A view of the vineyard and the medieval fortified city of carcassonne

Carcassonne travel guide

About Carcassonne

Carcassonne in Languedoc-Roussillon is a magnificent fortified medieval city split into two parts.

Divided into the Cité de Carcassonne of the fortified historic town and the bustling ville basse of the larger lower town, Carcassonne is a unique example of medieval engineering.  Made up of 52 towers and 2 sets of walls, the inner walls were built by the Romans and the outer walls by Louis IX during the mid-1200s, the city has defended many invaders including the Franks, Saracens, and even Charlemagne himself. Legend states that Charlemagne was fooled by Dame Carcas, the widow of the Saracen king, who was in charge of the starving city during Charlemagne's 5 year seige when she had a pig fed with the last bag of wheat thrown from the ramparts. Charlemagne quickly retreated, believing that there was still so much food in the city they were feeding wheat to the pigs and Dame Carcas is said to have rung the bells of the city all day in victory. Carcassonne really took on its current appearance as a fortress in the Middle Ages when the 12th century château was built by the Counts of Carcassonne, the Trevencals. It was in the 13th century that the Cathar Wars came to Carcassonne and the city was laid seige to by the Franks who expelled the Cathars living in the city and brought it under their control. During this time the ville basse began to grow on the other side of the river, home to the locals that the French has expulsed and though it was decimated by the Black Prince in 1355, it was swiftly rebuilt.

A fantastically preserved and inspirational monument, the fortified town was the location used as Nottingham Castle in the 1991 Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the famous novel Labyrinth by Kate Mosse was set here. The 12th century castle and the twin towers of the Narbonne Gate are beautiful and instantly recognisable. Walk along the ramparts for a spectacular view or take a tour around la cité to discover more of its riches. The Basilica St Saveur that formerly had cathedral status, the 14th century Pont Vieux (old bridge) that joins the 2 parts of the city together and the Neo-Gothic sculpture of Dame Carcas near the Narbonne gate are not to be missed. As such an historic centre, it is not surprising that Carcassonne has several museums including a Musée des Beaux-Arts, the House of Memoires with rooms kept in perfect condition from the 15th and 18th centuries, a School Museum and several different museums relating to the Middle Ages and the history of Carcassonne. Every July 14th, a huge firework display lights up the city whilst the Festival de la Cité takes place across 10 stages in the city, including the Théâtre de la Cité and has over 80 free shows of opera, dance, theatre, and classical and modern music. The Carcassonne Feria at the end of August celebrates dance with a mixture of latin styles such as the tango, salsa and flamenco as well as accordion music and brass bands with free paella and tapas in the streets.

Why not take a boat trip along the river or hire a boat and travel along the Canal du Midi? The best shopping can be found in the ville basse with boutiques, souvenir shops and shops selling fine local produce. The cuisine of Carcassonne has several influences - seafood from the Mediterranean, rustic meats from the Massif Central and richer foods such as foie gras from the Gascoyne. Local delicacies are jambonneau, the knuckle end of a leg of pork or ham often served salted or smoked, goose and duck confits, and cassoulet, a local stew. Languedoc is famous for its wines and there are several vineyards and wineries around the city that provide wonderful local wines. Also nearby you'll find the Parc Australien, a wildlife park full of animals from Australia, and the Forest Acrobatic Park where you'll discover loads of outdoor activities for all the family.

OVERVIEW

  • Country: France

  • Region: Languedoc Roussillon

  • Department: Aude

  • Population: 47,500

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