Before we settled on Carcassonne as our new hometown, we made of list of other French cities that seemed to match our tally of criteria. We were looking for a market town that also had grocery stores we could visit when the market wasn’t open and a population of around 50,000 people. A train station was a must-have as was a river, canal or seaside to walk along. That initial list had 16 entries, a few of which had a check mark beside every requirement. One of those is just a 30-minute train ride east towards the Mediterranean Sea: Narbonne.
We had been to Narbonne a couple of times before, just wandering around, but on our most recent visit we decided to “play tourist” properly and take a map with us that highlighted the sites we wanted to see. Hearing that we’d been there before, a friend asked us what we thought about the Roman road in the center of town. Unfortunately my response was “What Roman road?” in regards to this paved pathway that has led from Italy to Spain for 2000 years. OK, let’s put that on our map! “Did you see the underground tunnel system used by the Romans as a market and grain storage?” someone else asked. Well, no, but we’ll certainly have to do that. Previous visits had always concentrated on the above ground market, Les Halles, overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, plus cheese, bread, and wine. Our favorite restaurant, Les Tapas de La Clape, that features local wines is located there.
With an 11:30 AM lunch reservation in mind, we headed out of the train station and right over to the Canal de la Robine, a branch off the Canal-du-Midi that flows through Carcassonne. This route we knew well since it’s easy to follow the water right to the covered market and all of its treats inside. After numerous plates of tapas and a glass or two of wine, we crossed over the canal to the main square that is dominated by the 13th century Archbishop’s Palace that now serves as city hall. That Roman road that someone asked us about, was only discovered in 1997 and is now prominently displayed right in the center of the square. Behind the Palace is the Cathedral of St. Just, begun in 1272 but never completed because it would have required dismantling part of the town wall that served an important defensive role at the time.
The Roman underground grain storage building, dating from the end of the 1st century BC, remains on our list of sites to see on a future visit. The Horreum, as this warehouse is called, isn’t open on Tuesdays. With a train fare of just 1 euro, I think we’ll be able to return another day.