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Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a medieval fortified town in Languedoc, southern France. Situated on a plateau dominating the plain of the Aude, the walled town of Carcassonne is rectangular in shape, up to 525 m long and 250 m wide.

It is still surrounded by its medieval double enclosure wall: the inner curtain is around 1245 m in length, with 29 towers, while the outer curtain has 18 towers and is about. 1320 m long. The Chateau Comtal and the former cathedral of St Nazaire also survive.

History of Carcassonne

The site was occupied as early as the 6th century BC, when its strategic defensive position must already have been recognized.

The oldest parts of the inner curtain wall date either from the late Roman period (before AD 333, the date at which Carcassonne is mentioned as a castrum on the route from Bordeaux to Jerusalem) or from Visigothic times.

There are traces of several campaigns of work on the north front and the west front. During the minority of Louis IX the seneschals of Carcassonne raised the inner wall by several metres and added an outer wall preceded by a moat.

After the revolt of 1240, Louis razed the Faubourg St Michel, which abutted the east front of the outer wall, and rebuilt the section of the rampart running from the Tour de la Vade to the Barbicane St Louis. A section of the inner wall (780 m), evidently still considered weak, was rebuilt by Philip III and Philip IV between 1280 and 1287.

Finally, between 1852 and 1879, Viollet-le-Duc carried out substantial restorations, adding crenellations to the walls and giving the towers slate roofs.

The curtain walls of the earliest enclosure wall are 6–7 m high and 2 m wide. The surviving towers, which straddle the wall about every 20 m, are horseshoe-shaped and filled in at the base, but each has a chamber lit by three round-arched windows at the level of the parapet walls.

The early 13th-century exterior wall demonstrated a more active concept of defence: its towers are hollow at the base and contain superimposed, vaulted chambers with numerous arrow loops.

The improvement in weaponry and the pronounced projection of the circular towers from the wall enabled them to be spaced further apart, at rough intervals of 60–70 m.

The walls rebuilt from 1280 to 1287 are thinner, with rusticated masonry, many more arrow loops on several levels and six towers à bec for defence against direct attack. The Porte Narbonnaise, built during this campaign, is exceptional, defended by two formidable spurred towers, a drawbridge and the St Louis barbican.

The Château Comtal, running along the west side of the inner rampart, was built by the Vicomtes de Trencavel between 1120 and 1150.

The buildings, altered in part in the 13th, 15th and 18th centuries, were residential and administrative: they comprised two buildings placed end-to-end parallel to the rampart and a third, built at right angles, oriented east–west; a chapel was added in the north-west corner around the year 1180.

In the 12th century the building was described as a palace but it was transformed into a genuine fortress when the earliest enclosure wall was consolidated and the second rampart built.

Three curtain walls were built to the south, east and north of the palace, preceded by a moat and flanked by six round towers with the same characteristics as those of the outer wall: battered bases, superimposed, rib-vaulted chambers and stirrup-shaped loop holes.

There was provision for hoardings at the tops of the towers and curtain walls, and a bridge preceded by a barbican defended the access to the castle. The defences were directed against the city to resist uprisings against the new royal administration.

Visit Carcassonne

What to see in the medieval fortified town of Carcassonne:

  • St. Nazarius' Basilica (11th – 20th century)
  • Aude Gate
  • Dame Carcas
  • Jousting Ground
  • Narbonnaise Gate
  • The Castle: Château Comtal
  • Théâtre Jean Deschamps

Getting there:
 
By road: From Narbonne or Toulouse, N 113 and A 61
By train: SNCF Carcassonne
By boat: Canal du Midi
By plane: Aéroport de Carcassonne Salvaza (Carcassonne Salvaza Airport)

Contact details:

Phone: + 33 (0)4 68 11 70 77
Official website: http://www.carcassonne.culture.fr/

Carcassonne Map


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 Carcassonne Photos

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Carcassonne Fort © Henri Sivonen
 Carcassonne walls © Henri Sivonen
 
Carcassonne fort © Isaac Alvarez Brugada
Carcassonne inner © Isaac Alvarez Brugada
Carcassonne towers and walls © Isaac Alvarez Brugada
 
Carcassonne the inner castle © Willowherb
  Carcassonne castle walls © Willowherb
Carcassonne © Willowherb
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