Carcassonne, known as “La Cite” is a fortified citadel in southern France whose important strategic position between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic led to it being inhabited since before the Ancient Roman era.
Carcassonne is believed to have first been a hill fort known as an “oppidum” created in the sixth century BC and which formed a vital link between Europe as a whole and the Iberian Peninsula.
In the first century BC, Carcassonne and the area in which it was located were incorporated into the Roman Empire and, in the third and fourth centuries, the town began taking shape with the construction of a mighty wall. This, now largely ruined, wall is still visible in Carcassonne today.
In the Visigoth era, Carcassonne was a powerful stronghold, leading to a series of construction campaigns. However, it was from the twelfth century onwards that the structure of Carcassonne really took hold, initially with the building of the Count’s Castle or “Chateau Comtal”. The medieval fortifications seen today were built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Throughout its history, Carcassonne has been considered untouchable. Even before its walls were built it was the subject of two failed sieges in the thirteenth century and, during the Hundred Years’ War, an attack was never even attempted.
It was only in the nineteenth century that Carcassonne began to suffer deterioration was it was exploited for materials. The Carcassonne seen today was reconstructed by Violett-le-Duc.
There is much to see at Carcassonne, including its incredible double fortified 3 km walls and 52 towers. There are audio guided tours of the majestic citadel and visitors can explore the cathedral, both built by the then ruling Trencavels.
Tourists are also advised to visit the town’s central square, dominated by a large water fountain. There are several restaurants and outdoor cafés here. Alternatively, one can visit the various wine tasting spots scattered all around Carcassonne, whether that be the Minervois to the north, or the rugged Corbières to the south.
Since 1997, Carcassonne has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Getting to Carcassonne
If you’re traveling from Paris to Carcassonne, which is 385 miles (620 km) away, you can either hop on a train or drive south. Trains leave from both Paris’ Gare de Lyon and Montparnasse train stations and require a short layover in either Toulouse, Bordeaux, Montpellier or Narbonne. If you decide to drive, the fastest option is to go through Toulouse.
Take the A10 highway to the A20, and then the A61 once you reach Toulouse. French highways have lots of rest areas if you’re looking for a short break; if you want to get off the highway and explore a bit, the small town of Gramat (near the clifftop village of Rocamadour) is a good halfway point, with several restaurants and hotels to choose from.
The medieval city has 3 pay-and-display car parks.
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