Carcassone – 2500 year-old fortress (France)

Carcassonne is not a big tourist attraction, small town with population over 50,000. But why Carcassone? Partly I want to see a 2500 year-old Medieval fortress with the castle, partly I need to stop somewhere before Avignon otherwise my ride on the train from Sarlat down to South – too long. Anyway, I arrived to Carcassonne after 6 hours ride on train, then another 20-30′ walking to find the hotel with a “paper Google map” on hand. I was very close, but then I turned into a wrong way and I got lost.

841b3-carcassonn_5One of two main gates to the fortified city, the other one by the river Aude.      

Despite the long walk, carrying luggage around the old town, up and down the hill, over the bridge, but my hotel in Carcassonne was one of the best in my entire journey. Newly renovated, spacious beautiful room with a shining bathtub, good breakfast. I did enjoy staying here.

And hotel’s location is perfect, a bit far from the train station, but right in front of the Cité de Carcassonne – the exceptional fortified medieval city in South of France, the largest in Europe.

4409a-carcassonn_3View right in front of my hotel in Carcassonne.

It’s interesting to know how the name “Carcassonne”  is legendarily created, it said that Princess Carcas saw how Charlemagne (Roman Emperor) lift the 5-year siege of her town, she ordered to ring the bells. People then cried “Carcas sonne” (i.e Carcas rings) and this was how the town got its name.

7226d-carcassonn_20The fortified town surrounded by 3 km long of double wall, 52 towers…

This citadel located on a hill on the right bank of the river Aude, with 2500 years of history, this fortress played a very important military role in France’s history as a frontier between France and other kingdoms. The town inside the fortress was more prosperous if compared to the lower town, outside the fortress, but for certain reasons the fortified city became poor, quiet and almost abandoned in 17th century.       

ff8a8-carcassonn_22View from the old bridge – on my way from the rail station to the hotel. 

At the beginning of the 19th century, the city remained a fortress with half-ruined walls on an isolated hill which was difficult to reach. In 1849 The French government decided the fortress should be demolished but the decision was strongly opposed by the locals. Later some eminent archeologist and historian led a campaign to preserve the fortified town as a historical monument. 

b38d8-carcassonn_25Here should be a water moat surrounding the fortress in the past…

Under the direction of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a famous architect for his restored medieval buildings, the restoration works of the Cité de Carcassonne began in 1846. It was one of the most extensive restoration projects at that time and continued for another 80 years. Based on some visible remains, material traces, sometimes these indications were very tenuous but Viollet-le-Duc greatly managed to restore not only the fortress but also the castle, the basilica inside the fortified town. 

a401b-carcassonn_17The bridge to the fortress castle 

Actually his works has been criticised due to some differences between the architect’s favourite restoration style and the original architectural style in the region, like the typical northern conical roofing contrasting with the original flat roof in this southern area. However, despite these errors, the restoration works by Viollet-le-Duc were considered as an excellent work and loyal to the original medieval Cité de Carcassonne.   

9a40c-carcassonn_13One of many passages by the defensive walls in this  fortified city.

04985-carcassonn_12I was wondering whether I might be stuck in some dead end

ffd7f-carcassonn_18this young visitor seems so confident to walk alone in this long corridor. 

9cacd-carcassonn_19Backyard of old houses inside the fortified town…

b3d5a-carcassonn_28Double-wall ramparts, 3 km long, defensive wall and the outside -lower town on the right

f5ced-carcassonn_11The ramparts with the towers up on a hill, 150m high over the lower town downhill. 

0dad7-carcassonn_10Tired to walk up and down the hill ? Here’s the serviced train for your convenience! 

79ab5-carcassonn_15Inside the Basilica of St Nazaire, during the male choir’s performance.

acfc0-carcassonn_29Inside the castle-museum.

02b23-carcassonn_30The fountain and the coffin behind – remains from the medieval old town.

dbd7d-carcassonn_16September’s weather – sunshine with cool breeze, perfect for a lunch break in the fortress.

2cbc2-carcassonn_21Old houses inside the fortress turned into nice boutiques like this candy shop

ab6c8-carcassonn_23Impressed by the shop’s interior decor, I got some sweets – mostly marshmallows

59e2d-carcassonn_1Carcassonne at night – view from the lower town, outside the fortress.  

In order to get a picture of the fortified city at night from the lower town, I had to walk nearly half way back to the train station, it was almost midnight, very quiet, most shops were closed, except some bars, ice-cream boutiques, very few traffic…

3f49b-carcassonn_2The view from the old bridge over the river Aude, couldn’t catch the moon on the left  

c1d86-carcassonn_4The impressive endless double wall ramparts – to defence the town…at night. 

The citadel of Carcassonne created a dreamlike atmosphere of the Middles-Ages town, its architectural style is an ideal setting for the passionate medieval tales, has attracted many film makers since the beginning of the 20th century, and one of them was Walt Disney for his movie “Sleeping Beauty Castle”. 

ed78b-carcassonnIt was late I came back to my hotel, prepared  for early train tomorrow.

I stayed in Carcassonne only for one night, no enough time to explore the huge fortified town, I was able to walk only ⅓ of the ramparts, including my quick visit to the castle. I couldn’t see the other gates, especially those by the river Aude. The local authorities also concerned that many visitors didn’t extend their stay inside the old town, because most of visitors consider a visit to Carcassonne as an short excursion, not a holiday place. The local authorities are working on how to create the events to keep visitors to stay longer, to spend more. That’s why during the Tour de France 2018, Carcassone is one of the stops, but for me, I can’t wait to be heading to another town whose the song I knew since my childhood – Avignon.  

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