Looks can be deceiving: Carcassonne is not a castle. Surrounded by almost 2 miles of fortifications itâ€™s the largest walled city in Europe. The first signs of settlement in this region of Languedoc date to about 3500 BC, but things didnâ€™t take off until the Romans identified the hilltop site as strategic and started building fortifications. Next came the Visigoths, who expanded the fortress into a fiefdom – until the Papacy stuck its nose in. Pope Urban II arrived to bless the foundation stones of a new cathedral and turned the growing city and its environs into a secondary seat of church power â€“ all the better to launch a crusade against the pesky Cathars, a religious group which rejected Catholicism as the Church of Satan. Holy war, as we all know, is very good for business. More ramparts went up, dungeons were built, and towers were erected to house the Inquisition. Carcassonne became a border citadel between France and Spain that remained unconquered until the 17thÂ century, when an economic revival under Louis XIV trumped the cityâ€™s military significance. In truth CarcassonneÂ wasnâ€™t so much conquered as absorbed into a burgeoning colonial empire. Cite deÂ Carcassonne, as itâ€™s now called to distinguish it from the modern-day town of Carcassonne down the hill and over the river, is no longer a functioning city – technically. Yet itâ€™s been restored to varying degrees of authenticity in an example of artistic simulacrum. Populated with shops, hotels, and tourists eating ice cream at outdoor cafes, the city appears at first glance authentic. But not unlike Disneylandâ€™s Main Street USA,Â itâ€™s all a facade. And yet I have to give someone serious props because itâ€™s an awfully good one at that.