Carcassonne is situated in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It is one of the most interesting towns in the region, indeed in the whole of France. The history of the town dates back to the medieval Cathar Wars, in which the town played a very important role.
Located 90 km to the south-east of Toulouse, Carcassonne is in the ‘gap’ between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, at the crossroads of two major traffic routes in use since Antiquity: the route that leads from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and the route from the Massif Central to Spain that avoids the Pyreneean mountains.
Carcassonne is divided into two parts: the fortified Cité de Carcassonne and the larger lower city, known as ‘the ville basse’. The fortress was inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997, and is also a listed National Monument of France.
The main Cite is a fortress town. There are extensive double walls and strong fortifications surrounding the medieval town, that is entered by sturdy gateways through the thick stone walls. Several towers within the walls add to the romantic appeal.
It is true that Carcassonne today is a popular tourist trap, which attracts large numbers of visitors in the summer, but in spite of all the tourism it remains a beautiful place and a visit is strongly recommended. Ironically the city was left to fall into disrepair during several centuries, until an order for its demolition was made in 1849. It was this demolition order that mobilised the support for repairing the crumbling town and restoration began a few years later, under the supervision of Viollet le Duc.
Carcassonne castle dates from the early 13th century, although parts are more ancient still, and the fortifications were added a couple of decades later. The Counts castle, from which you can reach the ramparts, is the heart of the town.
The town also contains the 11th century Cathedral of Saint Nazaire, an impressive construction in the Roman style of architecture, with subsequent and extensive gothic modifications made in the 13th century. The external part of Carcassonne cathedral was further modified during the renovation of the cite in the 19th century, and it is the interior that is now the most interesting part, especially the sculptures and the stained-glass windows.
Apart from these individual highlights, the real pleasure of a visit is to simply wander through the ancient streets of Carcassonne, admiring the lovely buildings and the architectural details they contain – note particularly the Maison de l’inquisition, once home to the barbaric inquisition in the region.