The walls outside of Notre Dame de l’Abbaye (Carcassonne) have a series of murals depicting historic medieval events and what’s interesting is that no one, including the abbey (abbaye in French) or tourist office, knew anything about them—who created them, why they were created, when they were created, etc. It’s a real shame because these paintings are quite colourful and informative and definitely worth a look before you enter La Cité, which is only steps away.
1. Carcassonne, Occitanie Region
If one were to imagine a medieval, walled city, Carcassonne would fit the bill. This fortified town is more than 2500 years old and was constructed through the ages as a defense against various invaders, including the Crusaders, Visigoths, and Romans. This fortress in the Aude department of the Occitanie region is massive and, near or far, it is an imposing presence. I loved taking photos of La Cité Médiévale (the fortified citadel in Carcassonne) from various locations during the day and at night. Check out the post to see the best locations.
2. Notre Dame de l’Abbaye, Carcassonne
It is fitting that some of Carcassonne’s history is presented near the Porte Narbonnaise entrance to La Cité (8 rue Cros Mayrevieille). All along the street, called rue Trivalle (the nearest intersection is rue de Reverend Pierre Dupont,) are murals depicting medieval times in Carcassonne.
The wall is part of Notre Dame de L’Abbaye, a monastery where you can book inexpensive rooms for the night. Those looking for cheap but clean accommodations often consider staying here.
(a) History Of The Abbey
Notre Dame de l’Abbaye is the oldest Christian site in Carcassonne, dating back to at least the 10th century. It was rebuilt numerous times after being destroyed in 1240 and 1592 and various groups had possession of it through the years: confiscated during the French Revolution; run by the nuns of Marie-Thérèse from 1850, and then run by The Grand Seminaire until 1953.
(b) Who Made These Murals?
The group responsible for the murals is an organization called CitéCréation (formally Cité de la Création). It represents a group of painters who have created trompe-l’oeil, wall murals, and frescoes (fresques) in more than 650 cities throughout France and the world. Many of the painted walls in Lyon (ie. Mur des Canuts) were painted by CitéCréation. The themes often have to do with the history of the area and some relate to local events.
The group collaborated in the 1980s on these paintings in Carcassonne which highlight some of the most important periods in Carcassonne’s history during medieval times. Any information about the scenes is actually posted on the wall, beside each painting; however, some have disappeared due to the elements. Hopefully, the murals will be touched up and maintained.
3. What Is Depicted On Some Of The Murals?
Between the 10th and 12th centuries, there were constant battles between ruling families, groups from the north (Franks) and south (Sarrazins), and between religious groups (Cathars vs. Catholics), with lands and rulers changing several times.
The Cathars believed in two gods, one good and one evil and as a result, were constantly persecuted by the Catholics as they were seen as heretics.
Eventually, the town became a Royal domain of various kings, Louis IX, Philippe III (aka Philippe The Bold), and Philippe IV (aka Philippe The Fair/Handsome), so with so much going on, the history related to Carcassonne is particularly complicated.
Nonetheless, these particular murals give some insight into some important figures and moments.
(a) Blasons des Trencavel
This is the Trencavel family coat of arms (blasons). It shows life during feudal times with an example of the Lord taking part in a hunt. The family had great influence over the area and Carcassonne, particularly during the 10th and 11th centuries.
(b) Raymond Trencavel Defends Carcassonne
Raymond Roger Trencavel (1194-1209) lived within Carcassonne at Château Comtal, which was constructed by his ancestors. The Crusaders wanted the Cathars out of Carcassonne and although Trencavel tried to negotiate with the Crusaders, they wouldn’t listen. He tried to defend Carcassonne from being invaded; however, he lost and was imprisoned. Any Cathar inhabitants living there ultimately fled.
(c) Blason de Simon de Montfort
Simon de Montfort (1175-1218) was a prominent figure and commander during the Albigensian Crusades. After Carcassonne was taken over, he became the leader of the Crusade and took over the land that the Trencavel family had ruled.
(d) Tournaments And Festivities
Les Chevaliers, Le Joutes, et Les Tournois
Joueurs de Luth et de Nacaires
(e) Medieval Carcassonne
In this mural, additional fortifications are added between 1226-1285 with the construction of the second wall around La Cité. The lower town (Bastide Saint Louis) was formed in 1247.
4. Should You Book A Room At Notre Dame de l’Abbaye?
I was intrigued about this monastery as a possible future stay when I return to Carcassonne. Although I stayed in an Airbnb and liked it, I’m always on the search for “different” experiences and atmospheres. I’ve never stayed in a converted abbey and from the reviews I have read, I do have mixed feelings.
Notre Dame de l’Abbaye Accommodations
The abbey was a former monastery from the Middle Ages and it still has a 12th-century church that was restored by Saint Louis. While the abbey is old, the accommodations are relatively new but still very basic. There are single and double rooms as well as mini-dorms (3-6 people) and large dorms (8-12 people). There are also private and shared bathrooms. It’s like a hostel but perhaps a bit better.
It attracts pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago route to Saint Jacques de Compostela as well as travellers, school, and sports groups. The abbey sells and stamps the créanciales (pilgrim passports). Rooms have views of the abbey church, the new city, or La Cité and while there is Wifi, there is no air conditioning. The restaurant on-site serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (menu includes wine).
Bed linens are provided and the price ranges from 30-50 Euros per night, per person. The website for the Abbaye doesn’t list the prices but the Carcassonne tourist office did. Overall it gets good reviews with most people saying the location was the best part.
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