The story behind the fire
On 14th August 1898, the Citadel of Carcassonne played host to the “Cadets de Gascogne”, a famous group of eminent personalities from the world of literature, art and politics.
A great celebration was organised in their honour, with historical reconstitutions, balls, banquets and parades… At nightfall, the old town was lit up by a spectacle of fire that marked the end of the festivities.
The people of Carcassonne and everyone in the audience were awe-struck. It was such a crowning success that the town council decided to make it an annual event.
Ever since, each year on 14th July, Bastille Day, the Citadel bursts into flame and smoke engulfs the town, amid explosions, whistling rockets and the smell of gunpowder.
Hundreds of thousands of people gather at the foot of the Citadel to enjoy this spectacle, now a ritual that nobody in Aude or across the region wants to miss!
The lights of the Citadel suddenly go out...
The show is about to start!!!
Magnificent, magical, awesome, impressive, poetic, splendid, memorable…there’s no shortage of adjectives to describe this absolutely amazing show. From 10.30 pm, for more than 25 minutes, the Carcassonne sky lights up with sparkling shades of blue, silver, yellow, green and gold in the form of circles, hearts, smileys, pal:m trees and even whirlwinds.
Somewhere around the middle of the scene, walls and towers glow red amid clouds of smoke. The Citadel really does burst into flame. The scene becomes unreal, as the huge volume of smoke carried on the wind gives the ancient ramparts a ghostly appearance.
Then the rockets fill the sky again, even more spectacular than before, building to a glorious grande finale that takes your breath away, quite literally. For just a few moments, the 600-metre facade shimmers with explosions by the thousand. The hearts of the buzzing crowd beat faster with each burst, to the ecstatic cries of children and adults alike!
Watching the fireworks
Beware, you won’t be alone! Some 700,000 people come to admire this spectacle every 14th July. To enjoy it to the full, it’s best to arrive early.
You can admire the fireworks display from the banks of the Aude, or facing the Citadel from some of the bridges that straddle this river.
The show is free and there are no grandstands or seating.
Important: check the wind direction.
If it’s blowing from the West there’ll be no problem.
If it’s coming off the sea, conditions won’t be as good because it will blow the smoke towards the town and cloak the Citadel.
Conditions will be great if there’s no wind at all, but this is rare.
Forget the flash! It’s of no use at all, unless you want to photograph the people just in front of you! Use a tripod to avoid any movement as this would produce blurred shots!
The best spots for the fireworks display
The Carcassonne fireworks can be seen for miles around, but it’s much more impressive from close up. Regular spectators have their secret little places (which we won’t reveal), but the map below shows a few strategic places worth knowing about:
Les Berges de l'Aude
01 Banks of the River Aude
A real “must” but space is hard to find. The best spots are on the left bank outside the CPAM building and between the Pont-Vieux bridge and the riverside car park on Boulevard Paul-Sabatier.
Le Pont Neuf
02 Pont Neuf
This bridge is generally very crowded. You’ll be standing and packed like sardines to watch the fireworks from here. NB: for safety reasons, the Pont-Vieux bridge is out of bounds.
Le Quai Bellevue
03 Quai Bellevue
This quayside offers a remarkable view of the fireworks display. Beyond the district of La Prade, the banks of the Canal du Midi are also popular viewing points, especially among camper van owners.
Les hauteurs du quartier de Grazailles
04 The upper part of the Grazailles district
Not very close, but this district offers lovely views of the Citadel. If you can, come beforehand to find your spot as there’s very little space.
L'Aire de repos du Belvédère de la Cité, sur l'autoroute
05 The Belvédère de la Cité rest area on the motorway
A61 motorway travelling from Narbonne towards Toulouse. Throughout the day, there’ll be plenty going on to keep you busy until the display starts (fun activities, sale of local products, artisans, discoveries and sports activities). The police close the motorway rest area as soon as all the parking spaces are taken. Again, you'll need to arrive early, before the rest area is closed off.