Carcassonne is located about 450 kilometers south-west of Lyon, equidistant from the Mediterranean Sea and the Spanish border. The city was founded about 100 years before the birth of Christ, but the castle wasn't build until about 500 years after that. Over the years, more structures were built and existing structures rebuilt, but much of the original 1600 year old stonework remains (The Romans built stuff to last).
In the early 1800s Napolean declared that the fortifications of Carcassonne were no longer necessary for French national defense, and the walls which were already in a state of disrepair started to crumble and collapse. Towards the end of the 1800s though, city officials (and famous architects) convinced the government that the city was worth preserving, and they are still preserving it today.
The city is mostly a tourist attraction today, but it's not simply a large museum or park. People still live inside the city, shops still sell goods inside the city, and restaurants aplenty still rip off tourists with overpriced mediocre food.
Carcassonne is named after the Lady Carcass who saved the city from the armies of Charlemagne by throwing a fat pig over the wall at him. I've been to Caen up in Normandy as well and visited Charlemagne's old castle and it doesn't hold a candle to Lady's Carcass' pad, so I can understand why he wanted it.
I don't really understand why throwing a fat pig at him scared him off, but it must have worked, because Carcassonne has a statue to commemorate Madame Carcass' sacrifice for their city, and there are numerous paintings and carvings of a woman throwing a pig throughout the city.
Like most medieval cities, Carcassonne was big on burning witches, guillotining people, and other forms of extreme punishment and torture. They even have a museum devoted to instruments of torture with some humorous items like the iron mask thingy designed for women who talk to much, or the modified handcuffs designed to punish poor musicians. However, most of the items are right out of horrible nightmares or Eli Roth movies and it is really hard to believe that people really used these items on other people--especially people who considered themselves Christians.
The ironically named Pope Innocent IV signed the order giving the church permission to use torture during the inquisition in order to get confessions of evil-doing out of suspected witches or warlocks. This wasn't Dick Cheney level waterboarding torture either, this was the real deal with hot sharp metal things and ropes and stretching and poking and burning. The pope had also decided that if a suspect could withstand the torture without confessing then he must be pronounced innocent, so the church was crafty enough to ensure that withstanding the torture resulted in the inability to flaunt your innocence (death) and question the infallibility of the church. Oddly enough most of the torture procedures required the suspect to be naked. Also quite odd was that most of the suspects were women. I just happened to have a women with me, and an available torture device, so I decided to give it a go (sans nudity).
George, of course, questioned my desire to torture her further saying, and I quote, "Living with you is torture enough." We'll be married 13 years this July and she still loves me.
These days there is an even larger city of Carcassonne outside the walls of the old city of Carcassonne, but unfortunately I didn't have time to go down there and check it out. Something for next time I guess.
More picture of Carcassonne here