Heritage Imagined: Tourists’ Reckoning with the Authenticity of Carcassonne

Document Type

Grant Proposal

Date Accepted

Spring 2011

Project Description/Abstract

Carcassonne’s ramparts and pennant-capped towers stretch upwards, piercing the sky, presenting an image straight out of medieval fantasy. After deferment in 1985 because of 19th century restorations seen to impinge on its authenticity, The Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1997 as an important icon of the restoration movement, or “the heritage of heritage conservation” (Bruce & Creighton, 2006). As Bruce & Creighton (2006) note “its international significance is not so much due to the architectural qualities of its fortifications, per se as … its pivotal role in the Romantic movement and, indeed, in the emergence of the global conservation ethic” (247). Its World Heritage status is therefore somewhat based on its rather inauthentic nature. Although previous research has explored relationships between tourist experience and authenticity, it becomes more complicated when the World Heritage Site in question struggles its own authenticity issues – whether that be medieval or that of 19th century conservationist Viollet-le-Duc. Many scholars believe that the quality of heritage tourism is enhanced by authenticity (Clapp, 1999; Cohen, 1988), while others dispute this suggesting that the authenticity is staged and distorted to suit the needs of visitors (Belhassen & Caton, 2006; Corbin, 2002; Crang, 1996). In the case of Carcassonne, the distortion is in many ways the attraction itself, where the actual process of restoration features heavily in its marketing, as Viollet-le-Duc’s enthusiasm for the medieval led to his invention and inclusion of inaccurate features, such as the iconic conical towers and arrow-slits which were absent from the original fortress. In exploring the reasons that tourists give for their visit to Carcassonne, the accessibility of the historical information, and their ratings on the authenticity of that experience, we can then understand whether or not controversies of authenticity translate into inauthentic experiences for tourists.

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