Carcassonne Walled City
Aude (11000) Population: 47,268 Altitude: 133 m
Carcassonne Cité is a hilltop town ringed by two concentric walls, hosting 52 defensive towers. It's the largest walled city in Europe, with 3 km of completely intact walls. Carcassonne Walled City still contains a Medieval-style village (although oriented now towards tourists). There's even an inner castle, the Comptal Chateau, with its own fortified walls and moat.
The Walled City of Carcassonne dates to Gallo-Roman times, and was enlarged and fortified in Medieval times, and served as a defensive city until the 17th century. The adjacent Town of Carcassonne was founded across the river around 1250, and called then the Lower Town.
Carcassonne Walled City
While the history of Carcassonne dates back to Roman times, the current fortified "Medieval" structure was actually designed and built in the later half of the 19th century [see History, below]. A beautiful job was done, though, and Carcassonne City has a true Medieval look.
Walk the Double Walls.
Enter inside the outer walls and walk around the circumference of the fortified town (over an hour's walk) for the most impressive feeling of the defenses and the architecture. You'll also have good views from the frequent apertures at the surrounding countryside and the town of Carcassonne spread out below to the west.
Inside the inner walls, the stone streets and buildings are very Medieval, with narrow cobblestone street and ancient buildings. The interior "village" area inside the walls of La Cité is quite large, and you'll need the whole day to explore all of it.
Visiting the fortified walled city is free. The only visiting cost is for The Count's Castle, the small fortified castle site at the center of the walled city.
The little squares filled with souvenir shops and café-restaurants reminded us of, for example, villages like St Paul-de-Vence and Les Baux-de-Provence. This is in the way of an observation rather than a criticism. The cafés especially can be quite welcoming after some hours of exploring the cité.
The Place Marou is packed with terrace restaurants, filling the square. Prices are moderate and reasonable, and the choice is fairly extensive, from pizza to the regional dishes of cassoulet and magret de canard.
The Count's Castle
Inside the fortified city is a complete 12th-century fortified castle, the Château Contal. The entrance to the castle is across a narrow bridge over a (now dry) moat; this was obviously once a draw bridge.
Cost. Entry into the fortified "cité" of Carcassonne is free. Only the inner Castle, with its museum-style displays charges admission: about 9.00 euros (2018); extra for the multi-lingual audio guides.
The Basilique Saint-Nazaire is 11th and 12th centuries, but is on the site of a 6th-century church. Among the historical interior sites are stained-glass windows from the 13th and 14th centuries.
Cathars at Carcassonne City
In the 12th century the inhabitants were sided with the Cathars. On 1 August, 1209, the Albigensian Crusade arrived at Carcassonne and began their siege. On 15 August, the city surrendered, and the people were allowed to leave, without any belongings at all,, departing "carrying nothing but their sins".
The Town of carcassonne is just across the Aude river, northwest of the walled city. The walking distance between the town center (by the Office de Tourisme) and the walled city is 1.5 km (20 minutes), to either the Porte de l'Aude (west side) or Porte Narbonnaise (east side).