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Carcassonne: Medieval and Marvellous

The medieval double-walled city of Carcassonne is simply outstanding. Since learning about it waaaaay back in the 8th Grade, it has been on my list. It did not disappoint. Carcassonne is in the Occitanie region of France along the Aude River which divides the town into two sections: The more modern La Ville Basse (the lower city) and the historical Cité. It has been well-preserved, refurbished, and in some places, rebuilt. It is one of the most intact medieval fortifications in Europe.

We were staying in La Ville Basse about 5 minutes walk from La Cité in an apartment we found through called La Secret de la Taverne. We found the entrance, put in the codes, and were presented with 3 flights of narrow, winding staircase and no elevator. It was near the end of our trip and our bags had gained weight. We were absolutely delighted when we swung open the door to see this amazing space.

It's decorated in a medieval theme, including a full suit of armour (we dubbed him Sir Kenneth of Carcassonne), and huge table with grand chairs, and a magnificent 4 post bed.

Another special treat was a treasure hunt which included finding clues hidden in the walls and around the flat. The first clue in the treasure hunt led us to an old compass with Robert Frost's "A Road Less Travelled" etched onto the lid.

The treasure was a souvenir coin of Carcassonne.

Our route to La Cité took us across Le Pont Vieux (The Old Bridge), built in the middle ages and now a pedestrian crossing. This bridge links the lower city to the medieval city and is the perfect place to get photos of La Cité.

Carcassonne was once known for its textile industry and this area at the foot of the Cité was once full of weavers, dyers, workshops, and their employees. The neighbourhood is in the process of revitalization as new businesses and residents are returning to the area.

La Cité was occupied as early as the 5th Century BC by the Iberians. The inner rampart was built in the 6th Century AD. The main building began in 1096 and continued throughout the centuries. In the mid-1600s, the area was claimed by France and the fortress was left to decay until the mid-1800s. La Cité is home to about 1,000 people today.

La Cité's refurbishment was undertaken by the same architect who oversaw the refurbishment of St.Michel, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Viollet-le-Duc added some controversial embellishments, including sloping roofs, adding battlements and a drawbridge.

The Porte de Narbonne, with a drawbridge across a dry moat, is the main entrance gate on the eastern side of the city. The plaza outside the gate is a busy place with many groups and tourists. The original gate was built in the Visigothic times and was considerably embellished by Viollet-le-Duc who added the drawbridge.

It costs nothing to enter the city but it will cost 9.50€ to tour the castle and ramparts. The narrow streets and open plazas in the city are lined with specialty shops, souvenir/tourist stands, and restaurants.

The Château Comtal (The Count's Castle) is the medieval castle inside the walls, dating back to the 12th century. The castle has two single-storey buildings and a square tower arranged around a courtyard. The walls and round towers have slits for firing arrows. There are a variety of building styles as parts were added on over the centuries.

There are many, many food and restaurant choices and we wanted to enjoy some local specialties. With this in mind, we began scouting the cassoulet restaurants. We chose La Maison du Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a traditional hearty white bean casserole usually cooked with duck confit, sausage, and pork. The best versions are cooked for hours until the beans and meat meld into a dish of luxuriant, velvety richness.

The Basilique Saint Nazaire, considered the "Jewel of the City" was built in the twelfth century. It was originally a cathedral but is now considered a minor basilica. It contains some magnificent medieval stained-glass windows, notably two beautiful rose windows.

While the interior is largely medieval, the exterior was embellished by Viollet-le-Doc's restorations in the 19th century, including gargoyles.