Cité de Carcassonne, France

The Cité de Carcassonne is a medieval walled city and UNESCO heritage site located on a hill overlooking the River Aude in the Occitanie region of France. This hill-top has been occupied for over 2,500 years by a variety of peoples from the Romans to the Crusaders. At its earliest inception Carcassonne was a Gaulish settlement however it was only in the 3rd century under Roman occupation that it became a fortified town. The first set of Roman defences were completed by 333AD, the walls were dotted with between 34 and 40 towers spaced approximately 25 metres apart along the ramparts; these towers served as entrance points to the town.

The town’s walls were rebuilt and strengthened during the occupation of the Visigoths in the 5th and 6th centuries. In the 11th century the Vicomte (Viscount) of Albi,  Nîmes, and Béziers, Bernard Aton IV Trencavel undertook a period of expansive construction at Carcassonne including the construction of the basilica of Saint-Nazaire, which still stands in southern section of the town, with the blessing of Pope Urban II. In 1107 Carcassonne citizens called for a revolt and asked for the support of the Count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer III, however Bernard Aton kept control of the city. A second revolt occurs and is suppressed in 1120. In 1130 Bernard Aton started the restoration of the somewhat damaged Gallo-Roman fortifications and built a palace within it walls, this was the first time when the Cité de Carcassonne was entirely surrounded by complete defenses.

During this period the Cité and two settlements below its walls flourished, these were the Bourg Saint-Vincent on the north and the Bourg Saint-Michel to the south of the Narbonnaise gate. The Christian dualism and Gnostic sect the Cathars flourished in the region and the countryside surrounding Carcassonne is a testament to this with striking mountaintop castles such as the examples at Peyrepertuse, Puivert, and Lastours. In 1208 Pope Innocent III called on the barons of the north to mount a crusade against the Cathars whom he considered heretics as they did not align to the Catholic Church. The Count of Toulouse and the Vicomte of Trencavel are the main targets. The Cité was besieged in August 1209 and Raimond-Roger Trencavel surrendered within two weeks to save the lives of his citizens. The citizens were driven out and the Vicomte dies soon after the siege from dysentery. The former Cathar lands are given to Simon de Montfort, who led the crusaders against the Cathars. After his death the Cité is passed over to his son Amaury de Montfort who cedes to Louis VIII of France. Local Cathar counts managed to retake the Cité in 1224 but it is retaken by Louis VIII within two years and is sent into an age of terror with numerous massacres and the Inquisition (the Inquisition museum in the Cité is well worth a visit).

A period of sustained building ensued in the mid 13th century, with an additional line of fortifications added outside the original walls, the town was finally annexed to the kingdom of France in 1247 AD. Due to its position as a frontier town between France and the Crown of Aragon the Roman walls were demolished and replaced, and the newer outer walls were reinforced and extended, this building work continued into the early 14th century. After 1659 the town lost its military significance due to the Treaty of the Pyrenees and the abandoned fortifications became home to a prosperous textile industry. In 1849 the French government mooted plans to destroy to the defenses but were strongly opposed and the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc began the renovation of the Cité which continued up into the early part of the 20th century.

I had wanted to visit Carcassonne for the longest time, to wander its streets and marvel at its construction is a truly enjoyable experience. As you will see from my pictures I also think its well worth a visit at night when the amber lights illuminate the town, and its quietness in late October all added to its sheer magnificence.

GPS: 43.20711, 2.36392

4 thoughts on “Cité de Carcassonne, France

  1. Hello Ed thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures once again. I first visited Carcassonne when I was around 7 years of age and I keep coming back every so often to admire this beautiful site. You have not lived if you did not experience Carcassonne! There is – during summertime at least – a 2 hour direct flight Dublin to Carcassonne. Best wishes Sabine

    • Indeed I was there in October, special place. It’s very easy when based in dublin where ryanair are to take advantage of loadsa flights!

  2. Hi, This is new,
    Now, I lived near Carca for 9½ yrs but just before returning to Britain I visited the Basilica. I found a very astonishing monolith or tombstone by the far left wall but I was without a camera. This was 1989! I live in Scotland now and it’s a bit out of my way to visit just to take photos. I would like someone to take photos of the tombstones. I would pay someone actually to take photos.
    I presume the it’s in the old Roman half of the Basilica, the tombstone.
    It is very cracked & belongs to the Templar period so an expert says.
    I can provide a low-resolution photo from another traveller to help
    someone locate and take a series of detail macro photographs.

    • Hmm I can have a look at my photos from the basilica and see if I spotted it if you like?

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