a magnificent fortified castle and town, the second most visited
site in France after Paris. It was added to the UNESCO list
Heritage Sites in 1997,
and is only a 90 minute drive from the front gates of Chateau
La Tour Apollinaire on the A9 and A61 autoroutes. The more scenic
route from Perpignan to Carcassonne via Quillan also offers opportunities
to visit other famous Cathar and Templar sites.
its division into two separate "towns" 'the Cité and
the Ville Basse 'to the wars against
the Cathars. Following Simon de Montfort senior's capture of
the town in 1209, its people tried in 1240 to restore their traditional
ruling family, the Trencavels. In reprisal King Louis IX expelled
them, only permitting their return on condition they built on
the low ground by the River Aude.
The attractions of the well-preserved and lively ville basse notwithstanding,
what everybody comes for is the Cité,
the double-walled and turreted fortress that crowns the hill
above the River Aude. From a distance it's the epitome of the
fairy-tale medieval town. Viollet-le-Duc rescued it from ruin
in 1844, and his "too-perfect" restoration has been furiously
debated ever since. It is, as you would expect, a real tourist trap. Yet, in
spite of the chintzy cafés, arty-crafty shops and the
crowds, you'd have to be a very stiff-necked purist not to be
moved at all.
There is no charge for admission to the streets
or the grassy lices "lists" between
the walls, though cars are banned from 10am to 6pm. However,
to see the inner fortress of the Château Comtal and
to walk the walls, you'll have to join a guided tour. The seventy-
to ninety-minute tours several
per day in English from June to September assume some
knowledge of French history, and point out the various phases
in the construction of the fortifications, from Roman and Visigothic
to Romanesque and the post-Cathar adaptations of the French kings.
In addition to wandering the narrow streets, don't miss the
beautiful church of St-Nazaire ,
towards the southern corner of the Cité at the end of
rue St-Louis. It's a serene combination of Romanesque nave with
carved capitals and Gothic transepts and choir adorned with some
of the loveliest stained glass in Languedoc. You can also climb
the tower for spectacular views
over the Cité.
You will love walking between the fortifications
and the ramparts. At night it is even more magnificent as the
fortress is illuminated
and takes on a golden appearance. As you walk through La Cite'
you will find many shops and restaurants to choose from. It's
great to sit in the town square, have a nice dinner, sip a glass
of wine and enjoy the atmosphere and entertainment. Mais oui,
la vie est belle.
Cathars being expelled from Carcassone in 1209.