Boys at the Keep's front gate.

The Cite of Carcassonne is exactly what a medieval castle should look like; it has walked right out of a blockbuster movie. But it’s not quite right.

Carcassonne’s walls have been being built since Roman times. By the 13th Century they were an impressive double-walled defensive structure surmounted by towers. Then they were made even more impressive by the addition of inward-facing defensive structures to deal with potential threat for rebellious locals.

It wasn’t too long though until Carcassonne became no longer strategically significant and a long, slow decline began. By the 18th Century the walls were in bad disrepair with significant portions having been pillaged for other building works. Then Carcassonne got lucky. The State decided to repair it and assigned a gifted architect to the project. Over the next 60 years Carcassonne was brought back to its former glory; walls were rebuilt, buildings repaired, roofs replaced. The end result is the most perfect example of medieval Castle architecture in Europe. There’s really no better place to get a sense of how castles were built and used and how they changed over time.

A walk around the battlements is lovely and the Keep provides a fascinating insight into how different times incorporated and improved upon their predecessors’ efforts. So you see Roman turrets combined with buildings from 500 and 1000 years later.

Tower.

If I have any criticism of the place its that its a bit like seeing the movie of a book you have read. The movie may be great but it’s how someone else, not you, imagined the book. Carcassonne doesn’t leave a great deal to the imagination. In that sense it compared poorly to somewhere like Kerak castle in Jordan (our post, our pictures) which we visited a few months ago. Kerak is a wild place where your imagination can run wild, where ghosts seem to peer round every shadowed corner; Carcassonne is mild and mannered and polished.

For all that Carcassonne is some else’s vision of a castle, it is a lovely vision. But one of the things that makes it lovely is a mistake. When Eugene Violet-le-Duc  was brought in to renovate Carcassonne he was fresh from work in the North of France. The towers of Carcassonne are now topped by steeply pointed, grey-slate witches hats – the sort of points necessary in the snow-prone North of the country – instead of the flatter, red-tiled roofs typical in this area. The towers look like the perfect movie idea of a medieval castle and are part of what give Carcassonne its wonderful look. But they’re not right. You see… someone else’s vision.