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Among of the most dramatic stone monuments left by man are the fortresses which can be seen today in southern France. Some of the structures have been reconstructed or refurbished. But the majoirty remain as 'ruins', all the more impressive in their lack of modern embellishments and surrounded by the remarkably beauthful landscape. Only a few are shown on this page. Locations of fortresses shown are indicated on the map in the Albigensian Crusades page, linked at the bottom of this page.


Peyrepertuse (Aude) is now a ruins of the vast fortress captured by Jean de Beaumont after a three-day siege during the autum of 1240. Even in its present state, It presents a specatacular sight hight atop a sheer-sided mountain. Its history goes back at least to the ninth century. In 1111 it belonged to the comtes de Barcelona and later was woned by the king of Aragon. Guillaume de Peyrepertuse surrendered to Simon de Montfort in 1217, but went on to fight along side of the vicomte Raymond-Roger de Trencavel. In 1239, a regent of Aragon was sold the fortress to the king of France, who was not able to take possession of it until besieging it in 1240. Called the 'Celestial Carcassonne', it was the largest of the Cathar castles. It is open to the public and takes hours to explore the old keep, the barbican and associated fortified buildings.


Carcassonne (Aude) is probably the most famous of all the fortresses in southern France, was more than just a castle. Like Toulouse, Carcassonne was a fortified city. Unlike Toulouse, Carcassone still provides an impressive image of what such a vast fortified complex would look like. The walled Le Cité began as a Roman fort on a hill overlooking the Aude River. Its enduring strategic position between Bordeaux and Italy, and on the early medieval frontier between France and Spain, led to its continued development and remarkable size. Louis IX secured Carrassonne in 1240 from a rebellon by vicomte Raymond Trencavel. The French king moved the inhabitants to a new Ville Basse ['Lower City'] along the left bank of the Aude, and strengthened the main fortress with a second outer wall. Philippe III further strengthened the structure. Even the 'Black Prince' did not attempt to attack the formidable fortress in his 1355 campaign during the Hundred Years' War.


Quéribus (Aude) was the last of the Cathar fortresses to fall in 1255. In the eleventh century it belonged to the comtes de Barcelona and later the king of Aragon. Its isolation protected it from being attacked by the earlier crusaders. This small castle is perched upon a narrow spur that is accessed by a flight of steps carved into the rock. The keep and wall fortifications were modified since the Cathars' era, as Quéribus was an important frontier post between France ad Spain until the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), when it was abandoned. It is one of the legendary hiding places for the Holy Grail.


Foix was a fief of king Pedro II d'Aragón, which provided some protection from attack by the crusaders. Using the excuse that the comte de Foix, Raymond-Roger, though a Catholic himself, protected Cathars. Indeed, Raymond-Roger's sister was a devout Cathar and lived at nearby Pamiers. Simon de Montfort made a daring advanced on this stronghold of in 1210. Meeting stern resistance, Montford burned a suburb of the town. In 1214, Raymond-Roger willingly surrendered his fortress to the Catholic Church, and Simon de Montfort places a garrison in it the following year. The castle (dating from the tenth-century) remains an impressive sight. It is open to the public and contains a fine museum of pre-historic and medieval items.


Montségur, though in ruins, is one of the most photographed 'icons' of the spectacular fortrresses of the Cathars. It is famous not only for its awsome position high on a rock mountain, but for the dramatic 1243 siege. The fortress was received many refuges form the early part of the crusade. It was called by the crusaders 'Satan's Synagogue'. However, its remote location protected it until St. Louis IX of France felt it necessary to take it following a killing of some Inquisitors in Avignonet in 1242. The army that took the fortress was led by the Senescahl of Carcassonne, Hugue des Arcis. The siege, involving heavy use of some of the largest mechanical artillery of its day, lasted from May 1243 to March 1244. The surrender terms agreed to spare any heretic that recanted. None did, and they were joined by some Catholics (who converted to Catherism at this moment) as well over 200 individual marched down the mountain and "threw themselves on the fire." The site is a popular visit for anyone interested the study of the Cathars. A fine museum is located in the village of Montségur is a the base of the 1,207 meters mountain.


Lastours was a complex fo four mutually suporting castles or towers. Montfort failed in his 1209 attack. However, the ruthless lord, Pierre de Cabaret, surrendered his fortress to Montfort in 1211 and was allowed to go to Béziers. Cabaret regained his castle in 1223 and allowed it to be a refuge for fleeing Cathars. The 'keep' of the main castle remains and is open to the public. Trails lead to the three outlying towers that made up this 'citadel'.


Beaucaire was captured from the crusaders by Raymond VII, son of Raymond VI, comte de Toulouse, in 1216. The event marked the revolt that eventually led to Montfort's defeat. The castle (dating from the eleventh century) is open to the public.
Some material in this page is taken from or based upon Wonderful Cathar Country byJean-Luc Aubarbier, Michel Binet, Jean-Pierre Bouchard; English translation by Angela Moyron (Editions Ouest-France, Rennes, 1994). The attractively printed work is profusely illustrated with color photographs, index of locations by region and descriptions to guide visits to the various sites as they exist today. The work is available at many book stores in France. However, M. Aubarbier has a book store, Librairie Majuscule, 43 rue de la République, 24200, Sarlat, FRANCE.
Some useful webpages for planning trips to the Cathar country are:

Cathar Castles: History, photographs, maps, site plans, source documents, roles in the Albigensian Crusades (Cathar Wars) including castle sieges, and the development of the Medieval Inquisition.

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Page updated 9 March 2000; revised 8 September 2010..