The old city of Carcassonne in southern France is the largest medieval city in Europe with its fortified walls still intact. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Carcassonne today serves as one of the most impressive walled cities in the country surrounded by two massive stone walls and 53 guard towers.
A Brief History
The city’s strategic position atop a hill overlooking the Aude River made it a site of military importance for various civilizations. The Romans fortified the area, and throughout the medieval period, Carcassonne played a crucial role in the defense against invasions.
The most iconic feature of Carcassonne is its medieval fortress, La Cité, which boasts a double ring of walls with 53 towers and barbicans. In the 13th century, the city became a stronghold of the Cathars, a religious group persecuted during the Albigensian Crusade. After the crusade, Carcassonne was annexed to the Kingdom of France in 1247. The fortress, which had fallen into disrepair, underwent significant restoration in the 19th century under the direction of the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
Today, Carcassonne stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a living example of medieval fortification. The restored La Cité attracts millions of visitors each year who come to explore its cobblestone streets, marvel at its medieval architecture, and soak in the rich historical ambiance. The newer part of the city, known as the Ville Basse, also reflects Carcassonne’s historical and architectural evolution, creating a captivating blend of the ancient and the modern in this picturesque French town.
Immortalized in films such as “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves,” Chateau Comtal (Count’s Castle) was built in the 12th century during the time of the Crusades and is widely considered one of the best representations of a classic medieval castle.
The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire
The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire is a must-see site within the medieval city walls that boast beautiful Romanesque and Gothic architecture as well as beautiful stained glass to admire.
Canal du Midi
Take a guided boat ride on the nearby Canal du Midi to enjoy a tranquil time and fabulous views to the Citadel. You can join a one hour tour or longer.
Limoux, a village just south of the city is well worth seeing. This is the home to the annual Carnivale from January through March, the town is also a thriving wine-making community, and they even claim to have been the true inventors of sparkling wine who had the idea stolen from them.
Make sure you…
This is the heart of the Languedoc wine country so take time to enjoy some of the local vineyards and fine dining.
A Guidester favorite is…
La Barbacane – Carcassonne’s finest dining with a Michelin-starred chef, La Barbacane lies in the heart of the old city serving classic dishes with a clever twist and gourmet food that is world class.
Inside the medieval city walls would be ideal, but it will be more expensive than staying outside the city walls in the more modern city. The Hotel Le Donjon is a wonderful stay with dim lighting and deep red decor take you into what feels like a medieval castle. It also has a wonderful location inside La Cite.
Jack’s Favorite Moment
Fairy Tale in the South of France
Carcassonne, set high up on a hill in the south of France, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, and today serves as one of the most impressive walled cities in the country. The medieval fortress is surrounded by two massive walls and 53 towers which protected it during medieval times. It’s like walking straight into a fairy tale with King Arthur and his knights of the round table.
The fairy tale collection of drawbridges, towers, and charming cobbled streets was reputedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty, and it’s a must-see on any trip through this part of southern France. Interesting factoid, Carcassonne has been used in many films including the famous Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner with the fortress being used to depict Nottingham Castle.
Founder of Guidester
Explore the streets around the castle
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