CARCASSONNE Now we're heading to one of the most magical places that we've ever been. It's the town of Carcassonne, the largest fortified, medieval village in France. We'll take you inside the village and on walks through the streets. You'll find it very rewarding to stroll about on the cobblestone lanes within the walled village, where no cars are allowed. It's not a large town by any means, just one-quarter mile long, so it's easy to walk around within the walled area and get a nice feeling for it. Two main lanes and several side lanes make up the entire plan, and yet there is enough there you could easily spend a day or two just wandering, looking at the shops and going to the museum. The walled town of Carcassonne is a medieval castle that has been inhabited since the Middle Ages. The Count’s Castle is the “keep” or strong house in the center of the village, and is open as a fascinating museum of history. Carcassonne was occupied by a ruling lord until the 15th century, and is preserved today much as it was then. There are still 100 people living here today, mostly the descendants of many generations of families who have been living here for centuries. Actually the whole village functions as a large castle, with the double layer of walls running all the way around it. The village was built on top of a hill, with some cliffs around it to offer natural supplements to the defensive walls. There were some battles fought here but the attackers never did get inside. WALL WALK One major activity is taking a walk on the wall. From the top of the wall and outside the wall, the walk gives you a real good perspective. The spectacular. wall is the defining monument of the city, created by the medieval defenders of the town. You get the feeling that somehow you are back in the Middle Ages when these walls were built, in the 12th and 13th centuries. Take in the interesting views looking down on the parapets, and through the slits for the bow and arrows. On one side there's a lovely view looking out on the newer side of town, and on the other you see extensive vineyards around this hilltop village, producing some of the excellent wines of the Languedoc. We will probably see beautiful fall colors here even though it will be in late November. The main town of Carcassonne is on flat land just below the hill with the castle, and this too is a fascinating place to explore. A pedestrian mall runs for a mile through the center lined with shops and cafes, with branching side streets containing many more stores and sights. It's said to be the new city compared to the medieval castle, but it was built a long time ago in the 13th century for King Louis. It only takes about 15 minutes to stroll from the village down below up to the castle on the hill, so it is quite easy to get back and forth. Early evening is also an excellent time to visit the fortified village, enjoying the special combination light from the twilight sky and street lights shining on the cobbled walkways. The town is lit up by spotlights, making a fine view as you approach from below. Several excellent restaurants in the old village offer tempting local cuisine to finish off your night. BRIEF HISTORY The hill has been occupied by people for about 2,500 years. The Romans occupied this land in 122 B.C. when they conquered the south of France, and the Romans set up a fortified town on this hilltop and built the first walls. So the Romans occupied the area right up until the collapse of their civilization, in the late 400s. With the departure of Rome, the Visigoths took over, the Goths, and they occupied Carcassonne from 460 until 725 A.D. At that point the Muslim armies attacked. They were coming up from Africa and had already occupied Spain and were moving into southern Europe. These Saracens, as they were called, occupied Carcassonne for just a brief while, about 30 years, and they were pushed back by the Francs, who were the ancestors of today's French. Various French factions have controlled Carcassonne ever since.