, and preserved in the nineteenth-century restoration. The roof has been changed in the 1960s to correspond to the supposed lower pitch of the original Roman roof

1931) who took reconstruction even further than his master, rebuilding, for example, the wooden parts of the castle according to Viollet-le-Duc's archaeological drawings. These drawings, however, were not necessarily meant as executive; rather, they presented a hypothesis. In fact, in Viollet-le-Duc's view, the Roman fortifications would have originally had low-pitched roofs, but considering that the thirteenth-century work resulted from an intervention by the king's northern engineers, he opted for high-pitched roofs. In the 1960s, when the uniformity of Viollet-le-Duc's work in Carcassonne was strongly criticized, the roofs of the Roman towers were rebuilt according to his theoretical reconstruction drawings, and changing the roofing material from slate to tile (Poisson, 1994).

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