Friday, November 28, 2014

Highlights of the Midi: Carcassonne

Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne

A cruise on Canal du Midi wouldn't be complete without a visit to Carcassonne. You will step back in time as you explore the restored medieval fortified town.

Historic Cité de Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The city rests on a hill overlooking the Aude Valley, and has served as a fortified settlement since prehistoric times.  Carcassonne occupies a strategic location, along the ancient routes linking the Atlantic and Mediterranean. It was been held by or ruled over by many different groups throughout history.   The earliest occupation of the site dates to the 6th century BC. Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC and occupied the area until the fall of the Roman Empire in western Europe. The fortification was taken over in the fifth century by the Visigoths, who founded the city. Carcassonne gained notoriety in the 13th century as a stronghold of Occitan Cathars, before they were defeated by Simon de Montfort.

In the mid-1800s Carcassonne underwent extensive restoration, a controversial project undertaken by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Viollet-le-Duc began the restoration work by ordering structures destroyed, that over the centuries, had encroached on the ruins of the ancient fortifications.  Many of these structures were themselves quite old, and often were constructed using rubble from the battlements.  The restoration is criticized by some for being less than completely authentic, but there is no doubt that Viollet-Le-Duc's work was genius.

Today Carcassonne provides a wonderful experience for visitors who walk the narrow, car-free streets and tour the restored battlements at the heart of the old city.  Carcassonne is home to several one- and two-Michelin-starred restaurants, an abundance of cafés, as well as enough boutiques and shops to fill the afternoon with exciting retail opportunities.  For a unique before- or after-cruise stay, try one of the hotels located within the walls of the old city.

Learn more about a visit to Carcassonne during your cruise on Barge Tango.