Beyond the Walls: Walled Cities of Medieval France: The Preservation of Heritage and Cultural Memory at Carcassonne, Aigues-Mortes, and La Rochelle
By Emily Huber
Honor’s Thesis, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, 2014
Abstract: This project began with the intention of understanding the modern significance of medieval walled cities in France; some were torn down, some remain in pieces, and some were perfectly restored. By researching the histories of three cases studies, Carcassonne, Aigues-Mortes, and La Rochelle, as well as their current architectural states and tourist statistics, I have come to the conclusion that walled cities are preserved by the French as heritage sites in order to promote their cultural memory. Walled cities were once economic centers of trade as well as hot spots for conflict. The histories of Carcassonne, Aigues-Mortes, and La Rochelle present themes of religious persecution, inequality and assimilation, and recognition of authority, which contribute to an understanding of modern France. Additionally, communities of walled cities market their history through tourism in order to generate funds that continue preservation efforts and allow communities to maintain the walls. Tourism also allows the community to continue education about its heritage, thus preserving the cultural memory of the nation. For the French, the past does not pass and this phenomenon is evident at Carcassonne, Aigues-Mortes, and La Rochelle.
Introduction: The term “walled city” describes any city with a surrounding wall that serves as defense. All over the world, walls have been built around territories as a form of defense. The walls and the styles vary in architecture from culture to culture. Within the modern country of France, many different architectural styles exist which represent different moments of French history. The Roman Empire, for example, used a distinct form of town planning of “rectangular proportions, with their straight, narrow streets.” The Empire existed around the perimeter of the Mediterranean, and so modern archaeological research demonstrates that Roman town planning influenced construction in southern, modern-day France. The bastide is a northern style of architecture that was used at cities like Aigues-Mortes. The bastide, meaning fortress, provided a military defense to new territories. Typically, cities were built inside of bastides as the fortifications provided defense and a new economic power. Because bastides were common to the north of modern France and Belgium, they did not make an appearance in the southern France until the monarchy expanded its influence southward. For the purpose of my research and writing, I am defining the walled city in a general sense; a settlement surrounded by fortifications, which are used to defend and to promote a centralized economy.