In the case of Carcassonne, the whole old town is a monument.
With a wealth of history dating back over 2000 years, it has seen the Romans, Visigoths, Saracens and Crusaders all pass through after leaving their mark on the city.
The city really started life in the 3rd Century AD, when the Romans decided to transform the existing Gaulish settlement into a fortified town.
Its strategic position, particularly in terms of its geography, soon made its destiny inevitable, and its defensive features were strengthened in the 12th Century when the Viscounts of Trencavel built a castle there.
Around the same time (between 1089 and 1209), Carcassonne grew intensely in influence, while Catharism was also developing in the town. The start of the 13th Century saw both the end of the Trencavel dynasty and the end of Catharism in the city, when it was put under siege before being taken by Simon de Montfort during the Albigensian Crusade.
Having become one of the strongholds of royal power, Carcassonne was given new fortifications (two ramparts, each running some 2 mi and punctuated by 26 towers) allowing it to control the border between France and Spain.
This was also when the 'ville haute' (upper city) was enlarged with the 'ville basse' (lower city) on the left bank of the Aude, its draughtboard design still visible today.
The Treaty of the Pyrenees reduced the strategic value of Carcassonne considerably, and the defensive structures were gradually allowed to fall into disrepair.
Today, the fact that we can enjoy a stroll at the heart of the largest fortified city still standing in Europe is all down to the passion of one man for medieval defensive architecture.
Spurred on by the people of Carcassonne and the 'Monuments Historiques' heritage department, the job of restoring the city was entrusted to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a well-informed specialist, who carried out an admirable job to restore the city to its former splendour and join UNESCO's World Heritage list.
The city regularly organises events like the 'Festival de la Cité' and the 'Marathon de la Cité' to attract higher numbers of visitors every year.© MATTES Rene
Do you know the legend of Dame Carcas? According to the myth, the city of Carcassonne is named after her. A bust of the Dame Carcas can be seen at the city gates.© MATTES Rene
This fortified medieval city overlooks the Aude valley and has a double ring of ramparts, which helped increase its power.© MATTES Rene
Thanks to the old architecture of the city, it makes an almost ideal backdrop for films set in the Middle Ages.© MATTES Rene