Cobbled Streets and Castle Keeps: Discovering Carcassonne Charms

Towers and walls of the medieval citadel of Carcassonne, France
Towers and walls of the medieval citadel of Carcassonne, France

I arrived at the Carcassonne main gate

at the, for me, early time of 9 am, but was forced to find an americano while i waited for the Carcassonne Château Comtal & ramparts to open at. Walked right in along with a small American high school group and a few others. Taking the self-guided audio tour provided architectural and historical background as we worked our way up & down the huge halls, ending with a walk on the ramparts. One of the most interesting parts were the hordings – reconstructed wooden structures built at the top of the walls, with roof for defensive cover and slits and holes in the flooring to allow archers to work.

Walking along the ramparts undulating along the hilltop revealed fine views of the small town below and the interior of the fortified city.

My hotel had a rooftop terrace that gave a beautiful view of the walls of the city lit up a night. (Coincidentally, the previous nights in Paris I’d stayed at the Hotel du Pont Neuf, and now, was staying at the Hotel du Pont Vieux)


Night lights on the ramparts, city walls and castle towers of medieval Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne, a fortified city in the south of France, holds within its ancient walls a rich tapestry of history, culture, and architectural splendor. Visiting this remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site is akin to stepping back in time, where the past whispers through every stone and cobblestone alleyway.

Carcassonne Image Gallery

Nestled atop a hill overlooking the Aude River, Carcassonne’s history dates back over two millennia. Its strategic location made it a coveted prize for various powers throughout the ages, from the Romans to the Visigoths, and eventually to the Kingdom of France. However, it was during the medieval period that Carcassonne truly flourished, reaching its zenith as a bastion of defense and culture. One reason Carcassonne and surrounding Cathar castles were so important was because at that time they defended the border with Spain. In later centuries as France consolidated & extended its borders, the defensive castles were less important.

The city’s most iconic feature is its double ring of walls, punctuated by 52 towers, which encircle the medieval citadel. These formidable fortifications, constructed primarily between the 12th and 14th centuries, represent a marvel of medieval engineering and remain remarkably intact to this day.

Towers and walls of the medieval citadel of Carcassonne, France
Exterior view of the fortress and citadel walls and towers of medieval Carcassonne, France

Inside the gates, you enter a labyrinthine maze of narrow streets and alleys. The heart of Carcassonne is its central square, the Place Marcou, where the imposing silhouette of the Château Comtal looms overhead. This medieval castle, once the seat of the city’s rulers, now houses a museum chronicling Carcassonne’s storied past, from its origins as a Roman settlement to its role in the Albigensian Crusade. One of the major instigators of this notorious crusade was Simon de Monfort, which also spawned the Inquisition to persecute those the Church considered heretics or apostates.

The facades of half-timbered houses lean precariously over cobblestone streets, their shuttered windows offering tantalizing glimpses into centuries-old interiors.

For those with a penchant for the macabre, the Château de Carcassonne purports to offers a glimpse into the darker side of the city’s history. Supposedly, within its dank dungeons, prisoners were once held captive. But modern historians believe most of the ‘torture museums’ in Europe are hoaxes created in the 18th-19th century, including such items as the ‘iron maiden’. Torture was used by the Inquisition ( the oddly named procedure known as ‘putting to the question’), but most of the gruesome tools and machines were never used. Not that the Inquisitors were squeamish, but because their ‘rules’ prohibited the shedding of blood. It does appear that waterboarding was one method that was used..

Towers and walls of the medieval citadel of Carcassonne, France

Beyond its historical significance, Carcassonne also offers visitors a wealth of cultural experiences to enjoy. From lively street markets selling local produce and handicrafts to traditional festivals celebrating the region’s rich heritage, there is no shortage of things to see and do in this vibrant city. Food lovers will delight in the myriad culinary delights on offer, from hearty cassoulet stews to delicate pastries and cheeses. It even contains 2 Michelin starred restaurants.

For those seeking outdoor adventure, the surrounding countryside provides ample opportunities for hiking, cycling, and wine tasting. The vineyards of the Languedoc region are renowned for their robust reds and crisp whites, and many offer tours and tastings for visitors eager to sample the local terroir.

By Cascoly

I've been exploring and leading trips for over 40 years. climbing & trekkng in the Alps, Andes, North American mountain ranges and the Himalaya. I'm retired from mountaineering now but world travels in Europe, Africa & Asia continue to expand my portfolio. Besides private travel, I now focus on escorting trips to India & Turkey. Other interests include wide reading in history and vegetable gardening / cooking. You can download digital images here, or find images at We have many thousands of images we haven't displayed yet; so, if you have a special need or request please contact us