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History of the Château Comtal in the Medieval City of Carcassonne

The earliest known settlement of the site where Carcassonne now stands dates from the 6th century BC, when a hill-fort was built on this rocky spur overlooking the valley of the Aude and the ancient routes linking the Atlantic with the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula with the rest of Europe. In the 1st century BC, this settlement was absorbed into the Roman culture. During the turbulent years of the late 3rd and the early 4th century it was protected by the construction of a defensive wall some 1,200 metres in length, the impressive remains of which still survive around two thirds of the interior fortifications of the later town.

It came under Visigothic rule in the 5th century, and resisted repeated attempts by the Franks to capture it. The present Romanesque cathedral started to be built in June 1096. A Lady Chapel was added in the early 15th century, adjoining the infirmary and chapel built by Bishop Radulph in the 1260s. The Château Comtal was built in the 12th century by Bernard Aton Trencavel over the western part of the Roman walls. It was surrounded by a rectangular fortified enclosure in 1226. At the same time the external defensive walls were built, so as to make the town, recently annexed to the Royal domains and made the seat of a senechal, completely impregnable. In the 12th century, the Trencavel dynasty was one of the most powerful families in the South of France. In 1208, when Pope Innocent III called for a crusade against the Cathar heresy, Carcassonne was besieged, and surrendered in August 1209. In 1226, the Viscounty of Carcassonne became part of the royal domain.

Two final construction campaigns took place in the 13th and early 14th centuries, following unsuccessful sieges in 1240 and 1280. By the end of the 13th century the town had assumed its definitive appearance as a medieval fortress.

Such was the impregnability of Carcassonne that it was never attacked during the Hundred Years' War, even during the Black Prince's raid in 1355. It became an arsenal and supply depot during the Ancien Regime and then during the Revolution.

In 1659, after the Treaty of the Pyrenees, the province of Roussillon became a part of France, and the town lost its military significance. Fortifications were abandoned and the town became one of the economic centres of France, concentrating on the woollen textile industry. In 1853, the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Ducwas charged with renovating the fortress, as well as the castle. After his death in 1879, the restoration work was continued by his pupil, Paul Boeswillwald, and later by the architect Nodet. In 1997, Carcassonne was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.