Controversy over art installation on the stonework of one of France’s greatest medieval sites

There has been a decidedly mixed reaction to an artist attaching geometric aluminium ring strips to, Carcassonne Fort one of the most famous medieval sites in France. Reports claim that the artist’s installation, which is akin to a series of yellow circles on the historic site, has drawn support from tourists and ridicule and anger from the locals and medievalists. There are many who believe that the circles have defaced the walls of one of the greatest surviving medieval towns in Europe.  The yellow aluminium circles at Carcassonne have ignited a debate as to how communities should manage and promote their heritage.

Fortified city wall of Carcassonne. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The walled city of Carcassonne

The historic walls and citadel of Carcassonne sit on top of a hill in the beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon region, in southern France. It is the second most visited tourist site in the country and is popular with both French and international visitors. The walled town dates back to Gallic times and it was occupied by the Romans, Visigoths, and the Arabs.  Carcassonne was besieged by French nobles during the so-called Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics in the 13 th century. The site was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and was rated as an 'outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with massive defences encircling the castle, its associated houses, streets and the fine Gothic cathedral' reports the Daily Mail .

Panorama of the Citadel of Carcassonne. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Controversy

The local tourism board commissioned the Swiss artist Felice Varini to add the geometric circles to the stone walls of the ancient city as part of the IN SITU heritage and contemporary art event. Tourism Carcassonne,  according to the Standard Republic , hoped that the installation would be ‘part of an occasion showcasing heritage and up-to-date artwork within the space”. They hoped to generate more interest in Carcassonne and to attract more visitors especially younger tourists. They have certainly called attention to the ancient structure and many visitors have been impressed by the ambitious installation and praised it on social media.

The yellow paint covered aluminium has brought a very mixed response. (Youtube Screenshot)

However, there are many, especially long-term residents of Carcassonne and medievalists, who have descried the installation and have claimed that the yellow rings have made the stonework of Carcassonne look like a massive target practice area. Many of the local inhabitants believe that the work of Varani is ridiculous and many medievalists are shocked that French authorities have allowed the project to take place. They believe that any increase in tourist numbers does not justify defacing the historic walls and stonework of Carcassonne.

There's 'outrage' over this giant optical illusion that Swiss artist Felice Varini has plastered over the fort of Carcassonne in the south of France. But I think it looks rad.

— The Europeans Podcast (@EuropeansPod) May 14, 2018

Varini’s work is well known in Europe and beyond.  He is famous for creating anamorphic installations on buildings around the world. The work of the Swiss artist usually involves him placing gigantic geometric shapes across the façade of public buildings.  Anamorphism creates an unusual effect upon onlookers and it has been likened to an optical illusion. The yellow circles distorts’ the perspective of anyone viewing the walls and stonework of Carcassonne and the appearance of the historic site changes depending which angle it is seen from.

Felice Varini, project " of concentric yellow circles, at Carcassonne for the 7th "IN SITU, Heritage and contemporary art" event in May 2018 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the inscription on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Swiss artist vigorously defends his work and argues that the work compliments the town’s stonework and famous citadel. He also states that the installation can help the inhabitants and visitors to have a completely new understanding of the walled town.   Naturally Varani does not agree with the critics of his work and he believes that the criticism of his work is because of a lack of understanding and because the locals are very much proud of their heritage.

Tourisme Caracassonne is under intense pressure from locals to remove the huge yellow circles. Some 2000 local citizens have signed an on-line petition demanding their removal. However, it seems likely that the local tourism authority will not take them down until September as scheduled. The installation at Carcassonne has ignited a debate as to how French communities should manage historic sites and should they be updated and even altered, or should they be left in their original condition. This debate is one that will most likely run and run.

Felice Varini artwork on Carcassonne Citadel, France. (Youtube Screenshot)


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By Ed Whelan

My name is Edward Whelan and I am from Limerick in the Republic of Ireland. I have a lifelong love of history and have been fascinated by the subject from an early age. I attended the University of Maynooth 2003-2008 and studied history and classical studies. I obtained a BA from Maynooth and was admitted to the History PhD program. Based on my BA results I was awarded two scholarships and during my post-graduate studies I worked as a tutor.

I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a full-time freelance writer and researcher and live in Gillogue, County Clare

(Source:; May 14, 2018;
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