History abounds in la Cité de Carcassonne

Carcassonne fortress from Aude River, France
Carcassonne fortress from Aude River, France

History abounds in la Cité de Carcassonne

by Jessica Zen
Stripes Europe

History buffs will love visiting la Cité de Carcassonne, France. This medieval citadel has over 2,500 years of history and is surrounded by a double enclosure that stretches for 1.9 miles. It is the largest citadel with walls still completely intact. The imposing walls combined with 52 towers and four entrances make for quite the spectacle! Since 1997, this area has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is certainly worth a stop. When you look out over the fortification, you can almost see the knights fighting for their lady loves while a dragon breathes fire from a tower! While you’re there letting your imagination run wild, check out the following attractions: 

Bust of Lady Carcas

Legend tells of a princess whose husband was lost during a battle against Charlemagne. The brave princess then fooled the conquering forces and saved her citadel. The brave leader bluffed about the circumstances of the citadel under siege and threw the last pig from the highest tower, indicating that the siege was failing because the princess was wasting livestock. Little did Charlemagne and his men know that this was their last pig. The men retreated and left the city in peace. 


Castle of the Counts

Though this castle has been renovated and rebuilt time and time again, it remains the most popular attraction within the walls. The ground floor now holds a museum with exhibits of stone crosses, statues and other items from the city. Visit the courtyard and get a good look at the various architectural styles. Fun fact: excavations still take place at the castle. What will they dig up next? 


Théâtre Jean Deschamps

This open-air theater is home to the annual performing arts festival. Each year the stages come alive with music, dancing and dramas. Both national and international performers can be found on the stage and over 250,000 visitors attend this cultural event. The next festival will take place in July of 2021. 


Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus

Designed with Gothic-Romanesque architecture, this stunning minor basilica is Roman Catholic and a national monument. Original construction is thought to have been in the 6th century by Visigoths, though the centuries have dramatically changed the appearance. Construction on this masterpiece was not complete until the first half of the 20th century. 


There are four main entrances to la Cité de Carcassonne: Porte Narbonnaise, Saint-Nazaire, d’Aude and du Bourg. Each door was intentionally designed to serve a purpose, like allow access to the city of Narbonnaise or serve as a defensive system. 



Of the 22 wells that once provided water to the citadel’s inhabitants, the great well takes the cake. It is not only the biggest, but also the oldest, dating back to the 14th century. As with any medieval structure worth its salt, there is a legend that goes with the well, proclaiming that there is hidden treasure within from the Visigoths. Though no treasure has ever turned up, don’t give up hope! 


Old Bridge

This 14th-century medieval bridge was the only way for pedestrians to get from Bastide Saint Louis to Carcassonne until the 19th century. Work on the bridge began in the early 1300s and took approximately five years to complete. There are 12 semicircles in the bridge, each with a different opening diameter, ranging from 33 to 46 feet. This is an indication that the work was done at different intervals, as supplies were available. Though the bridge has been repaired many times, in 1820 the appearance altered the most. The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Santé can be found at the entrance to the bridge and is the only vestige of the oldest hospital in the city. The building has also undergone many alterations, but is still a lovely example of 15th-century architecture. 


Château de Villemagne

Wine is also a fascinating part of this area’s history. Just outside of Carcassonne, about thirty minutes away, you’ll find a 12th-century building known as the Château de Villemagne. This delightful piece of architecture was once the priory of the abbey of Lagrasse, but is now the perfect place for a wine tasting. Your visit doesn’t just include tasty wines. Here you’ll learn about the history of the winery, see prehistoric objects and also Roman empire objects discovered in the vineyards. See paintings and sculptures by local artists and enjoy some regional products, like foie gras, olive oil and cassoulet. 


From the fascinating architecture to the intriguing legends, la Cité de Carcassonne is a history lover’s dream. Fall into a fantasy while you wander around within the walls and imagine what life was like when conquerors came calling! Rest assured that no sieges are likely to happen while you are in attendance. 



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