Lady Carcas

We had to tell you about our symbol, Lady Carcas!
According to the legend, she gave her name to the city.

Let’s go back to the 8th century, when the Sarazins occupied the walls.
The city was under the reign of Lord Balak when Charlemagne’s army arrived and besieged the city.
Well, as far as history is concerned, the king as Pépin Le Bref, actually !
Balak is a name that can be found in the Crusades in the Holy Land.

The legend says that the siege lasted 5 or 7 years, depending on the version. King Balak died there.
His wife Dame Carcas decided to organise the defense. She was resourceful and brave.
But a series of diseases killed his soldiers. But no big deal! she ended up running everywherre, shooting arrows, running from one tower to another, throwing stones down at the enemy.
She did so well that they thought the city was still well guarded.
But little by little she ran out of food. As the German armies had plundered the surroundings, there weren’t enough food to survive the siege.
The city is in a bad situation. They are already thinking about surrendering…
All that’s left is a lean piglet and a handful of wheat .
Lady Carcas grabs the little piggy, feeds it with the grain and throws it over the wall ! The city’s people doesn’t understand the trick and believes all hopes are lost.
When Charlemagne sees this grain-filled pig literaly explode at his feet, he believes that the city is full of provisions! so much food, that they play with it and mock his powerful army.
He decides to break camp and leave.
As Lady Carcas watches the king go away, she decides to ring the bells of victory.
Charlemagne’s leftenant turns to the emperor, pats him on the shoulder, and goes:
” Sire, listen, Dame Carcas sonne! “

Do you understand the pun?
As far as history is concerned, the name “carcaso” appeared with the arrival of the Romans. The name hasn’t changed much since then!

However, this is not the end of the story…
Indeed, what kind of moral could that possibly be? impossible… a moral depicting a Sarasin princess winnig against a Catholic king? there had to be a different ending!
Charlemagne turns around… and observes Lady Carcas as she opens the gates, runs towards him, and bows down at his feet.
She eventually offered him the city and converted to catholicism!

The end might be surprising, but let’s not forget that the context is important. The legend was written during the violent period of the religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestant.
That’s also when the sculpture at the entrance of the City was carved.
Although today only a copy, the original can be seen in the lapidary museum of the Castle.

Let’s go back to King Charles IX’s tour de France with Catherine de Medicis. They made a short stop at the city of Carcassonne.
Cities would traditionally built monumental gates to celebrate the arrival of a king.
Two statues from this period can still be seen nowadays: the statue of the Virgin (a copy -the original is at the castle’s museum)), settled in-between both towers of the Narbonnaise gate, and the statue of Lady Carcass.

Look at her unsual appearance! the features of her face aren’t really refined or detailed, same goes with the drapery of her dress. Yet this is in the midst of the Renaissance ! This is a 16th century style, called the Grotesque style.

She wears a turban on her head. It is a reminder of the rank of sarasin princess. And a reminder of the rich textile industry that made the city’s wealth.
She has a generous chest, used as a reference to motherhood.
At the bottom of the statue, we can read the words “SUM CARCAS”: it is the Latin for “I am Carcas”.
The message is clear!
“Sire, no matter how prosperous the Protestant lower town is! the origins of Carcassonne lay in the City, and the City remains Catholic! “

Carcassonne has always known this duality. Bastide VS City, lower town VS upper city, the city of the people VS the city of power, Protestants VS Catholics… and nowadays the “everyday life” city VS the touristic city. And in the middle, the old bridge, which over the centuries has witnessed all their quarrels and reconciliations.

The Old Bridge stands as a witness of all their quarrels and reconciliations. Since the 14th century, it’s been a strong and quiet link between these “best enemies”.


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