Named a World Heritage Site in 1997, Cité de Carcassonne has a history spanning more than 2,000 years. The largest former fortress in Europe, it has played a decisive role in the history of Languedoc.
An Iron Age Oppidum transformed into a Roman town in the 1st Century BCE, the city-state became the possession of the powerful Viscount Trencavel who ruled over Bas-Languedoc.
Situated on the right bank of the Aude, Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval village that is still inhabited, has 52 towers and two concentric walls totaling 3 km in length.
Open at night as well as during daytime, via the Porte Narbonnaise and the Porte d’Aude, a large part of the Medieval City can be seen on unguided tours by visitors.
The St Nazaire Basilica
The earliest authentic document mentioning this church dates from 925. In 1096 pope Urban II came to Carcassonne and blessed the stones of the cathedral of Saint-Nazaire and Saint Celse. The building was completed during the first half of the XIIth century.
It was rebuilt several times and then in 1801, it lost its cathedral status to the Saint-Michel church in the Bastide. In 1898 it received the title of Basilica from pope Leo XIII.
Cité de Carcassonne the Castle of the Counts
This last line of Cité de Carcassonne defenses was built in the XIIth century by the Trencavel family, Viscounts of Carcassonne, and was repeatedly modified over the course of the following centuries.
In the XVIIIth century, the construction of the enclosure was undertaken to fortify the castle.
This surrounding area consists of a curtain wall, round towers, the fortified gatehouse, the Barbican and the moat.
The Porte Narbonnaise
The Porte Narbonnaise, on the eastern side, was built around 1280 during the reign of Philippe III (the Bold) and consists of two enormous projecting towers.
It owes its name to the fact that it faces out towards Narbonne.
In the XIXth century, Viollet-le-Duc rebuilt the battlements and the slate roof and gave it a false drawbridge which did not exist originally.
The Porte d’Aude
On the western side, the Porte d’Aude overlooks the river of the same name and is located close to the Castle of the Counts.
The gate was formally extended by the Barbican which was demolished in 1816 in order to make way for the church of Saint-Gimer.
Only the ramp surrounded by battlemented walls remains.
Typically medieval in appearance, the gate has been used as the backdrop for the shooting of numerous films such as Les Visiteurs, Robin Hood Prince of \Thieves and Le Corniaud.
Théâtre de la Cité
The theatre, which is situated inside the Medieval City, was established in 1908, on the site of the former Saint-Nazaire cloisters.
Originally it had to seat for around 6000 people (around 3000 permitted today) and the spectators were seated on benches or simple chairs.
In 1957, the actor and director Jean Deschamps set up the famous Festival de la Cité, which ever since has taken place each summer.
The theatre was refurbished in 1972. In a tribute to the work of Jean Deschamps, the Grand Théâtre de la Cité took on the name of Théâtre Jean Deschamps on the 15th of July 2006.
This area between the two rampart walls and a little over 1 km in circumference was laid out in the XVIIIth century when the second enclosure wall was erected.
In the XVIIIth century, the poorest inhabitants of Carcassonne built their houses here prior to them being demolished at the time of Viollet le Duc’s XIXth century restoration of the City. \Nowadays, the area offers opportunities to appreciate the various aspects of the City’s military architecture and provides fine views over the Bastide Saint Louis, the Pyrenees and the Montagne Noire.
The Medieval City of Cité de Carcassonne contains 52 towers along its double enclosure walls totaling three km in length.
The inner wall consists of sections of the IIIrd-IVth century Gallo-Roman ramparts characterized by their close bonding topped by rows of bricks.
During the XVIIIth century, the French kings ordered the building of a second outer wall around the City, finishing with a dry moat.
The inner ramparts were large rebuilt\during the last quarter of the XVIIIth century and the early part of the XIVth.
The great well
Of the 22 wells supplying the City, this is considered to be the oldest.
Its surrounds are XIVth century and its columns and ironwork date from the period of the Renaissance.
One legend has it that the Visigoths, fearful of the arrival of Atilla, hid in it the treasure from the Temple of Solomon.
It has been excavated many times, but always in vain.
*This article was originally published at www.tourism-carcassonne.co.uk