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The Cathar Castles of the Midi

Carcassonne Cité by night

The department of the Aude boasts a rich historical heritage whose outstanding landmarks are the Cité fortress at Carcassonne : The walled Cité of Carcassonne by nightand...

...other innumerable Medieval hilltop castles that dot the landscape of the Lauragais.

The history of these strongholds is intimately bound up with the events that shook the whole of the Languedoc in the 13th century, when the Crusade against the Cathars - the Albigensian heretics - focused widespread attention on the region. Nobles from the then kingdom of France (in the north), led by Simon de Montfort, used their declared intention to help the Catholic Church in its attempt to stamp out the Cathar heresy as a pretext to attack the ruling seigneurs (lords) of the Languedoc.

From the 11th century onwards, the southern nobility had shown a broad-minded tolerance towards troubadours and Cathar heretics alike, welcoming them into their castles. During the Crusade period, these "castels" offered asylum both to the Cathars, harried by the Inquisition, and to the dispossessed overlords. Attacked and besieged by the Crusaders' armies, the fortresses in the Aude fell one by one. Some were left in ruin, never to recover from the assault. whereas others, by virtue of their strategic position, were rebuilt and strengthened to ensure domination of the newly conquered lands, at the same time keeping watch over the nearby border with Aragon (Spain).

Aquilar a Cathar Castle close to La Ville Tuchan in the Corbières Arques a Cathar Castle or Castel de Arcas in the southern Corbières
Aquilar a Cathar Castle close to La Ville Tuchan in the CorbièresAquilar a Cathar Castle close to La Ville Tuchan in the Corbières Arques a Cathar Castle or Castel de Arcas in the southern CorbièresArques a Cathar Castle or Castel de Arcas in the southern Corbières
Beauregard Cathar Castle near NarbonneBeauregard Cathar Castle near Narbonne Queribus one of the better known Cathar CastlesQueribus one of the better known Cathar Castles
Beauregard Cathar Castle near Narbonne Queribus one of the better known Cathar Castles

When, in 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenées redrew the border farther to the south, realigning it from peak to peak from one end of the Pyrenées to the other, the castles were neglected and later abandoned until, little by little, they fell to ruin. The term "Cathar Castles" was first used to describe these strongholds as a reminder of this period in their history. The archaeological evidence in fact tells a rather different story, these bastions were either reinforced or entirely replaced by new ones, but after the Crusade.

Today, in the Lauragais area of the Aude, that was the heartland of Catharism, and throughout the narrow stretch of land that separates the Pyrenées from the Central Massif range, immemorial landmarks have survived that continue to bear witness to what was a crucial period in the history of the Languedoc.
The Crusaders, in their march from Béziers to Toulouse, followed a route through the hinterland of the Aude département that took in the small regions, or pays : the Lauragais, Razès, Pays de Sault, Corbières, Carcassès, Cabardès. These regions, above all, had been most deeply affected by the invasion of the northern knights, an invasion whose success resulted for the Midi (the usual French word for "southern France"), not only in the loss of its independence but, also, of its identity.


Editor's note

This is just a few of the Cathar Castles to be visited, some giant edifices (e.g.: Peyrepertuse) and other just barely discernible ruins.
Happy hunting
Malcolm Beeson

 

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