Enclosed within a 7km-long wall pierced by three fortified gates, Laon's medieval Ville Haute (Upper City) has a magnificent Gothic cathedral and 84 listed historic monuments, the densest concentration anywhere in France. The narrow streets, alleyways and courtyards reward keen-eyed wandering. About 100 vertical metres below sits the Ville Basse (Lower City), completely rebuilt after being flattened in WWII.
Laon served as the capital of the Carolingians until the dynasty's demise in 987 at the hands of Hugh Capet (founder of the Capetian dynasty), who preferred ruling from Paris.
About 20km south of Laon along the D18 highway, the 30km-long ridge known as the Chemin des Dames was the site of fierce fighting during WWI during the Second Battle of the Aisne, a bloody French offensive, in 1917.