CARCASSONNE, a city of south-western France, capital of the department of Aude, 57 m. S.E. of Toulouse, on the Southern railway between that city and Narbonne. Pop. (1906) 25,346. Carcassonne is divided by the river Aude into two distinct towns, the Ville Basse and the Cité, which are connected by two bridges, one modern, the other dating from the 13th century. The Cité occupies the summit of an abrupt and isolated hill on the right bank of the river. Its dirty and irregular streets are inhabited by a scanty population of workpeople, and its interest lies mainly in its ancient fortifications (see Fortification and Siegecraft) which, for completeness and strength, are unique in France and probably in Europe. They consist of a double line of ramparts, of which the outer measures more than 1600 yds. in circumference. These are protected at frequent intervals by towers, and can be entered only by two gates, one to the east, the other to the west, both of which are themselves elaborately fortified (see Gate). In the interior, and to the north of the western gate, a citadel adjoins the fortifications. A portion of the inner line is attributed to the Visigoths of the 6th century; the rest, including the castle, seems to belong to the 11th or 12th century, while the outer circuit has been referred mainly to the end of the 13th. The old cathedral of St Nazaire dates from the 11th to the 14th centuries. The nave was begun in 1096 and is Romanesque in style; the transept and choir, which contain magnificent stained glass of the Renaissance period, are of Gothic architecture. Both the fortifications and the church were restored by Viollet-le-Duc between 1850 and 1880. On the left bank of the Aude, between it and the Canal du Midi, lies the new town, clean, well-built and flourishing, with streets intersecting each other at right angles. It is surrounded by boulevards occupying the site of its ramparts, and is well provided with fountains, public squares and gardens planted with fine plane-trees. The most interesting buildings are the cathedral of St Michel, dating from the 13th century but restored in modern times, and St Vincent, a church of the 14th century, remarkable for the width of its nave.
Carcassonne is the seat of a bishop, a prefect and a court of assizes, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. It also has a lycée for boys, training-colleges, theological seminaries, a library and a museum rich in paintings. The old cloth industry is almost extinct. The town is, however, an important wine-market, and the vineyards of the vicinity are the chief source of its prosperity, which is enhanced by its port on the Canal du Midi. Tanning and leather-dressing, distilling, the manufacture of agricultural implements, furniture and corks, cooperage and the preparation of preserved fruits, are prominent industries.
Carcassonne occupies the site of Carcaso, an ancient city of Gallia Narbonensis, which belonged to the Volcae Tectosages. It was a place of some importance at the time of Caesar's invasion, but makes almost no appearance in Roman history. On the disintegration of the empire, it fell into the hands of the Visigoths, who, in spite of the attacks of the Franks, especially in 585, retained possession till 724, when they were expelled by the Arabs, destined in turn to yield before long to Pippin the Short. From about 819 to 1082 Carcassonne formed a separate countship, and from the latter date till 1247 a viscountship. Towards the end of the 11th century the viscounts of Carcassonne assumed the style of viscounts of Béziers, which town and its lords they had dominated since the fall of the Carolingian empire. The viscounty of Carcassonne, together with that of Béziers, was confiscated to the crown in 1247, as a result of the part played by the viscount Raymond Roger against Simon de Montfort in the Albigensian crusade, during which in 1209 the city was taken by the Crusaders (see Albigenses). A revolt of the city against the royal authority was severely punished in 1262 by the expulsion of its principal inhabitants, who were, however, permitted to take up their quarters on the other side of the river. This was the origin of the new town, which was fortified in 1347. During the religious wars, Carcassonne several times changed hands, and it did not recognize Henry IV. till 1596.
See E.E. Viollet-le-Duc, La Cité de Carcassonne (Paris, 1858); L. Fédié, Histoire de Carcassonne (Carcassonne, 1887).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)