Visiting Carcassonne is like a time machine journey into the past – a place that will awake the child in you immediately. It’s hard to find a person who won’t, in that very moment, get the urge to buy a wooden sword in one of the many souvenir shops, slip on the heavy iron armor and imagine itself in the role of a medieval knight. Those with a knack for gloom, below the Tower of the Inquisition (today Musée de la Torture) will recall the darker moments of the Middle Ages, and hopeless romantics will, however, sit in a carriage and ride between the double walls.
Or you can simply sit on the terrace at one of the charming squares, order the real French onion soup or enjoy a glass of fantastic local wine with Camembert.
Located in a strategic place on the way from Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea, Carcassonne has a long and rich history. At the time of Julius Caesar it was an important Roman city – the Visigoths weregoverning it as well, for a while it was even under the Saracens, until Pepin the Younger expelled them.
In the early 13th century Cathars were expelled and city became part of France. At that time Carcassonne became a French frontier fort against the Kingdom of Aragon and began building of its famous double walls. In 1262 many inhabitants had to leave the town after revolt against King Louis IX. They were allowed to build new settlement on the other side of the river, where the new city of Carcassonne rests today.
Well established, it was impregnable military fortress until the 18th century when it provided its destruction. But the contemporary Mayor of the city prevented it and started with restoration.
In 1997 UNESCO added Carcassonne on its World Heritage List, not only as an excellent example of a medieval fortress, but also for the restoration, which Eugène Viollet-le-Duc , one of the founders of the modern science of restoration, started in 1853. Thanks to him and his associates, fairytale fortress with a double ring bastions and 53 towers is perfectly conserved and preserved.
About three million tourists visits Carcassonne per year – we got the impression that it’s particularly popular among Americans and Russians, so be ready for crowd, especially at the entrance to the castle and magnificent gothic cathedral.
For us, Carcassonne was the most beautiful in early morning, while only few visitors were walking its narrow streets, crossing the local cat’s path. The entrance to the fort is free, but you have to pay tickets for museums and castle. In most of the restaurants inside the walls prices are reasonable. For about 15 euros per person you can have three-course meal. Glass of red wine is inevitable.