Exploring the Medieval Wonders of Carcassonne with a Local Tour Guide

If you're planning a trip to Southern France, one of the must-see destinations is the medieval Carcassonne. Uncovered in the province of Occitanie, this strengthened metropolis dates back to the Gallo-Roman era and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you want to appreciate the past, architecture, and atmosphere of this uncopied city, we highly recommend taking a private excursion with a local English-speaking guide in Carcassonne.

As you enter the city, you'll be struck by its unique walls and watchtowers, which were constructed in the 13th century. Your tour guide will explain that these walls were built to protect Carcassonne from invasion during the Hundred Years' War. You'll also learn that the village played an important role at the time of the Albigensian Crusade when it was a bastion of the Cathar heresy.

As you walk through the little streets and alleyways of the old city, your personal English-speaking tour guide in Carcassonne will point out the various historic memorials and tell you fascinating stories about them. For example, you'll see the Château Comtal, which was the residence of the city's lords during the Middle Ages. Your tour guide will explain that the chateau was constructed before 1125 and rebuilt by a famous French architect 8 centuries later.

Basilica of Saint-Nazaire

Another highlight of your individual guided tour in English is the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. This Romanesque church was built in the 12th century and includes some of the finest stained glass windows in France. Your local tour guide, for sure,  will tell you about the past of the church and the stories behind the stained glass windows. The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire is a Romanesque-Gothic church found in the old townlet of Carcassonne. It is one of the main religious buildings of this metropolis and is world-famous for its unique architecture and rich history.

The basilica was built in the 11th and 12th centuries on the site of an earlier church. It is dedicated to Saint Nazarius, a Christian martyr who is said to have been beheaded in the 4th century. The church has experienced several renovations and additions over the ages, with the most significant changes taking place in the 14th and 15th centuries. The exterior of the basilica features a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with a square bell tower that dates back to the 11th century and a rose window that was added in the 14th century. The interior of the church is equally impressive, with a soaring nave, intricate carvings, and beautiful stained glass windows.

One of the most notable features of the basilica is its 14th-century stained glass windows, which are considered some of the finest examples of medieval stained glass in France. The windows depict scenes from the life of Christ, as well as saints and biblical figures. They are renowned for their vivid colors and intricate details and are a must-see for visitors to the basilica. Another highlight of the basilica is its organ, which was built before the 18th century and till the moment remains in use. The organ features over 3,500 pipes and is known for its rich, full sound.

The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire is a remarkable example of medieval architecture and art and is a must-visit for anyone interested in history or religion. As you examine Carcassonne with your local private English-speaking tour guide, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the city's prosperous history and artistic legacy. You'll also have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the local culture and way of life. In addition to the city’s headstones, Carcassonne contains plenty of charming shops, cafes, and eateries to explore. Your tour guide can recommend the best places to eat and drink, as well as authentic specialties to try. You'll gain insights and knowledge that you simply can't get from a guidebook, and you'll have a more meaningful and enjoyable travel experience. So if you're planning a trip to the South of France, be sure to put Carcassonne on your itinerary and book a tour with a knowledgeable and friendly guide.

The history of Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a historic fortified metropolis in the province of Occitanie in Southern France. The city has a rich and fascinating history that spans over two millennia, dating back to the Gallo-Roman era. The earliest evidence of a human colony in Carcassonne dates far to the 6th century BC when the Celts established a hill fort on the site. In the 3rd century BC, the Romans conquered the area and built a new settlement, known as Carcaso, on the location of the existing Celtic fort. The origin and meaning of the name "Carcassonne" are uncertain, but there are several theories. One theory is that the name comes from the Celtic word "Carsac", meaning "fortress". Another theory suggests that the name comes from the Latin word "carcassum", meaning "dead body", which may have referred to the piles of Roman ruins that were present in the area. However, there is no definitive evidence to support either theory.

During the Middle Ages, Carcassonne grows into an essential citadel in the region. The city was strategically located on the edge between Spain and France and was a key point of defense against invasion. In the 12th century, the city's fortifications were greatly expanded, and the walls and lookouts that still stand today were constructed. Carcassonne played an important role in the Albigensian Crusade, which was a 20-year military campaign launched by the Catholic Church against the Cathar iconoclasm. 

The Cathars in Carcassonne

The Cathars were a Christian sect that rejected the authority of the Catholic Church and existed as heretics. The city of Carcassonne stood as a bastion of the Cathar faith, and its fall to the crusaders in 1209 was a significant turning point in the conflict. The Cathars were a religious group that emerged in the 12th century in the Languedoc region of France, including Carcassonne. They existed as followers of a Christian dualist belief system that rejected the authority of the Catholic Church and the sacraments.

Expulsion of the inhabitants from Carcassone in 1209. Image taken from Grandes Chroniques de France

At the end of the 12th century, the Catholic Church launched a crusade against the Cathars, known as the Albigensian Crusade. Carcassonne stood as the Cathars’ fortress, and in 1209 it was besieged by the Catholic forces led by Simon de Montfort. The siege lasted for several months, during which time the defenders of Carcassonne managed to hold off the attacking forces. After the siege was lifted, the Cathars persisted to flourish in Carcassonne and the surrounding territory. However, in 1244, a group of Cathars who had taken refuge in the nearby castle of Montségur was captured and burned at the stake. This event marked the beginning of the end for the Cathar movement in the Languedoc region.

In the following years, the Catholic Church launched a campaign of persecution against the Cathars, and many were executed or forced to recant their beliefs. By the end of the 14th century, the Cathar movement had largely disappeared from the region. Today, the legacy of the Cathars can still be seen in Carcassonne and other parts of the Languedoc area. The ruins of the Cathar castles, including Montségur, are popular tourist attractions, and the Cathar heritage is celebrated in festivals and cultural events throughout the region.

England fought France during the Hundred Years' War, and Carcassonne was again a crucial point of defense. The city's walls stood reinforced, and a second line of reinforcementы was built to protect against artillery fire. The village withstood several sieges during the war, and its bastions were never breached.

In the 19th century, Carcassonne underwent a significant restoration undertaking led by the famous French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The project aimed to restore the city to its former glory, and many of the buildings and monuments that had fallen into ruins were restored to their original condition. 

Ups and downs of Carcassonne

The city of Carcassonne has been demolished and reconstructed several times throughout its history. The first recorded destruction of the city occurred in the 8th century AD when it was sacked by the Moors, a group of Muslim conquerors who invaded Spain and southern France. The city was afterward revamped and fortified, but it was again destroyed in the 12th century during the Albigensian Crusade, as we mentioned earlier. After the crusade, the village was rebuilt and the reinforcements were greatly expanded, making it one of the strongest fortresses in the region. However, during the Hundred Years' War between England and France, Carcassonne was again attacked and its walls and towers were damaged. The city was subsequently reconstructed and reinforced, but it suffered further damage during the Wars of Religion in the 16th century.

For sure a local English-speaking tour guide you will find in Carcassone will show you another city attraction which is the Cimetière de la Cité de Carcassonne or Carcassonne Cemetery, which is a historic cemetery located within the walls of the Cité de Carcassonne. It is the final resting place of many prominent figures of Carcassonne's past and is a popular destination for visitors interested in history and genealogy. The cemetery was established in the early 19th century when the city's existing cemeteries were deemed overcrowded and unsanitary. It was designed in the style of a romantic garden, with winding paths, mature trees, and ornate tombs and memorials.

Numerous prominent citizens of Carcassonne are buried in the cemetery, including artists, writers, and politicians. One of the most famous graves is that of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the architect who oversaw the repair of the Cité de Carcassonne in the 19th century. His tomb is located near the entrance to the cemetery and features an ornate Gothic-style cross. Other notable graves include those of Jules Pams, a politician who served as Minister of the Interior under Georges Clemenceau, and Paul Lacombe, a composer, and conductor who was a close friend of Claude Debussy. The cemetery also contains a number of family tombs and crypts, many of which are adorned with elaborate sculptures and carvings. Visitors to the Cimetière de la Cité de Carcassonne can take a self-guided excursion of the cemetery, or join a guided tour in English that explores the history and significance of the site. The cemetery is open to the public year-round and is a peaceful and contemplative place to visit amidst the bustling streets of the Cité.

Today, Carcassonne is a beautifully kept medieval metropolis that attracts millions of visitors annually. Its fortifications, walls, towers, and other historic buildings have been carefully maintained and restored, making it a favored goal for those curious about history and architecture. The amount of time that tourists need to see the main magnets in Carcassonne will depend on their interests and how much they want to see and experience. However, a typical visit to the city's main attractions can take anywhere from half a day to a full day.

If visitors are interested in exploring the walled city, they can start at the Porte Narbonnaise, the main access to the citadel, and walk along the ramparts, which offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. They can also visit the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, a beautiful Gothic cathedral that dates back to the 11th century, and the Chateau Comtal, a medieval castle that now serves as a museum. Other popular attractions include the Museum of the Inquisition, which is discovered in the former Palace of the Inquisition and offers an insight into the city's history during the Albigensian Crusade, and the Aude Gate, which is the oldest gate in the city and offers a glimpse into Carcassonne's medieval past.

The Inquisition in Carcassonne

The Inquisition was a powerful institution in medieval Europe, charged with rooting out heresy and enforcing religious orthodoxy. Carcassonne, as a center of Catharism, was a particular target of the Inquisition, and many tragic and disturbing stories are associated with its activities in the city. One of the most famous stories is that of Pierre Roger de Mirepoix, a nobleman who was accused of heresy by the Inquisition in the early 14th century. Despite his protestations of innocence, Pierre was imprisoned, tortured, and eventually burned at the stake in the main square of Carcassonne. His tragic death was one of many such executions carried out by the Inquisition in the city.

Another notable figure associated with the Inquisition in Carcassonne is Bernard Gui, a Dominican friar who served as the chief inquisitor for the region in the early 14th century. Gui was notorious for his harsh tactics and his relentless pursuit of heretics. He is said to have personally overseen the torture and execution of hundreds of people, and his activities contributed to the devastation of the Cathar community in Carcassonne and all around the province.

Despite the horrific nature of these stories, they are an important reminder of the dark history of the Inquisition in medieval Europe, and of the dangers of religious bigotry and fanaticism. Today, Carcassonne stands as a testament to the resilience of its people and their determination to preserve their cultural heritage, even in the face of persecution and oppression. 

Visitors who want to explore the wider region can also visit nearby attractions such as the Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers scenic boat rides, or the Cathar castles, which are a series of historic castles that were built by the Cathars, a religious group that was persecuted during the Albigensian Crusade. Overall, tourists can spend anywhere from a few hours to a full day examining the main interests of Carcassonne, depending on their interests and how much time they have available. 

The local tour guides’ services cost in Carcassonne

The cost of hiring a private English-speaking tour guide in France and in Carcassone as a typical example can vary depending on a variety of factors such as the length of the tour, the type of tour, the tour guide's level of experience, and expertise, and the size of the group. In Carcassonne, the cost of a private local tour guide can range from around €100 to €200 for a half-day tour, and from around €200 to €400 for a full-day tour. These prices are for a private tour guide who speaks English and works for a group of up to 8 people and may vary depending on the specific tour guide and the itinerary.

In other parts of France, the cost of a personal English-speaking tour guide can also vary depending on the location and the guide's level of expertise. In popular tourist destinations such as Paris, for example, the cost of a private tour guide can be higher than in smaller towns or cities.

It's always a good idea to do some research and compare prices and services when looking to hire a private tour guide in France on the online platform Private Guide World on or in mobile applications. Many guides will have their prices listed on their profiles or can provide quotes upon request which tourists can send through in-built instant messenger on the platform. 

Le Stryge is technically a grotesque and not a gargoyle, as it does not act as a waterspout. The architectors placed the sculptures of chimeras on cathedrals and churches, as it was believed their grotesque features would scare away evil spirits and even the devil. It gazes from above, looking utterly bored by the thrums of life. Le Stryge has often been called a “vampire”, but it doesn’t actually bear any resemblance to one. It was intended to portray a generic demon - chimères!

Arrival to Carcassonne

There are several ways to arrive in Carcassonne, depending on your initial location and your preferred mode of carrier.

By plane:

Carcassonne has its own airport, Carcassonne Airport (CCF), which is found about 5 km away from the city center. Several airlines operate flights to Carcassonne from various European destinations. From the airport, you can take a taxi or a shuttle bus that operates between the city center and the airport regularly. 

By train:

Carcassonne is well-connected to the French rail network, and there are regular train services from major cities such as Paris, Toulouse, and Bordeaux. The city has two train stations: Carcassonne Station, which is found in the center, and Carcassonne-Salvaza Station, which is located closer to the airport.

By car:

Carcassonne is easily accessible by car, and there are several major highways that connect the city to other parts of France and Europe. The A61 motorway links Carcassonne with Narbonne and Toulouse, while the A9 motorway connects with Perpignan and Montpellier. There are several car rental companies at the airport and in the city center.

By bus:

Several bus companies operate services to Carcassonne from various French cities. Eurolines and Flixbus are two of the main providers, offering connections from major cities such as Paris, Toulouse, and Barcelona. The bus station is found in the city center, near the train station.

Once you arrive in Carcassonne, the walled city is easily accessible on foot, and numerous of the main attractions are located within walking distance of each other. Taxis and buses are also available for those who prefer not to walk. 

Some recommendations for tourists in Carcassonne

In addition to exploring the city's historic attractions, there are several other recommendations for tourists who plan to see Carcassonne:

  • Sample the local cuisine: Carcassonne is known for its delicious cuisine, which features traditional dishes such as cassoulet (a hearty meat and bean stew), confit de canard (duck confit), and crepes. There are some excellent restaurants in the city that serve these and other local specialties.
  • Take a wine tour: The Languedoc region, where Carcassonne is discovered, is known for its excellent wines. Visitors can take a wine tour of the nearby vineyards and sample some of the region's best wines.

  • Attend a festival or event: Carcassonne hosts a few festivals and events throughout the year, such as the Festival de la Cité (a music and arts festival), the Fête de la Musique (a celebration of music), and the Feria de Carcassonne (a bullfighting festival).
  • Explore the surrounding countryside: The countryside surrounding Carcassonne is gorgeous and suggests several opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and kayaking. The Canal du Midi, which runs through the region, is a popular spot for boat rides and picnics.
  • Visit nearby attractions: There are several other interests near Carcassonne that are worth visiting, such as the Cathar castles, the medieval village of Mirepoix, and Toulouse.
  • Shop for souvenirs: Carcassonne has several shops and boutiques that sell local handicrafts, wines, and other souvenirs. The main shopping street is Rue de Verdun, which is settled in the center.

Overall, Carcassonne is a beautiful and historic city with plenty to offer visitors. Whether you're interested in history, food, or outdoor activities, there's something for everyone in this charming French city. 

There are people who still live within the city walls of Carcassonne. The fortified city is not only a popular traveler destination, but it is also a living, functioning community. There are around 50 people who live year-round in the Cité, and many more who live in the surrounding area.

Most of the people who live in the Cité are involved in the tourism industry, working in hotels, restaurants, and shops that cater to visitors. Others are artisans or artists who have studios or shops within the walls of the city. There are also a few private residences within the Cité, including some historic homes that have been passed down through generations of families.

Living within the city walls of Carcassonne is a unique and special experience, as residents are surrounded by centuries of history and culture. However, it can also be challenging, as the narrow streets and limited space make it difficult to navigate, and there are restrictions on building and renovation to preserve the historic character of the city.

A tour of Carcassonne arranged and led by a local English-speaking tour guide is a wonderful way to experience this beautiful and historic city. Today, Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most famous traveler destinations in France. Visitors can explore the city's historic walls, towers, and gates, as well as its unique cathedral and additional monuments. The city also has a lively arts scene, with numerous museums, galleries, and festivals celebrating its rich history and heritage.

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