Cité de Carcassonne - Impressive Medieval Fortress
Posted by Robert van Den Haag on March 2, 2016
Event date: June 6, 2015
Cité de Carcassonne - Medieval Fortress
There are few sites in France as impressive as when you approach from afar the Cité de Carcassonne.
Located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France, it is strategically positioned on a hilltop beside the Aude River in a wide sweeping valley between the Pyrénées Mountains, the Massif Central and an open route to the Mediterranean Sea.
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While the 'city of Carcassonne' proper has taken shape over more recent times, it is most renowned for the old Cité de Carcassonne which is a medieval fortress.
While the fortress was restored in 1853 by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, its history from a military perspective dates back to Roman times.
Here is a short video introduction from www.ricksteves.com...
On our first trip to the Cité we arrived from the north side after a drive through the Gorges of the Tarn River. From that direction we were able to have a clearer view from a distance as we approached the Cité - Truly Impressive...
Coming from the North seems to be a better approach than coming from the south and having to navigate through the middle of the City of Carcassonne looking for parking.
At the Northeast corner of the Cité's Fortress walls you will find a parking facility called 'Parking Gustave Nadaud'. This is a short walk from the main entrance - Porte Narbonnaise.
Entering Medieval Times
As you walk up to the exterior walls of the Cité's Fortress, you quickly realize and appreciate just how large this walled medieval town really is.
As we entered through the main gate it was like we were thrust back in time. The first time we visited in July there was a medieval festival going on, so seeing folks dressed in medieval garb really added to the atmosphere...
Again, on that first trip (2012) I managed to climb up some stairs (very carefully) that allowed me to take some photos from some higher vantage points on the ramparts. This provided for a much better perspective of the size of the fortress walls.
I got the impression on our last trip (2015) that the ramparts were not so easily accessible, if at all (avoiding possible injuries).
While the others were checking out some of the shoppes, I took the opportunity to walk down the lane which separates the inner and outer walls of the fortress.
A Step Back in Time
As you pass through the entrance of Porte Narbonnaise and start your stroll down the main street (Rue Cros Mayrevieille), you really get that feel of times passed - coble stone roads, old buildings and shoppes offering traditional wares. OK, so there are a few souvenir shops as well...
A word of warning, however. If you or someone you are travelling with has a sweet tooth, then you are in for a real treat(s) and a few extra calories...
There are several shoppes specializing in traditional candies, biscuits and the French favourite - Nougat.
Our ladies certainly enjoyed themselves - sometimes I think that it is a genetic trait when it comes to their excitement in seeing new shoppes to check out...
The good thing about that, is that I get to find extra time to explore for photo opportunities.
This shoppe attendant indulges me with a few photos of their amazing selection of Nougats, Licorice and other confectionary.
Basilica Sainte-Nazaire and St. Celse
At the very south end of the Cité you should really visit and check out the impressive Basilica of Saint-Nazaire and St. Celse.
The Basilica has several beautiful stained glass windows. We also had the good fortune of visiting when a cappella group was singing. The acoustics always sound amazing (almost heavenly) in the halls of an old church.
One of the unique things about the Cité de Carcassonne, is that even though it is a typical tourist trap - as you stroll along the many avenues there is just so much typical old town French charm.
There is just something about the Cité that I have only ever experienced in one other place - Le Mont-Saint-Michel. It just feels like a 'complete' medieval town.
It has all of the customary monuments, shoppes, the church of course and even a castle.
But for me, part of the charm was observing people as they explored the town - perhaps on their own medieval pilgrimages.
One thing you do not have to worry about is finding a place to eat. In the main square there are a number of restaurants and cafés offering outdoor patios, but you can find them throughout the Cité.