The Cité de Carcassonne is a medieval fortress located in the South of France. It is kind of a Medieval Paradise! A Castle, a pretty church, a typical village where everything, every house, every building has been preserved and yet a lively place, which some lucky people call home. A day spent in such a picturesque environment is a real treat!
A bit of history
Carcassonne has around 2,500 years of history and it’s strategic location has long been recognized by all, from Romans to Visigoths, Crusaders and French Kings alike. The Romans built the first fortifications, which have been transformed over the course of centuries to become the fortress we now know.
The cité of Carcassonne escaped a terrible fate, as in the middle of the 19th century, the French government had decided to demolish the city which had felt into ruins. Luckily, local people and an eminent French archeologist and historian, Prosper Mérimée, managed to reverse the fate of Carcassonne. The restauration process started in 1853, under the supervision of Eugène Violet Le Duc.
Violet le Duc is kind of my hero! His work includes a long series of restorations of medieval buildings like Notre Dame de Paris, the Mont Saint Michel, the Roquetaillade & Pierrefonds castles as well as Carcassonne.
The Cité de Carcassonne was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997 and is now a prime destination for tourists.
Once upon a time, during the 8th century, Lady Carcas, a Saracen princess, ruled the city, after the death of her husband. Charlemagne, wanted to take the city and his army sieged it during 5 years. After such a long period, people were starving inside its walls, as there was nothing left to eat, apart from a single piglet and a sack of grain. In a desperate gesture, Lady Carcas decided to feed the grain to the piglet and threw it, from a tower, to the feet of Charlemagne.
Seeing the carcass of the piglet full of grain, Charlemagne was convinced the city still had so much food he would never be able to take it and therefore decided to lift the siege. As his army left, Lady Carcas rang all the bells of the city and one men exclaimed: “Carcas sonne!” which gave the name of the city.
This is just a legend, as it’s historical inaccuracy was proved. Sorry for the deception! It’s still a nice story 😉
The Castle of the Counts
As mentionner above, the first fortifications of the city were created by the Romans. The Castle of the Counts was built in the XIIth century and was modified over the course of the following centuries. The castle itself is fortified with the usual curtain wall, round towers, gatehouse, barbican and moat.
Inside, you will get to see some very nicely restored room displaying mostly archeological findings. You will also get to walk around and admire the views on the city.
It’s pretty rare to get to see the wood frame of the roofs
In love with this square tower!!!
From the battlement walls, you get a pretty nice view on the city!
The ‘lists’ pictured above, is the area between the two rampart walls. During the XIIIth century, when the 2 fortified wall was erected, a space was left unbuilt. During the XVIIIth century, the poorest inhabitants of Carcassonne built there houses there. Such constructions were demolished during the restauration of the city.
The St Nazaire Basilica
The other place you must visit is the Saint Nazaire Basilica. It was first a cathedral (blessed by the Pope in 1096) but later lost this status. The building was completed during the XIIth century and gained its Basilica status in 1898.
Admire the Gothic rib-vault ceiling and the Sexpartite vault on the left as well course as the stained glass.
The porte Narbonnaise
The Porte Narbonnaise, is the main entrance to the city. It was built around 1280 and later modified by Viollet-le-Duc who gave it a false drawbridge which did not exist originally.
The Technical bits:
For virtual visits: www.carcassonne.culture.fr
Carcassonne is extremely popular in the summer. Prepare for hoards of tourists if you can’t manage to go any other times. Yes there are lots of boutiques selling souvenirs and not so local stuff. Cheap yet overpriced restaurants…. The downside of being so popular. It therefore takes a special commitment to look further away from those and enjoy the historic side of things. But it’s possible!!
We visited in winter, on our way to Barcelona, and didn’t have to deal with these downsides.
Since you are around, don’t miss the Pont du Gard and the Canal du Midi which are also UNESCO World heritage sites.