There have been human settlements at Carcassonne going back thousands of years. The Romans built a fort on the hill there in the second century BC and the Visigoth Kings built a fortified town in the 5th century AD. By the middle of the XI th century, the City was ruled by the Count of Albi, Raimond Tencavel. He started building the Basilica of St Nazaire whose foundation stone was blessed by The Pope (who saw the City as a bastion against the Cathar religion) in 1096. Ironically, Carcassonne became one of the main centres of Catharism (see The Cathars and the Albingesian Crusade) and the city was besieged and taken by the crusaders led by Simon de Montfort in 1209. The Languedoc became part of France in the mid-XIIIth Century, with Carcassonne as an important military town on the border between France and Spain. In 1355, during the Hundred years War between England and France, the City was unsuccessfully besieged by the Black Prince. After the province of Roussillon was annexed by France in 1659, it’s strategic importance was much reduced and the fortifications were not maintained. Indeed the stone of the walls and towers was used by the local masons to build in the lower town.
The City had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the French Government published proposals to demolish it in the early 1840’s. This resulted in a campaign led by the Mayor to preserve it as an historical site and the walled Cité was restored in an ambitious project from 1844-1910 using stone from the local quarries and slate from the Montagne Noire.
Carcassonne is a world heritage site and a “must visit” during a stay in the he area. The walls and towers are especially impressive when they are lit up at night. The Chateau Comtal, the inner castle can be visited for an extra charge, and it is also worth a visit to the basilica. There are many restaurants within the Cité with good value to be had in some of the smaller ones down the side-streets.
There is an annual wine festival in June to celebrate les vins de l'Aude. Starting with a pavement breakfast at 9am, tastings continue throughout the day. To help the wine go down, local bands perform alongside jugglers and fire breathers, and there are plenty of opportunities to get your hands on a few bottles. The City stages a foie gras fair in November.
A list of what to do in and around Carcassonne can be found on the tourist website.