During the Middle Ages when Europe consisted mainly of fiefdoms that were ruled by local kings and lands were liable to be stolen by opposing forces the main bastion of defence was a castle which could offer protection by being solid enough to repel any attack.
Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. Both the town and its imposing castle are built rocky spur which overlooks the valley of the Aude. This area has been a major trading route, linking various parts of modern day Spain and France with Atlantic ports. With trade comes riches, hence the need to build a suitable facility with which to defend the town.
There is only one entrance to the Citadel of the castle, and that is broached by traversing a narrow, and easily defendable, narrow bridge. The castle itself features all the hallmarks of a traditional castle: thick, stone walls; tall, defensive towers on all sides; difficult terrain along the base of the castle; a series of battlements from which archers can safely fire upon an approaching enemy.
The walls extend for three kilometres, and 52 defensive towers surround the castle, the history of which extends back two and a half thousand years.
Today, the castle attracts many visitors, and medieval entertainment is performed in order to give visitors some idea of what life would have been like in the castle about one thousand years ago. For instance, regular jousting displays are held in season, events that are both exciting and mesmerising.
A less inspiring display is the Torture Museum, which shows the length that people went to in order to either punish or extract information. The castle was where the Catholic Inquisition was held, yet there is not much sign of godliness here. There is an array of fascinating implements, but it is an attraction that is definitely not for the squeamish.
As it was a Catholic stronghold it is not surprising that one of the best buildings is the St-Nazaire basilica. This building was ordered by Pope Urban V who visited here in 1096 and ordered the construction of the basilica. A mixture of architectural styles, its best features are its enormous rose windows and the weird gargoyles.
Carcassonne is one of the world’s best preserved medieval castles, and has been used as the backdrop for several films because of its authenticity.