Carcassonne is a fortified French town in the Aude département,
of which it is the prefecture, in the former province of Languedoc.
It is separated into the fortified Cité de Carcassonne and the more expansive lower city,
the ville basse.
The folk etymologyinvolving a châtelaine named Carcas, a ruse ending a siege and the
joyous ringing of bells ("Carcas sona")though memorialized in a neo-Gothic sculpture of
Mme Carcas on a column near the Narbonne Gateis of modern invention.
The fortress, which was thoroughly restored in 1853 by the theorist and architect
Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.
read full wikipedia reference about Carcassonne, France
Right on the main Toulouse-Montpellier
train link, CARCASSONNE couldn't be easier to reach; and
for anyone travelling through this region it is a must - one
of the most dramatic, if also most-visited, towns in the whole
of Languedoc. Carcassonne owes its division into two separate
"towns" - the Cité and the Ville Basse - to
the wars against the Cathars. Following Simon de Montfort's capture
of the town in 1209, its people tried in 1240 to restore their
traditional ruling family, the Trencavels. In reprisal King Louis
IX expelled them, only permitting their return on condition they
built on the low ground by the River Aude.
The attractions of the
well-preserved and lively ville basse notwithstanding, what everybody
comes for is the Cité , the double-walled and turreted
fortress that crowns the hill above the River Aude. From a distance
it's the epitome of the fairytale medieval town. Viollet-le-Duc
rescued it from ruin in 1844, and his "too-perfect"
restoration has been furiously debated ever since. It is, as
you would expect, a real tourist trap. Yet, in spite of the chintzy
cafés, arty-crafty shops and the crowds, you'd have to
be a very stiff-necked purist not to be moved at all.
To reach the Cité
from the ville basse , take bus #2 from outside the station,
or a navette from square Gambetta. Alternatively, you can walk
it in under thirty minutes, crossing the Pont-Vieux and climbing
rue Barbacane, past the church of St-Gimer to the sturdy bastion
of the Porte d'Aude . This is effectively the back entrance -
the main gate is Porte Narbonnaise , round on the east side.
There is no charge for
admission to the streets or the grassy lices - "lists"
- between the walls, though cars are banned from 10am to 6pm.
However, to see the inner fortress of the Château Comtal
and to walk the walls, you'll have to join a guided tour (daily:
April, May & Oct 9.30am-6pm; June-Sept 9.30am-7.30pm; Nov-March
9.30am-5pm). The seventy- to ninety-minute tours - several per
day in English from June to September - assume some knowledge
of French history, pointing out the various phases in the construction
of the fortifications, from Roman to Visigothic to Romanesque
and to the post-Cathar adaptations of the French kings.
In addition to wandering
the narrow streets, don't miss the beautiful church of St-Nazaire
(daily 9-11.45am & 1.45-6pm), towards the southern corner
of the Cité at the end of rue St-Louis. It's a serene
combination of Romanesque nave with carved capitals and Gothic
transepts and choir adorned with some of the loveliest stained
glass in Languedoc. In the south transept is a tombstone believed
to belong to Simon de Montfort senior. You can also climb the
tower (same hours), for spectacular views over the Cité.
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