All over Europe and the Middle East, you can still find towns that have retained their medieval walls. It’s hard to imagine now but cities were often contained within imposing fortifications – there was even a massive wall that ran all the way round London from the late Roman empire (as barbarian attacks increased) through to large scale demolition in the eighteenth century.
Many cities burst out from their walls over the last two, three hundred years and then like London – dispensed with this restraint on urban growth. But some have managed to hold on to their walls and it’s a huge pleasure to walk them. Though I should warn you that in certain towns, the walls do not have protective railings – Obidos in Portugal being a case in point.
The glory of Carcassone
The most picturesque – though heavily restored – is Carcassone in France, which was home to the Cathar revolt against the Catholic church in the Middle Ages. As you approach it, Carcassone does look uncannily like one of those towns depicted in medieval illuminated manuscripts – or a medieval version of Disneyland if you prefer.
Though a word of warning – like other medieval monuments in France, Carcassone was heavily restored by a gentleman called Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century. His idea of restoration often involved invoking what he thought the Middle Ages should have looked like. Instead of light touch repairs, Viollet-le-Duc even added a spire to Notre Dame!
But don’t let that put you off Carcassone. There is enough of its original medieval integrity to admire!