Castle and Ramparts in Carcassonne

A majestic city, unique in the world

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Certified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, the medieval citadel of Carcassonne is enchanting. It looks like the product of someone's imagination, with its count's castle, two city walls and 52 towers, rising above the river Aude, the vineyards and the Town. Remodelled in the Romantic style during the 19th century, the medieval city is an outstanding heritage site


Carcassonne has a two-part history. During the 6th century BCE, the first site was abandoned, in favour of its current location. This fortified town became the stronghold of the Later Roman Empire with the construction of a 1km city wall, flanked by 30 towers. 1000 years later, Saint Louis and his descendants had a second city wall built around the first wall. Previously the centre of power of the Trencavel viscounts, who had held their court there since 1125, Carcassonne became the jurisdiction of the Seneschal, directly linked to royal influence. We are now in the middle of the thirteenth century during the Albigensian Crusade. The Trencavel family have surrendered, but the population is worried. The Seneschal had the old buildings destroyed because they were too close to the ramparts, and he built the Lower Town on the other side of the Aude. The Upper and Lower Towns had different destinies. The ancient citadel slowly collapsed during the 15th century. La Bastide (Lower Town), by contrast, prospered thanks to a flourishing textile industry which lasted for 5 centuries. The medieval citadel was saved by JP. Cros-Mayrevieille, who had it classed as a historic monument in 1849. Viollet-le-Duc led the first restoration works. The medieval city thus became an outstanding example of an ideal Middle Age.

The ramparts

The walk around the ramparts is unforgettable. On the north side, the Gallo-Roman ramparts and their horseshoe-shaped towers provide a stunning view over the Montagne Noire. On the west side, you can walk on the medieval ramparts: look through the battlements to admire the Lower Town and the Pyrenees. Visiting the ramparts was formalised at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1908, the first viewpoint indicator was installed at the top of the tower of Saint-Nazaire's gate for the first visitors.

The Counts' Castle

A fortress within a fortress, defended by a barbican, dry moat and outer wall. The eight towers, two keeps, watchtower and portcullises emphasise the strength of this centre of power for counts and kings. The visit is insightful, livened up with videos, inner courtyards surrounded by vaulted rooms and treasured Roman frescos. Unusually, the brattices (temporary wooden fortifications) are visible. These wooden galleries, built to protect the patrol paths and defend the base of the ramparts, were redesigned by Viollet-le-Duc, then built between 1909-1910.

The Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire and Saint-Celse

Carcassonne is an old diocese: the first bishop was sworn in in 589. During this period, the original cathedral may have been built near the Aquitaine road. The Cathedral joined the medieval city in the 10th century. In 1096, Pope Urban II who had come to preach the Gregorian reform, came to Carcassonne and blessed the construction site. The main nave, as well as the two side naves, date from the Roman period. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the construction site, started in around 1270 by Bishop Bernard de Capendu, is a magnificent example of High Gothic architecture, characterised by its use of stone, glass and light. The two rose windows opposite the transept are striking examples of this architecture. To the left of the altar is an old-style rose window: with the Virgin Mary is in the centre, the wheel that surrounds her goes right up to the edge of the wall. On the right is the eternal rose window, as though stopped by two glass spandrels (the space between an arch and rectangular structure), is centred on Christ. At the meeting point of these two periods is the keystone at the centre of the transept.

The medieval citadel

The roads of the citadel are crowded; in Marcou square, the shady café terraces are full. Take a small detour and find peaceful corners in a small courtyard with a central well, or in a little street with medieval houses. Further along, roads with restaurants, shops and artisanal workshops will lead you to the Theatre and Inquisition building.

The Theatre

Built near the ramparts, the cloister of the Saint-Nazaire Cathedral was partly destroyed in the siege of 1209, before being completely demolished in 1792. Vines and orchards flourished here until June 1908, when the town council of Carcassonne decided to build a theatre on the same site. Open-air theatres were popular during this period, with spectators going to see plays at Orange, Nîmes or Béziers. In Carcassonne, the idea quickly took hold. The first show was performed on the 26th July 1908. The play was performed by actors from the Comédie Française, and crowds of people squeezed in. It was a memorable play; although somewhat acrobatic for the audience, it was a huge success. Plays were performed in the "Théâtre Antique de la Cité" every summer, except during times of war. The building was reinforced in 1909, then rebuilt in 1929. In 1957, Jean Deschamps founded the Carcassonne Festival, and the theatre now bears his name. The theatre was refurbished again in 1972. With its focus on diversity, Carcassonne Festival has become a major French cultural event, attracting thousands of people from across the world. Famous artists and new talent perform across all disciplines, including opera, theatre, dance, classical and contemporary music.

Things to explore

As you walk


In 1898, to celebrate the 'Cadets de Gascogne', a group of famous artists, writers and politicians, Carcassonne organised a plethora of festivities. Achille Rouquet (1851-1928), himself an artist and poet, had the idea to light up the Cité by setting off Bengali fireworks. Ever since, the city has organised an incredible pyrotechnic show on the 14th July.

Fireworks in Carcassonne