Sarah’s Pick - Carcassonne – Cité on the Aude

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I have always considered myself a Francophile. And I have always loved history. So I couldn’t wait to visit Carcassonne! It did not disappoint.

Carcassonne has been influenced by over 2,000 years of human habitation. Although the first signs of settlement in this region have been dated to 3500 BC, Carcassonne is identified with the Romans that settled here about 100BC. Due to its position on historical routes across France, the town gained strategic importance from being on the frontier between France and Spain. Conquests and crusades, prosperity and decline have all influenced this city.
Medieval Carcassonne is a fortified town rather than just a castle - and perhaps the most impressive fortified medieval town to be found in France.
The fortified city itself consists of two concentric circles, or outer walls, with 53 towers and barbicans to prevent attack. Perched on a hilltop peering down on the surrounding area, the double-walled fortifications with strategically placed watchtowers and conical roofs dominates the landscape. Accessible by a pedestrian only bridge (le Pont Vieux) and lit at night, it is an amazing sight to behold. One of the towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th century and is still known as ""The Inquisition Tower"". To enter the citadel, you wander through stone cobbled streets, houses tumbled one upon another and across a drawbridge. Also to be found inside the fortified walls, is the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus , famous for its stained glass windows—some of the oldest in the south of France—and now a national monument .
At the heart of La Cité is the Château Comtal, a castle within a castle, where every possible military defense tactic can be seen: watchtowers, posterns, covered wooden walkways and holes in the floor (machicolations), the better for hurling boiling oil and stones on the attackers. The castle possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep and offers the ability to walk along the inner ramparts. Peek out of the walls; climb into the towers and up into the keep. Eventually deemed too fortified to conquer, warring armies looked elsewhere, and the fortifications and castle of Carcassonne were forgotten. Before its restoration, this was an abandoned place.

Carcassonne is itself an agreeable city. It retains a small town feel and is comfortable to stroll around. It has two interesting cathedrals worth investigating, fountains, museums and a market in Place Carnot. Beneath the imposing ramparts of the fortress, is the Canal du Midi, the world’s oldest commercial canal, built in the 17th century to connect the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Barges quietly float through the town while shaded bicycle paths, parks and footpaths line its banks. Vineyards spread out all around.

While I completely immersed myself in everything Carcassonne had to offer, I still can’t wait to go back. I know there’s still more to learn.

Sarah - USA