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Cathar castles (in French Châteaux cathares) is a modern term used by the tourism industry (following the example of Pays Cathare – Cathar Country) to designate a series of fortresses built by the French king on the southern border of his lands at the end of the Albigensian Crusade. Some of these sites, before the royal period, were fortified villages capable of sheltering Cathars and which were destroyed during the building of citadels.
The true "Cathar castles"
In Languedoc, the only real "Cathar castles" were fortified homesteads (castrum), such as Laurac, Fanjeaux, Mas-Saintes-Puelles. Certain sites like Lastours-Cabaret, Montségur, Termes or Puilaurens were castra before being razed to the ground and becoming royal citadels. The legend of Cathar architects and builders is no more than a myth. The only monuments which witnessed the events of the first half of the 13th century, and therefore the only ones which can claim the description "Cathar", given that the Cathar Church never built anything, are the small castles, often totally unknown to the public, whose meagre ruins are away from the tourist routes.
The royal citadels
Following the failure of the attempt to recapture Carcassonne by Raimond II, Viscount Trencaval in 1240, the Cité de Carcassonne was considerably reinforced by the French king, new master of the territory. He destroyed small castra in the Corbières region and built citadels to protect the frontier with the kingdom of Aragon.
These five castles are often called the cinq fils de Carcassonne (five sons of Carcassonne):
- Château d'Aguilar
- Château de Peyrepertuse
- Château de Puilaurens
- Château de Quéribus
- Château de Termes
These five fortresses resisted various assaults led by the Aragonese army.
The abandonment of the citadels
In 1659, Louis XIV and the Philip IV of Spain signed the Treaty of the Pyrenees, sealed with the marriage of the Infanta Marie Therese to the French King. The treaty modified the frontiers, giving Roussillon to France and moving the frontier south to the crest of the Pyrenees, the present Franco-Spanish border. The fortresses thus lost their importance. Some maintained a garrison for a while, a few until the French Revolution, but they slowly fell into decay, often becoming shepherds' shelters or bandits hideouts.
Other "Cathar castles"
- Château d’Arques
- Château de Durfort
- Châteaux de Lastours
- Château de Montségur
- Château de Padern
- Château de Pieusse
- Château de Puivert
- Château de Roquefixade
- Château de Saissac
- Château d'Usson
- Association des Sites du Pays Cathare: historical and tourist information
- Castle of Termes official website, in English.
- Cathar country The story of the Cathars in Languedoc, and a short guide to Cathar heritage
Sources and further reading
- This article incorporates information from