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Entrance gate of the fortified Cathar city of Carcassonne

The old fortified town of Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon

Carcassonne's now a major industrial centre of the south-west; the old fortified city is situated on the eastern edge of the modern city. La Cité is a microcosm of European history that predates even the Romans.

It's almost complete, people live and work inside the massive walls, it's a magnificent sight, not to be missed. Yet somehow, the 19th century restoration is too perfect, what's lost is the sense – the ancestral memory – of Carcassonne's momentous history: defeating Charlemagne's beseiging armies; the cruelty of the savage and bloody Albigensian crusade, the wars to defend the Languedoc's independence of the French kings, and much more. It's been restored out of existence.


Inside the old city

The fortified Basilica of St Nazaire, inside La Cité. The views from the battlements are spectacular.


View of Carcassonne from the west

The view of La Cité from the west. If you can manage it, Bastille Day (14 July) is a great day to be here, not in the city itself, about a mile away in the countryside is ideal. Carcassonne is ‘torched’ – special flares are set to depict the burning of Carcassonne by Simon de Montfort in the 13th century.

For all its attractions this isn't one of the places I want to visit again and again; spiritually it's empty, worth seeing once. Carcassonne's often been used as a film set, ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ was filmed here.

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