Exactly how many towers and turrets stand in the walled city of Carcassonne? I lost count.
Situated in the Aude plain between two major thoroughfares connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean sea and the Massif Central to the Pyrénées, Carcassone was first recognized by the Romans for its strategic significance, who built the fortification on its hilltop.
Since then, it endured centuries of brutal warfare, and went through numerous re-fortifications (evident below from different roof tops colors characteristic at the time)
As for its name, legend has it…During a five-year siege, food and water was running low. Smart Lady Carcas came up with the idea of feeding a pig with wheat and throwing it over the city wall. This devastated the already exhausted soldiers outside the wall. Seeing that there was no hope to conclude the siege sooner, the troop gave up and retreated. Lady Carcas rang the bell to declare victory and people exclaimed: “Carcas sonne!” (“Carcas rings”).
In 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed to transfer the border province of Roussillon to France. Carcassonne lost its military significance.
The French government attempted to demolish the abandoned fortress in 1849, but after receiving an uproar from the local community, decided to renovate La Cité and turned it into a historical monument.
It is free to roam the outer perimeters of the fortress ground.
But to get inside Château Comtal and to walk the rampart cost 8.5€.
Carcassonne was the first fortress to use hoardings in the time of siege. Hoarding was a temporary wooden shed-like construction on the ramparts. It allowed the defenders on the wall to reach out past the wall to drop projectiles on the attackers below.
Located towards the southern corner of the citadel is Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse. Its stained glass is one of the best in Languedoc.
Back on Pont Neuf, with the Aude river running through, one can get a spectacular view of the fortified city – over 3 km long with 52 towers.
In the summer it is crowded with tourists. Come off season and you will have this enchanting Medieval city all to yourself.