UNESCO World Heritage # 23: The City of Carcassonne

As part of a specially dedicated series French sites recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO, writing Welcome Camping invites you to discover one by one the exceptional French destinations, preserved as a heritage of humanity. We continue this series with a site recognized in 1997, the historic walled city of Carcassonne, more commonly known as the Cité de Carcassonne.

In Occitanie, in the Aude department, between Montagne Noire and the Pyrenees, a medieval fortified town dominates the Aude valley. Surrounded by its double enclosure and its 52 towers, the City of Carcassonne is famous throughout the world for its impressive structure and exceptional state of conservation. This royal stronghold is also a unique witness to the defensive architecture of the Middle Ages. The fortifications, the count's castle, but also the preserved alleys and the magnificent Gothic cathedral, offer visitors an exceptional journey through time.

A little bit of history

The history of the City of Carcassonne dates back well before the Middle Ages. The site has in fact been occupied since the 2th century BC. In turn, a fortified oppidum, a Gallo-Roman city, a Visigoth stronghold, and even an Umayyad city… The City then became a county, then a viscount and finally a royal senechaussium. This territory has therefore been marked by 600 years of history. Conquests, Crusades and Catharism thus shaped the places. But in the XNUMXth century, the city was unfortunately destined for demolition. It even serves as a stone quarry. And it is thanks to the tenacity of the Carcassonne archaeologist Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, that the demolition decree will be canceled. This will allow one of the largest restoration projects in Europe to see the light of day. Viollet-le-Duc then Boeswillwald will lead operations.

Chateau Comtal of the City of Carcassonne
The Chateau Comtal

A witness to medieval defensive architecture

The City of Carcassonne is recognizable by its double enclosure. The first enclosure, one kilometer in perimeter, dates back to Gallo-Roman times. Sixteen of the seventeen towers are recognizable by their horseshoe shape. Only the Pinte Tower is rectangular. The outer enclosure was built in the Middle Ages. Surrounded by a dry moat, it has round and massive towers. The walkway allows you to go around the city through the towers. Finally, the space between the two ramparts constitutes the lists of the City.

View at the foot of the City of Carcassonne
View at the foot of the City of Carcassonne

The gates of the fortified city of Carcassonne

The outer enclosure is pierced with four doors at the four cardinal points. To the East, the Narbonnaise gate is the main gateway to the City of Carcassonne. Built in 1280, during the reign of Philip III the Bold, it consists of two impressive spur towers. South, the Porte d'Aude offers a very picturesque course, with a sumptuous view of the ramparts. Located near the Château Comtal, it faces the Aude river. This door has been the setting for famous films, such as The Visitors, Robin des Bois or Le Corniaud. The Porte Saint-Nazaire et the Porte du Bourg lie to the west and north, respectively.

Porte d'Aude, City of Carcassonne
The Porte d'Aude

Emblematic monuments of the fortified city of Carcassonne

In the heart of the City of Carcassonne, several buildings are worth a visit. Built in the XNUMXth century by the Trencavels, the count's castle is a must. The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse is for its part, the “Jewel of the City”. Saint-Gimer Church is one of the three churches designed by Viollet-le-Duc. Built in the XNUMXth century, it is characteristic of the architect's Gothic vision. Two other remarkable elements are visible within the walled city. The Great Well is the oldest well in the City. According to legend, it would house the treasure of Solomon's temple. The Bust of Dame Carcas, legendary character of the city of Carcassonne, finally sits in front of the Porte Narbonnaise.

Basilica of Saint-Nazaire and Saint-Celse in Carcassonne
Basilica of Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse

The City of Carcassonne today

The fortified city of Carcassonne is free to access 7 days a week, day and night. But to fully benefit from the experience, it is possible to visit the City with the accompaniment of certified tour guides. A real dive into the history of this territory ... Each year, many medieval events are also organized for young and old. Themed tours, treasure hunts, escape games, museum visits are thus offered throughout the year. Since summer 7, the Cistern Tower also offers an incredible virtual reality experience. Equipped with helmets, visitors discover the history of the City, from the creation of the oppidum to the present day.

Medieval festival in the heart of the city of Carcassonne