French town of Carcassonne, a little bit over an hour from the Spanish Catalan border, is fairly laconically recognized on the World Heritage list as an excellent example of a medieval fortified town. It truly is very impressive in this aspect and we took a day on our recent stay in Costa Brava to explore this gem.
Here is an iconic view of Cité de Carcassonne from Pont Vieux.
The history of fortifications on this site nears 2,000 years, but the current shape of the walls dates to 13-14th centuries. The walls are almost 2 miles long in total and over 50 towers hold watch over surrounding countryside.
In high season, the town is a magnet for visitors and the narrow streets in the historic center become clogged with pedestrian traffic. Taking street photos during the day is a mostly futile endeavor, as illustrated by this shot of the central town square.
A couple of above-the-heads perspectives is all I can offer of the medieval streets.
The count’s castle is not especially remarkable, but is an important example of a dedicated restoration effort. It lay in a state of neglect and disrepair for a couple of hundred years until in mid-19th century Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, an architect and a pioneer of historic conservation, led an effort to restore the citadel to its present glory. Students of history and architecture will definitely find points of interest throughout the castle.
Gaining access to the walls is the most important aspect of visiting the castle. From the ramparts, dozens of brilliant and dramatic perspectives open to the eye.
A few less dramatic but no less attractive views open up from the walls as well. Medieval houses…
…sculptured gardens that cannot be seen from the street level…
…elevated perspectives along streets…
Gothic-romanesque Basilique Saint-Nazaire was also renovated by Viollet-le-Duc during the citadel restoration. The present church dates from the 13th century.
A ground-level perspective from outside the medieval walls.
Carcassonne is not only about its magnificent fortified core. If you descend to the newer lower city, La Bastide, you’ll find walkable streets, attractive buildings, interesting statues, and lively squares.
Let’s take one more look at the medieval city from the Old Bridge.
A full day is sufficient to get well acquainted with Carcassonne, but if you want the run of the streets all to yourself – which is only possible early in the morning – an overnight stay would be a good option.