Carcassonne is situated in the Languedoc region of France, in the south of the country, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On a clear day, there are views of the Pyrenees. Visiting the medieval fortified town of Carcassonne - the Cité - is like stepping back in time.
Carcassonne is famous for ‘La Cite’ its Medieval Walled City; it was built over the course of 2,000 years,and its history is particularly bound to a period of the Middle-Ages, often called "the Crusade of the Albigenses", it has 3 km of ramparts it stands proud on a hill capped by 52 pointed towers and a castle, it is a wonder to behold.
Nothing has really changed since the 13th century; here you can be carried back to the heart of the Middle Ages and feel the magic of its glorious past. Once you have come to terms with the spectacle of its full size and have passed through the huge gates into the city itself, there is much to see. Through its maze of narrow cobbled streets lie an abundance of small shops selling a variety of hand made jewellery, leather goods and artwork. Hither and thither in small squares and lanes there are plenty of places to eat and drink. These vary from somewhere to grab a quick burger, to rather more romantic restaurants offering a chance to have a quiet, relaxed meal in a pretty courtyard setting.
In 760, "Pepin the Short", King of the Franks, took most of the south of France back from the Saracens, except for Carcassonne. After a long siege, the Franks thought the inhabitants of Carcassonne would soon starve and surrender. But Dame Carcas, the widow of the Sarrasin lord of the castle, devised a plan. She had a pig fed with the last grain the inhabitants had. When the pig was fattened, it was thrown over the city’s ramparts. At such a sight, the assailants concluded that the inhabitants still had enough food to stave off famine and would not surrender soon. And so they gave up. Dame Carcas rang all the bells all day long to celebrate. Legend has it that Dame "Carcas sonne" (Dame "Carcas rings") is where the name of the city came from.
In 1997, the city of Carcassonne was listed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in its World Heritage List as one of 28 sites in France. UNESCO says, the “Historic town of Carcassonne is an excellent example of a medieval fortified town whose massive defences were constructed on walls dating from Late Antiquity. It is of exceptional importance by virtue of the restoration work carried out in the second half of the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in conservation principles and practice”.
Today, the city of Carcassonne is Europe’s largest occupied fortified citadel and an extremely popular place to visit. It is possible to pass several pleasant hours wandering the streets of the town exploring the exciting series of towers, turrets and ramparts, with fantastic views and countless photo-opportunities.
There is an open air theatre and throughout the summer it holds many cultural events. The Festival of ‘La Cité’ was born in 1957 and is now known throughout the national and global arts scene for its unique combination of between 20-25 opera, dance, theatre and music events in the atmospheric surrounds of the medieval ‘La Cité’
Festival of the Bastide: July
Fireworks at ‘La Cité’: 14th July Bastille Day in Carcassonne is celebrated like no other in France - they quite literally fire up the medieval Cité with the most incredible fireworks display! The legendary display - in part a commemoration of the original burning of the Cité in 1898- is one of the largest in Europe, lasting 25 minutes and culminating in 1200 charges detonated over the 600 metres of the Cité’s facade in just 6 seconds!
Carcassonne gets very, very busy. Running alongside the Festival of ‘La Cité’, features over 70 free entry theatre, French pop, jazz and world music gigs. A superb mélange of genres and venues - visitors can really get a feel for the breadth and passion of contemporary French culture, and all that Carcassonne has to offer!
When visitors are ready to move from the crowded lanes of the ‘La Cité’, they can stroll down to the lower town, over the old bridge. There are shops, restaurants and cafés. By the riverside there are benches and walks, as well as a number of sights to see. The famous Canal du Midi passes through Carcassonne, with a charming little marina next to the station. Boat trips will take you on a leisurely canal cruise, or walkers may enjoy a ramble along the broad canal side path.