For over 30 years, European countries have banded together to celebrate their heritage on the third weekend of September. In Paris this year, for example, it was possible to visit the Presidential palace of Elysée, tour the city in vintage buses last seen on the streets in 1935, peruse the outstanding art collections at the Musée d’Orsay, gaze down upon the streets below from atop the Arc de Triomphe or explore dozens of other attractions all for free. Since these “Days of European Heritage” were based on an original creation of the French Ministry of Culture, it was only fitting that Carcassonne should fully participate.
Daily we walk past many of the government buildings featured in last weekend’s showcase but have never been able to peer inside. That’s exactly what we got to do on Saturday and Sunday with places like both the current and the former city halls and the Prefecture which represents the authority of the State in this region. When Carcassonne’s wealth was built on the manufacture of textiles, mansions (called hôtels) were plentiful and some of these have been preserved and are used today for city business. The mayor’s office is located in the Hôtel de Rolland that was completed in 1761. While I was impressed with the architecture, the courtyard, and the Stairway of Honor (tradesmen and servants used different stairs, of course) my best memory is of the key to the city located in the deputy mayor’s office. Its large size and rustic appearance make it look like it really would have unlocked one of those huge wooden doors that served as the only openings in a walled city.
Some schools are located in former hôtels and there the students served as guides pointing out historical features and highlighting their current studies. Art museums were open extra hours, guided tours of the municipal theater were available, as were free tours of both the upper and lower cities. Even the water department joined in. Here’s a photo of our friend Ludivine seeing if Bill and two of his sisters, Lee and Mary, could distinguish between city water and 3 bottled waters. You can probably guess who got a perfect score.
If you’re familiar with the expression “George Washington slept here” then you won’t be surprised that something similar exists here. Constructed in 1750, the former bishop’s palace is now the Prefecture where state business and entertainment are conducted. Similar in style to city hall, there is an ornate stairway for guests, the administrator’s office, a grand dining hall, plus the bedroom for the President of the Republic. It was in the description for that room that I read “General Charles de Gaulle slept here”. Seems that we have more in common than we knew.