The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the old city of Carcassonne is every bit as enchanting when you see it in real life as it is in the photos.
How Carcassonne got its name
Its legacy goes back centuries, ancient tribes inhabited the area, the Romans arrived and built a fort – they called it Carcasso. The city changed hands several times, its history was colourful, it’s always been sought after. There is a legend that the Emperor Charlemagne laid siege to the fortified city for five long years in the 8th century. On learning that her people had just one pig and a bag of wheat left to survive on, the reigning princess, Dame Carcas, had the pig fed on the wheat and thrown over the ramparts. Charlemagne, believing that the inhabitants must have so much food stored they could afford to chuck it away called off the siege. Dame Carcas had the bells of the city rung in victory, “Carcas… sonne” it was said, “Carcassonne is ringing” – hence the name.
The Unesco World Heritage Site and fortified city of Carcassonne in the south of France has received an artistic makeover and locals are not too happy. Large yellow circles have donned the walls of the famous fortress known as Cité de Carcassonne that were designed by contemporary Swiss artist Felice Varini. The artist, famed for his eye-catching creations, was commissioned to design a piece that would celebrate 20 years of its Unesco status.
Dubbed “eccentric, concentric circles,” the work features 15 thin, painted aluminium sheets that form rings depending on how you view them as you walk through the historic site. However, not all residents are content with this new look. “It’s ignoble. And it’s expensive. Already we do not have the budgets to maintain or repair the citadel,” a shopkeeper told Le Parisien.
A petition has also been set up by those who object to the artistic creation. Addressed to Gérard Larrat, Mayor of Carcassonne, the letter outlines the anger of locals stating that they did not have their say in the overall idea. They have received almost 2000 signatures to date.
Swiss artist Felice Varini has glued yellow bands across fortified Carcassonne
The brightly coloured artwork is billed as ‘Eccentric concentric circles’
However, critics have slammed it as ‘ugly’ and ‘vandalism’ of a heritage site
The historic hilltop citadel is France’s second-most visited area, drawing millions
A Swiss artist has been ridiculed for ‘defacing’ a French medieval walled city by turning it into something resembling a target practice at a shooting range.
Felice Varini has controversially glued giant bright yellow circles, made from thin aluminium strips, across the historic stones of Carcassonne – a massive hilltop citadel in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, which is France’s second-most visited tourist site after the Eiffel Tower.
Dating back to Roman times, and drawing more than four million visitors annually, the fortress was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 for being an ‘outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with massive defences encircling the castle, its associated houses, streets and the fine Gothic cathedral’.
The Cité de Carcassonne has stood the test of time – From invading Romans and Visigoths to becoming a military stronghold, and eventually inspiring Disney.
Located in France’s South-Western Occitanie region, the fortified town of Carcassonne has a vibrant history stretching back as far as the 5th Century BCE. From the Iberians, to the Romans, and then the Visigoths, the town has seen various civilizations come and go across its storied history.
Its beautifully-preserved buildings provided inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty,and continue to enchant tourists to this very day. In 1997, the Medieval Cité de Carcassonne was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list, meaning the citadel and its surroundings will remain in top condition for generations to come. Below is just a brief history of this incredible, historic site from its earliest beginnings to its status today.
5th Century BCE to 8th Century CE: Early Settlements in the Area
There is evidence that the site of what would one day become Carcassonne’s walled city has been inhabited since as early as the 3500 BCE.
The medieval citadel of Carcassonne has been given a vertiginous new look to mark its 20 years as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Swiss artist Félice Varini, known for his trippy perspective-altering designs on buildings and other urban spaces, oversaw the installation at the French walled city. The concentric circles are on lightweight aluminum attached to the walls of Cité de Carcassonne. They will be removed in September and are intended not to cause any damage to the ancient stones.
The creation has not won universal acclaim. The newspaper Le Parisien said an appalled pair of Pennsylvania tourists, believing the paint job to be permanent, were reduced to repeating “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
A shopkeeper was more eloquent: “It’s ignoble. And it’s expensive. Already we do not have the budgets to maintain or repair the citadel.”
Varini did not reveal the cost of the work, which took a month to install, but said most is being covered by France’s national fund for monuments.
Much of the pleasure of travel is anticipation, so it can be a letdown when you discover the site you trekked hours to see isn’t picture-postcard perfect.
Travellers might cross the world to find Mount Fuji shrouded in clouds, the Twelve Apostles depleted in number, Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid is accurately named, Stonehenge has a barrier to keep visitors 10 metres away, and koalas are not exactly cuddly.
We’ve combed our travel archives to find destinations that are often even better than travellers expect.
Macchu Picchu, Peru
Whether you come on foot via the Inca Trail, by local or luxury train, or by bumpy bus, the five-century-old Incan city and UNESCO World Heritage Site is breathtaking.
Rediscovered by explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, the mountainous village at 2430 metres where the Andes and the Amazon basin meet is considered the Incan empire’s greatest urban creation. If you have a big budget, staying at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge adjacent to the site will give you time there before and after the crowds have gone.
Here’s how to find the ideal balance of culture and convenience.
Many people who move or retire overseas enjoy the familiarity of like-minded company and seek out destinations with expats already in residence. Other retirees want to live among the local community, become a part of the local culture and are happy if they rarely see another American or Canadian expat.
Living a local lifestyle in a foreign community has advantages, including a lower cost of living and of real estate. Without the market influence that expat communities often bring, prices remain at the local level.
In addition, the cultural experience can be richer and more authentic, and it’s easier to learn the local language when you’re using it to get by every day.
My parents are here for the rest of the week and we all just got back from a big trip down south. We did our second canal cruise aboard a Nicols boat and I’ll be telling you all about that soon. Until then, I’m sharing photos from our pit stops before and after our cruise.
There’s no shortage of gorgeous towns to visit in France, so if you go on a long road trip, you’ll have no problem finding a picturesque place to stay for the night. Speaking of road trips, check out the ruins at the rest stop pictured above. Behind the bathrooms and picnic tables at this stop somewhere north of Bordeaux was this gorgeous scene complete with flowers, a few grape vines and Romanesque ruins! We took a few photos and then onward and forward we went!