Fodor's Expert Review La Cité de Carcassonne

Carcassonne Historic District/Site Fodor's Choice

La Cité de Carcassonne is the original fortified part of the town, often first glimpsed as a fairy-tale-like castle floating on a distant hilltop when approaching by car. Legend has it that Charlemagne laid siege to the original settlement here early in the 9th century, only to be outdone by one Dame Carcas—a clever woman who boldly fed the last of the city's wheat to a pig in full view of the would-be conqueror. Thinking this indicated endless food supplies (and an endless siege), Charlemagne promptly decamped, and the exuberant townsfolk named their city after her. During the 13th century, Louis IX (Saint Louis) and his son Philip the Fair strengthened Carcassonne's fortifications—so much so that the town came to be considered inviolable by marauding armies and was duly nicknamed "the virgin of Languedoc."

A town that can never be taken in battle is often abandoned, however, and for centuries thereafter Carcassonne remained under a Sleeping Beauty spell. It was only awakened... READ MORE

La Cité de Carcassonne is the original fortified part of the town, often first glimpsed as a fairy-tale-like castle floating on a distant hilltop when approaching by car. Legend has it that Charlemagne laid siege to the original settlement here early in the 9th century, only to be outdone by one Dame Carcas—a clever woman who boldly fed the last of the city's wheat to a pig in full view of the would-be conqueror. Thinking this indicated endless food supplies (and an endless siege), Charlemagne promptly decamped, and the exuberant townsfolk named their city after her. During the 13th century, Louis IX (Saint Louis) and his son Philip the Fair strengthened Carcassonne's fortifications—so much so that the town came to be considered inviolable by marauding armies and was duly nicknamed "the virgin of Languedoc."

A town that can never be taken in battle is often abandoned, however, and for centuries thereafter Carcassonne remained under a Sleeping Beauty spell. It was only awakened during the 19th-century craze for chivalry and the Gothic style, when, in 1835, the historic-monument inspector (and poet) Prosper Mérimée arrived. He was so appalled by the dilapidated state of the walls that he commissioned the architect, painter, and historian Viollet-le-Duc (who found his greatest fame restoring Paris's Notre-Dame) to undertake repairs. Today the 1844 renovation is considered almost as much a work of art as the medieval town itself. No matter if La Cité is more Viollet than authentic; it still remains one of the most romantic sights in France.

There’s no mistaking the fact that 21st-century tourism has taken over this UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Cité’s streets are lined with souvenir shops, crafts boutiques, restaurants, and tiny "museums" (a Cathars Museum, a Hat Museum), all out to make a buck and rarely worth that. But you should still plan on spending at least a couple of hours exploring the walls and peering over the battlements across sun-drenched plains toward the distant Pyrénées. Staying overnight within the ancient walls lets you savor the timeless atmosphere after the daytime hordes are gone.

READ LESS
Historic District/Site Fodor's Choice Family

Quick Facts

Carcassonne, Occitania  11000, France

www.remparts-carcassonne.fr

What’s Nearby

Find a Hotel

Around the Web