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The castle lies within the fortifications of the town and access to the ramparts can be gained through the castle. Dating from the 12th century, it belonged to the Counts of Trencavel, and was built to replace an earlier structure on the eastern extremity of the rocky outcrop. Some vestiges of the Trencavel castle can be seen: the crenellated parapet of the upper floor and the chapel apse. New defences were added in the 13th century as well as more opulent rooms such as a banqueting hall. Bases of a stone colonnade and a transomed window with tracery work can still be seen. The castle houses a lapidary museum and a permanent exhibition of the restoration of the fortifications of the town in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. The castle, fortifications and cathedral make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. Opening hours are 9.30am - 6.30pm April to Spetember and 9.30am - 5pm October to March.
A town has occupied this site since the iron age. The Romans followed then the powerful Counts of Trencavel in the 11th century. Fortifications were added during the Albigensian crusades when it fell to Simon de Montfort and was annexed to the royal estate. As a stronghold it played an important part in the defence of the border when Roussillon was fought over by France and Spain. The Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 brought its strategic importance to an end. What the visitor sees today is a result of restoration by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. There are two sets of walls and 52 towers, 3km of ramparts in all. The cité is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Access to the cité is free and open all year. To visit the inner castle and the rampart walkways an entrance fee is chargeable and there are guided tours: see the website for details. Also available are a tourist train and horse-drawn carriages which offer sightseeing tours. Both have multi-lingual commentaries.