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Carcassonne, the Cité
The Bastide de Saint Louis
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Carcassonne Loft - Penthouse Apartment
in the Languedoc, South of France

The Cité of Carcassonne


The Cité is a spectacular walled town – the largest medieval town in Europe with its city walls intact. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the setting for many films featuring medieval castles. It is one of the few sights in the world that genuinely justifies the epithet "breath taking". In recent years it has become a major tourist attraction, with all that that entails.


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The Cité and the Château Comtal.

The French word cité does translate as city. It translates as walled town. This explains why the cité in Carcassonne occupies only a tiny area of the modern city. The present cité is essentially medieval, although there are traces of older structures, for example some of the towers on the inner ring of defensive walls still retain their distinctive Roman shape and even their Roman foundations.

The present Cité is recognisable as the medieval one which was the seat of the Trencavel family, Viscounts of Carcassonne, before the area was annexed by France in the thirteenth century. It was besieged by the French in 1209 soon after the famous massacre at Béziers, during the early stages of the wars against the people of the Languedoc, sometimes known as the Cathar wars or the Albigensian Crusade. Click here for more on the Sieges of Carcassonne in 1209 and 1240.

A large part of the structure dates from the pre-French period, including the inner city walls and part of the Viscounts’ castle known as the chateau Comtal. The outer defensive walls and the barbican of the chateau Comtal are French, added in the thirteenth century, and all of it was heavily restored in the nineteenth century. Before the French period it was home to the distinctive Occitan concept of paratge, as well as to the rich culture of the troubadours and the Cathars.

The cité was restored from 1853 onwards by the great architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc - narrowly escaping the destruction by Victorian philistines that befell so many other historic European cities. It was added to theUNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.

The folk etymology of the name Carcassonne is endearing and widely believed. According to the story a châtelaine of the city, named Carcas, foiled a attempted seige by the Franks or in some versions the Saracens. At the point of having to surrender through starvation Carcas found the last animal alive in the city - a pig - and fed it with all of the remaining vegetables and offal that remained. She then sent the well fattened pig as a present to the beseigers who, as planned, deduced that the city was well provisioned and seeing no prospect of the city's surrender, upped camp and left. According to this apocryphal story the bells rang out in celebration, giving the city a new name - ("Carcas sona"). A neo-Gothic sculpture of Dame Carcas on a column near the Narbonne Gate is modern. (Gate shown left, detail right)


The Basilica of saint Nazaire

Inside the Cité may be found the Basilica of St-Nazaire. Click on this link for more on the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire Click here for more details of golf clubs in this area






History of the Cité

The earliest known evidence of settlement in the region have been dated to around 3500 BC. Signs of Pre-Roman (Iberian) habitation in this area date from the 5th century BC. The hill site or oppidum of Carsac became an important trading place in the 6th century BC. (Carsac is a Celtic place-name). A people known as the Volcae Tectosages fortified the oppidum there.

In 122 BC the Romans invaded the areas that we now know as Provence and Languedoc. Recognising its strategic importance Carcassonne fortified the hilltop around 100 BC and later made it the colonia of Julia Carsaco, later Carcasum. The lower courses of the inner ring of ramparts to the north date from Gallo-Roman times. This Roman settlement was occupied until the mid 5th century AD when it, along with Spain, fell to the Visigoths, invaders from the banks of the Danube.  

The Visigothic king Theodoric II took Carcassonne in 453, and a few years later in 462 the Romans ceded the whole area (Septimania) too. Theodoric built further fortifications at Carcassonne, now a frontier post on the northern marches of his kingdom. Traces of these fortifications still stand. Theodoric, an Arian Christian, is thought to have begun the building of a church now replaced by the basilica in the Cité dedicated to Saint Nazaire.

In 508 the Visigoths repelled attacks of the Frankish king Clovis.

Saracens from Barcelona took Carcassonne in 725, but the Franks soon returned and in 759. King Pippin the Younger drove most of the Saracens away. By 760, Pippin had taken most of what is now the south of France, although he was unable to penetrate Carcassonne.

Carcassonne remained under Visigoth rule from 460 to 725.  A Visigothic walled city was built in the 5th century by Euric I, King of the Visigoths.   In 508 it withstood attack by Frankish king, Clovis I, but fell to the Moors (Saracens) in 725.   The Moorish walled city was renamed Carchachouna.   A generation or so later, in 752, the Moors gave way to the Caroligian king, Pépin the Short, who did manage to take Carcassonne, making it a Frankish City.

In 1067 Carcassonne became, through marriage, the property of Raymond Bernard Trencavel, viscount of Albi and Nîmes. In the following centuries the Trencavel family allied in succession either with the Counts of Barcelona (later Kings of Aragon) or with the House of Toulouse. They built the Château Comtal and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. In 1096 Pope Urban II blessed the foundation stones of the new cathedral. Carcassonne was one of the centres of Occitan culture, where literacy flourished and the troubadour tradition was developed, patronised by great princes like the Trencavel dynasty.

The Viscount of Carcassone as depicted on a modern mural in CarcassonneFor over a century the Medieval city of Carcassona enjoyed tremendous influence under the Trencavel family.  This was brought to an end during the disasterous wars against the  Cathars  of the Languedoc.  One of the important events in the first stages of the war was the siege of Carcassonne.  In August 1209 the crusading army of Arnaud Amaury (not as is often claimed Simon de Montfort) forced its citizens to surrender having siezed Raymond-Roger Trencavel during a truce. Raymond Roger was murdered, or at least left to die, in his own prison, and Simon de Montfort was appointed the new viscount. De Montfort added to the fortifications. At the end of the wars the Languedoc was annexed by the French crown.  Carcassona became a French city called Carcassonne.

In 1240 Raymond-Roger's son tried to reconquer his inheritance, but in vain. The city submitted to the rule of kingdom of France, though there would be more attempted rebellions into modern times as the local people attempted to return to their traditional allegence to the Kings of Aragon, the Trencavels' suzerains.

Click on this link for more on the Carcassonne's role in the Cathar Wars Click here for more details of Carcassonne's role in the Albigensian Crusade

In 1247, King Louis IX of France founded the new part of the town across the river - the Bastide de Saint Louise, now in the heart of the ville basse.

Louis (Saint Louis) and his successor Philip III built the present outer ramparts of the old Cité. Opinion at the time considered the fortress to be impregnable. Indeed, when Edward the Black Prince attacked Carcassonne in 1355 during the Hundred Years' War, his troops destroyed the Ville Basse without much trouble, but he failed to take the old Cité.

Carcassonne continued to hold strategic value, now for the French as a central and second line of defence against the Spanish. A series of border castles known as the five sons of Carcassonne (QueribusTermesAguila, Peyreperteuse and Puilaurens) provided the first line of defence. In 1659, under the Treaty of the Pyrenees the Roussillon passed from Aragon to France. This meant that the Franco-Spanish border shifted south. The border castles were no longer border castles and a new set of fortifications were built under de Vauban. Carcassonne's strategic importance was reduced and it was allowed to fall into disrepair.

Carcassonne 5 Franc Stamp, 1938Carcassonne was removed from the schedule of official fortifications under Napoleon, and the fortified Cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided that it should be demolished. An official decree to that effect that was issued in 1849. It caused an uproar. By great good fortune the Mayor of Carcassonne, Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, was an antiquary. He and Prosper Mérimée, the first inspector of ancient monuments in France, led a campaign to preserve the fortress as a historical monument.

Soon, the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire in the Cité was commissioned to renovate the whole place. After centuries of neglect it was heavily restored, and it is this restored city that makes such an impact today, a World Heritage site, with plenty of sites to see and places to visit including festivals in the City. Fortifications consist of a double ring of ramparts with 53 towers along the curtain walls.
















































 St Nazaire.
















Click on the following link for photographs of the Ville Basse (The Bastide de St-Louis where the penthouse is located)



Things to see and do within the Medieval City
(or nearby)


Medieval City
La Cité

Open all year
Access to the Medieval City is free.

The mediaeval walled town lies on the right bank of the River Aude and is featured on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. It has 52 towers and 2 rings of town walls making a total of 3 km of battlements. There is no restriction on access to this area of Carcassonne. It is still home today to its population of approximately 120 and it boasts a large number of shops and craftsmen.

Castle and ramparts
La Cité
Tél : 04 68 11 70 70
Fax : 04 68 11 70 71

October through March : 9:30am to 5:00pm April through September : 9:30am to 6:30pm
Reduced admission price / free for under 18s

The ultimate stronghold, built in the 12th century, it was the home of the Trencavels, vicomtes of Carcassonne.

Guided tours, gallery talks, educational activities (for children). Lapidary museum, permanent exhibition on the restoration of the Cité in the 19th century.

Basilica of Saint-Nazaire
Place de l'église

Open all year. Weekdays: from 9.00am to 11.45pm and 1.45pm to 6pm (closes at 5pm during the winter) - Sundays: from 9.00am to 10.45am and 2pm to 5pm (closes at 4:30pm during the winter).

Cathedral from the 11th and 14th century.

Birds City
Colline de Pech-Mary
Tél : 04 68 47 88 99
Fax : 04 68 47 87 05

Open from 1 April to 6 November from 2pm to 6pm.
Tickets - Adults: 8.5 euros - Children: 5 euros - Length: 40 to 60 min.

800 metres from the Cité, in the commune of Pech Mary, you can see demoonstrations of falconry.

Cultural Centre in Memorial of Former Soldiers
102 rue Trivalle
Tél : 04 68 72 40 16

Monday to Friday from 9am to 12pm and 2.30pm to 5pm. Open Saturdays and Sundays upon appointment.


Retrospective of military history supported by objects, costumes, accessories, documents

Museum of Chivalry, Arms and Archery
rue porte d'Aude
Tél : 04 68 72 75 51

Open every day from 10am to 7pm between Easter and end of October, Mondays excepted. Guided visits available – please enquire.
Adults: €5 (€7 with guided tour) - Children: €3 - Under 5s: Free


Museum of the Middle Ages
Porte Narbonnaise outside the Cité
Tél : 04 68 71 08 65
Fax : 04 68 47 32 29

Open all year except during Christmas holidays : 10am to 7pm
Adults: 5 euros - Children: 3 euros - Length: 30 min.

Sound and light video and scale model of the Roman Medieval Walled City, costumes, architecture, weapons, military assault and defence techniques used in Medieval Castles

School Museum
3 Rue du Plô
Tél :

Open all year except january from 10am to 6pm (7pm in summer)
Tickets - Adults : 4€ - Children: 3€ - Schools, visit without guide: 25€ - Schools, visit with guide: 35€ - Length: 45 min

Reconstruction of a classroom in old times.

Exhibition of documents, furniture and school material from the time of Jules Ferry.

Sightseeing tour by train
Porte narbonnaise
Tél : 04 68 24 45 70 / 06 08 43 88 06
Fax : 04 68 24 47 33

Open from 1 May through 30 September
Adults: 6 euros - Children over 10: 5 euros - Children 2-10 years old: 3 euros.

Take the little train for a sightseeing tour of the Medieval City's turrets and ramparts (Duration 20 min.

Multi-language explanations). Departures from the Narbonnaise Gate.

Tour in a horse-drawn carriage
Porte narbonnaise
Tél : 04 68 71 54 57 (Tél./Fax)

Open from 1 April to 31 October from 10am to 6pm.
Adults: 6 euros - Children 2-12 years old: 4 euros.

Guided tour of Carcassonne in a horse-drawn carriage.

20-minute commentary. Route takes you between the two ramparts on the fortified walls, departing from Porte Narbonnaise.




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© James McDonald, 2006-8LinksContact by e-mail