If you want to think about medieval defense, this is a great area of the world for it. And here we come at last to the biggest and best example of them all, the citadel at Carcassonne.
What’s fascinating about this World Heritage site, what strikes you like a blow over the heart, is that it looks so new. Look at that arch above my head, the chains for the drawbridge. So sharp and clean and fresh from the forge or chisel, as if Raimond-Bernard Trencavel, viscount of Albi, just stepped out for an anachronistic cup of espresso. The beauty of it is overwhelming. The place is mobbed, year-round, because everybody has to see this.
It wasn’t always this way. In Victorian times this site was considerably more ruinous than the towers at Lastours, to the point where the city fathers proposed demolishing it. That set off an outcry, and French architect Eugène Violett-le-Duc undertook to restore the castle. Since the site has been occupied since the Neolithic, he had to select a version. And he prudently decided to go for max grandeur and cool:
And he succeeded, I think you’ll agree. This is the inner moat — there are three, two of them now grassy to save on maintenance. Those wooden structures on top of the walls and tower are hoardings, to shelter the defenders as they fire arrows or drop burning oil onto the besiegers. The preservationists didn’t preserve, so much as make everything absolutely perfect. This is not a ruin. It’s more like a time machine back to the 12th century. Absolutely fascinating, essential for anyone writing about the 12th or 13th century.