Getting Schooled at Carcassonne

In addition to the museum in the Count’s Castle, there are other museums and open-air displays within the walled city of Carcassonne. I opt out of the Museum of the Inquisition and spend the remains of my day getting schooled at the Musée de l’école, located fittingly, in an old, abandoned school.

On June 16, 1881 Carcassonne established free primary education in public schools, and specified teacher qualifications. By March 28, 1882, the city had made education compulsory for both boys and girls ages 6-13. Prior to that time, schoolmasters had been obligated to teach the Christian Gospel, the Sacred History, and Catechism. That curriculum was replaced by moral and civic instruction. An additional decree in July 1882 added military training and firearms handling for boys, as a result of France losing to Prussia in the War of 1870.

Class was taught six days a week, with ‘holiday’ in September when children were needed by their families for the grape harvest. School became a primary actor on topics such as hygiene, physical fitness and alcohol abuse prevention. Curriculum focused on teaching practical skills.

Beakers and text book
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

Instruction included other practical topics like weights and measures. There is a chemistry cabinet filled with samples of chemicals enclosed in glass balloon shaped vials.

Chemical vials
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

In the Communal Room I find a standard set-up of a teacher’s desk, student desks, and a wood stove. The school library – a collection of books approved by the Education Inspector – was contained in a glass and wood case, for teachers to make available to their students and families. In the back of this room is a rack of frocks, slit down the back, all the same color but with individualized collars. Since this is an interactive museum, these frocks might have been hung for kids to try on, but you should check with the docent before doing that…

Slit back frock
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

There is a pair of wooden shoes and a satchel, used by the teacher. I also find out that dunce caps were a real thing…

Girl in frock
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno
Boy in dunce cap
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

Also in this room is a Guide Chant – a desktop harmonium that was used up to the 1960s for music and singing lessons. It’s a wind-up instrument that required pumping via a lever on the left side. Sometimes the teacher would ask a student to operate the lever so the teacher could use both hands on the keyboard.

Guide chant
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

There is a Writing Room, which was interactive, allowing visitors to try their hand at writing with a pen dipped in ink. There are a variety of desks in this room, including some built specifically to accommodate the volume of girls’ skirts. Teaching tools here include tape recorders and film projectors.

Teaching tools are displayed in cabinets in the hallways and include a hair hydrometer, a concept proven in 1783 when a Swiss physicist found that a human hair, like any organic substance, expands and contracts according to changes in relative humidity. Shown here is a “Gravesande’s experiment,” which shows the expansion of metal when it is heated. And posters on the wall illustrating French history and plant biology.

Gravesande’s experiment
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

Camp Medieval

I exit one school to walk smack dab into another. This ‘schooling’ takes place in Camp Medieval – which has the feel of being set up by local reenactors. The enclosure has about eight tents, displaying aspects of medieval life. Carcassonne has medieval events in July and August, including a jousting tournament and interactive activities for kids which include 45–60 minute workshops on calligraphy, leather work, sword fighting, heraldry, cooking and medieval dance. Family fun for everyone!


1 October to 31 March - Tuesday to Saturday from 9.45 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 1.30 p.m. to 6.15 p.m. (closed on Mondays) - Open on 1 Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

1 April to 30 September: Every day (7 days a week) from 9.45 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 1.30 p.m. to 6.15 p.m. - Closed on public holidays except on Easter Monday and 15 August.

For classes, a picnic is possible in the museum's courtyard.

Visit accessible to persons with disabilities.

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Heather Daveno

Heather Daveno hails from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught textile artisan by night. In her spare time she is a “hobby historian” and is currently researching the female side of her family history for a book she plans to write, titled: “The Matriarch Diaries.”

You can see her current textile projects at August Phoenix Mercantile and her travels at Daveno Travels.