Sunday, 1 September 2019


Carcassonne is a French fortified city between Toulouse and Montpellier in the Aude department.

From a distance it is really a sight to behold. Gallo-Roman, it's a one-of-a-kind aged 2000 years. Following the demise of the Romans, the Visigoths took over.

The fortified town is made up of two concentric walls with 53 towers and barbicans to prevent attacks by seige machines. One of the towers housed the catholic Inquisition around the 13th century. The walls have a drawbridge and ditch. There are lots of houses  inside because it really is a city. The modern stuff is around the outside.

It is famous for its role in the crusades when the city was an Occitane Cathar stronghold. Other Cathar castles and constructions exist but they are mostly very much in ruins, crumbling away on rocky promontories in the general area.

In 1659 the border province of Roussillon was transferred to France and so Carcassonne's military significance was reduced. The fortifications were abandoned in favour of commerce, particularly woollen textiles, until the end of the 18th century.

Carcassonne was demilitarised under Napoleon and the Restoration, and the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided to demolish it. That decision caused an uproar and a campaign to save it began. Architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc took to restoring it in 1853 while he was finishing restoration work on the Saint Denis Basilica in Paris.

It was a controversial restoration because he covered over the towers and roofed them with slate, which never occurs in the South of France. He should have used the usual clay tiles. Still, his efforts have created something well worth preserving and it's a key tourist destination. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Carcassone is very touristy and also relies on manufacturing and wine-making for its economy.

As a site it is impressive, and we took a guided tour as well as a very bouncy jaunt around the outside by a little train. The train has English language options but the guided tours are only available in French. The crowds were uncomfortably thick, the souvenirs tend to be kitchy and much the same sort of thing as you find at Mont Saint-Michel. Food outlets pepper the place.
Aside from the little train, you can take a carriage ride but I felt sorry for the two horses slogging it out in the heat, even though they wore protection.

You can visit the church/cathedral which is much as you would expect. It is in active use in the city. Many people walk the ramparts and visit the chateau. We didn't because of the crowds. The population of Carcassonne is around 50,000. That would be inside and mostly outside the fortifications.

Despite this being a very commercial site I bought nothing there. JC bought a sweat shirt but an hour later left it behind at a cafe and forgot about it until walking back all the way to our lodgings on the other side of the Rhone. You should beware of pick-pockets too. I had the good fortune to have a room across the Rhone so I could see Carcassonne floodlit at night. That was great but the mistral was starting to build up a head of steam which meant a light jacket at night was a good idea.

There's a train station and a small airport. It was really odd to see heavy modern passenger planes flying low over the cité.

You can combine a visit to Carcassonnne with a visit to Toulouse or Montpellier . We arrived from Millau and a drive through the Gorges du Tarn.


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