The Story of Lady Carcas

In southwestern France is located a city famously known for its medieval background and heritage. Sitting up the hill rising from the right bank of the Aude River, the fortifications of Carcassonne celebrate some 2,500 years of existence. Dating back the Roman era, the city attracts many tourists at the gates of its fortified citadel, inscribed to UNESCO’s World Heritage since 1997.

Panorama view of the City of Carcassonne (source: Wikipedia)

Carcassonne inherits a long history. It used to be a Roman commercial hub dedicated to wine trade in the 2nd century B.C. but the first sketch of the citadel that made it famous was achieved five centuries later with the building of a first series of battlements. The city has been then taken by the Visigoths during the reign of their king Ataulf in the mid-5th century, and would remain so until the Saracens invaded it in 725, and renamed it Karkashuna. Eventually it would be taken back by the Franks a few decades later, and the fortifications works would be carried out in the following centuries, erecting a cathedral and a new castle behind the city thick walls.

Here is where myth and reality overlap. The legend goes that, under the Saracens rule, the Frank Army led by Charlemagne laid siege to the city; although the Saracens were short of knights to protect their stronghold, they had been placing fake soldiers in the watchtowers to trick the Franks into thinking it was still impregnable. This was done under the advice of Lady Carcas, the widow of the former Saracens’ chief.

Nevertheless, five years later, the citadel was still surrounded and started to lack food supplies. Lady Carcas asked for an inventory of the resources: she was answered there remained only one pig and a stack of wheat. She decided then to force-feed the former with the latter, and had the massive animal thrown beyond the battlements, at the feet of the Franks’ army.

Charlemagne, convinced that the city was so self-sufficient that it could even waste some food, decided to lift the siege. Witnessing the departing army, Lady Carcas, thrilled, had the bells of the city ringing. Someone then exclaimed: “Carcas sonne!” (Carcas rings) which is said to have given its actual name to the city.

Suggested audio: Pink Floyd, Pigs on the Wing (’77)

So did the legend start. Well, in reality Charlemagne was not even an adult at the time and it was his father, Pepin the Short, who took back the citadel in 752.
And Carcassonne was already named Carcaso under the Roman Empire. But who cares? The important matter is that you’ve got to make the most of what you have at your disposal. Pigs included.


Author: Nicolas

Ingrédients : 33% d'anecdotes insolites, 19% de livres poussiéreux, le reste de curiosité névrosée. Auteur du Petit dictionnaire des sales boulots (Vendémiaire, 2022). Chroniqueur chez Slate et RetroNews.

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