The Château Comtal is the most significant monument of Carcassonne’s fortified Cité. With a history of more than 2,500 years, the Count’s Castle is part of the largest medieval bastide in Europe, with its city walls still intact. As the centre of the citadel’s defensive system, the fortification has been the stage of many historical events and has stood the test of time. In the 19th century, Eugène Violett-le-Duc led a major renovation, and since 1997 it’s one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.
Although you can visit the citadel of Carcassonne for free, it is worth paying the entrance fee to enter the Count’s Castle. A ticket for a self-guided tour costs 9,50 euros per adult and is free for those under 18 years old. With this ticket, you can visit the castle, the western medieval ramparts, as well as the Northern Gallo-Roman ones. An audio tour is available upon request, or you can book a guided tour. Along the way, you will find several information panels, including English explanations.
As I had just re-read ‘Labyrinth’ by award-winning novelist Kate Mosse, I was extra motivated to go to the Château Comtal. If you haven’t read the book, it’s set in the South of France and tells the story of two women. One woman lives in the 13th century in the time of the Cathars and the other in present-day France. The Count’s Castle plays an important role in the book, and reading the story made my visit even more vivid. Although the citadel has Gallo-Roman origins, the Château Comtal was built in the 12th century by the Trencavel family, Viscounts of Carcassonne. They were followers of the Cathar religion until the crusades led by the Catholic Church. In August 1209, Raimond-Roger Trencavel had to surrender Carcassonne, after which he was taken captive and died in November of the same year.
Walking through the castle brought me to the surrounding wall, including a magnificent view of the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees. From there on, the visit led me to wooden galleries and the keep, which houses the lapidary museum. Here you will find a collection of medieval sculptures and parts of buildings from Carcassonne and around. You’ll even meet the statue of Dame Carcas, whose replica currently stands at the entrance of the Porte Narbonnaise. You can read about her legend in this former blog post.
Returning to the castle’s shop, I followed the sign that directed me to the western ramparts. It will take you 500 meters of walking over the city walls to the Basilique Saint-Nazaire, including numerous steps and towers. And, of course, you will get beautiful panoramas yet again. This part clearly shows the decision made by the 19th century architect of the renovations Viollet-le-Duc. He wanted to restore the outline of the royal fortifications from the 13th century. He did so by bringing back the crenellated walls and slate roofs, representing 80% of the whole complex. This was an important reason for UNESCO to list the citadel as a World Heritage site.