Last Sunday July 14 was our first ever Bastille Day in France, and it was absolutely magnificent. In all of France, the grandeur of Carcassonne’s fireworks display is second only to those in Paris. And Jeff and I were so fortunate to be invited to the home of our good friends Heidi and Pierre Marandon for a fête magnifique. (I’ve included some history about Bastille Day toward the end of this post.)

Their view of La Cité and the fireworks is outstanding.

Heidi and Pierre hosted 53 friends from around the world, and we enjoyed meeting so many kind and interesting people. Their home and outdoor seating areas were decorated beautifully. Heidi’s a designer, and it shows in everything she does.

The 30-minute fireworks extravaganza was absolutely incredible.

The golden glow at the bottom of the photos is La Cité.

The show actually includes the story of the Pope’s 1209 assault on Carcassonne:

And for 5 minutes, they simulate the burning of Carcassonne – something that actually did happen when the Pope’s Crusading army laid siege against La Cité (some history on that below.)

Somewhere between 500,000 – 750,000 people descend upon Carcassonne for the event (that’s a lot for a town of 46,000.) We were lucky to avoid the crowds, though, because we took a back way to Heidi’s.

Below are Heidi and Pierre with La Cité in the background. Thank you so much Heidi and Pierre!

Some History about Bastille Day

…also known as le quatorze juilliet (14 July) and la Fête national (The National Celebration.)

The July 14, 1789 storming of the Bastille, Paris’ most heavily fortified building, is generally regarded as the commencement of The French Revolution, although Wikipedia says that the Revolution started on May 5, 1789. The medieval armory, fortress and political prison represented royal authority in the center of Paris, and was seen as a symbol of the monarchy’s abuse of power. About 1000 hungry and disenfranchised Parisians stormed the Bastille, a defiant act that demonstrated the will of the people to overthrow the greedy monarchy. Ironically, only 7 prisoners were found locked up in this fortress on that day, but even so, the successful capture of the building fueled the revolutionary fire.

The Republic was proclaimed in September, 1792 and King Louis XVI was executed in January, 1793. Various governments were in control for the first six years of the Republic. In another irony, Napoleon Bonaparte waged a coup in 1799, and proclaimed himself emperor in 1804. So, effectively, the French traded in a king for a military dictator/emperor who launched the Napoleonic wars that lasted from 1803-1815.

The Burning of Carcassonne by the Pope in 1209

Following the next illustration I’ve included a very good article that explains the Pope’s crusade against the Cathars, and the resulting burning of Carcassonne.

Below is Jeff’s favorite illustration of the siege of Carcassonne. It’s not exactly accurate, because Pont Vieux wasn’t built until 1371. But the illustration gives an idea about the siege, which, as I mentioned, is commemorated beautifully in our Bastille Day fireworks celebration. (We walk or bike across this bridge several times per week.)

After the siege of Carcassonne, La Cité was left to languish. It was slated for demolition in 1849 by the French government despite furious opposition. Fortunately, the 58-year restoration started in 1853, giving us the stunning citadel that we see today. I’ll write more about the restoration in another post.

The Siege of Carcassonne

Perhaps no greater injustice has ever been done to a noble and industrious people than Pope Innocent III’s war against the Cathars of Southern France in 1209 AD. Raymond-Roger and his city of Carcassonne form an important episode in this incredible story that sets the stage, and paves the way, for the barbaric Inquisition that would follow.

Today Carcassonne is the best-preserved example of medieval fortifications in Europe.

Carcassonne is located in the historic and cultural Languedoc region of southwestern France, southeast of Toulouse, near the eastward bend of the Aude River. The region of Languedoc, which was the target of the Papal crusade, included the Mediterranean lowlands of France extending from the Pyrenees in the southwest and continuing eastward to the banks of the Rhone River and northward to the Isere.

The Crusade Against The Cathari

In the 12th century, the Cathari, a Manichaean sect, were largely supported by the nobles and people of this region. The Cathari were also known as Albigenses because there were many adherents in the city of Albi and the surrounding area in the 12th and 13th centuries. (Thus the Crusades are also known as the Albigensian Crusades.)

Pope Innocent III and the Roman Catholic Church considered the Cathars heretics. The main offense and ‘heresy’ of these people personally for the Pope was that they did not recognize the authority of the Pope or of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Pope, fearing the growing numbers and strength of the Cathari, instigated a crusade to exterminate the ‘heresy’ of the region. The result was the invasion of Languedoc in 1209 by a northern French Army of Crusaders numbering around 10,000 ‘soldiers of the Cross’. (The total number of soldiers involved, over the thirty years of the this Crusade, have been estimated between 300,000 to 500,000 men.) The Pope promised to give the lands of the Cathar heretics to these Crusaders, who were French noblemen willing to take up arms. The 30 years of crusades that followed devastated the vitality and prosperity of the region.

This vast army of Papal Crusaders set as their object the conquest of the whole of the territory of Languedoc and to rid that territory of heresy and make it a stronghold for the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the first cities attacked where those under the authority of Raymond-Roger, including Beziers and Carcassonne. Raymond-Roger attempted to negotiate with the Crusaders, but was refused a meeting. He then raced back to Carcassonne, his stronghold, and on the way warned Beziers to prepare for war.

The Siege of Carcassonne

The papal army descended upon Carcassonne where Raymond-Roger had prepared to defend his subjects against the coming attack. Raymond-Roger was young, being only 24 years of age, but he was a capable and fair ruler providing for the defense and prosperity of his people. He was himself a Catholic, but he respected the Jews and the Cathari of his subjects and allowed them to hold important offices of authority in his territory. He felt the Cathari were among the best and most loyal of his subjects. They were a good and honest people, fair to all.

During the siege Raymond-Roger valiantly directed the fight against the invading Crusaders often exposing himself to danger. Under a truce agreement Raymond-Roger was allowed to meet with the Crusaders to negotiate peace. After the negotiations the Crusaders seized Raymond-Roger and wouldn’t let him return to Carcassonne. The legate in charge said that “no faith was to be kept with one who had been so faithless to his God”. The capture of Raymond-Roger disillusioned the defenders of the city, so Carcassonne fell to the Crusaders who hanged and burned some 400 of its inhabitants, as an example, and let the remaining inhabitants of the city depart into the surrounding countryside. The men were left with only their shirts, and the women had only their chemises. They could take nothing else with them. Trying to survive in this condition must have been extremely difficult. I imagine many of the exiles died. Raymond-Roger was thrown by the Crusaders into his own dungeon at Carcassonne where he soon after died either of disease, or as many thought, he was poisoned. It is said that Raymond-Roger was a loyal Catholic. What a way to treat one of your own.

The Siege of Beziers

The siege of Beziers was one of the most brutal of the Crusade resulting in the sacking of the city and the massacre of some 20,000 to 60,000, some say even 100,000 men, women and children. (Estimates of the number of people slain vary and are difficult to determine.) Neither age, sex or religious affiliation held any restraint against the carnage that followed. Every person of the city was murdered whether they were Catholic, Catharian, others who rejected the authority of the Roman Church, a Jew, or an unbeliever.

Dread of the invading Crusaders spread throughout the whole territory of Languedoc. Village after village was abandoned rather than face the terrible papal army in battle. In time stronghold after stronghold in the region fell as well, including Toulouse, until finally, after 30 years of brutal war, most of Languedoc belonged to the Catholic French crown.



  • Paul Kayaian says:

    FANTASTIQUE post! oh la laa!

  • Adrianne Cady says:

    Oh, Vibeke, I just knew that you and Jeff would be awed by the incredible fireworks display in Carcassonne July 14th. Your phots are magnifique and bring back memories from 25 yrs ago. Makes we want to visit again. Merci.

    • Vibeke Arentz says:

      Thank you so much, Adrianne! Do let me know if and when you do come to this area – it would be delightful to meet you!

  • David Lincoln Ross says:

    Wonderful photos, but it was Louis XVI, not XIV who was executed, but I am sure it was a typo, but good history lesson! Thanks!

  • Frank Price says:

    Thank you for the great photos of La Fete National. It all looks exciting. Wish there could have been more photos of the food. The fireworks were great. While I l know the history of both events you described, I found a refresher a good idea. Thank you for sharing.

  • Karen says:

    LOVE your posts!!! When are you accepting visitors in 2020?

    • Vibeke Arentz says:

      Oh, thank you so much, Karen! Our 2020 calendar is open, so just let me know when you’d like to visit!