All you need to know about the Cathar Castles in 5 minutes

Refusing the Old Testament, the authority of the Pope and the Catholic church, Catharism was a dissident religion that stirred up south-western France until the mid-18th century. Siege warfare and battles of nerves took place in Toulouse and the Pyrénées. Compared to the Cathar saga, Game of Thrones is a light comedy! Get up to speed in 5 minutes.
A jaunt in Cathar country

Some people go touring the vineyards, but if it’s the Cathar castles for you. Good choice! Whether as the starting point or final destination, Carcassonne is a must, as are its Five Sons, as well as the chateaus of Lastours. Still not satisfied? Head on to Fontfroide Abbey, Saint-Hilaire, or Foix chateau.

The Five Sons of Carcassonne

Aguilar, Peyrepertuse, Puilaurens, Queribus and Termes: Carcassonne could count on its Five Sons to protect it. As siege warfare raged, their five colossal fortresses stood facing the enemy. This impenetrable front line was enough to calm the aspirations of the Kingdom of Aragon.

4 castles for the price of 1!

If you’re pressed for time, head straight to the Lastours chateaus. Located in the heart of the Montagne Noire (Black Mountain) are not one but four castles overlooking a river from a height of over 300m. The four citadels – Cabaret, Surdespine, Quertinheux and Tour Régine – seem to be hanging in empty space...

The Albigensian Crusade in the Midi

In 1208, the Pope launched a crusade to put an end to the heretics who had found safe haven in Languedoc. All of the lords of Midi began preparing for battle. All, that is, except Trencavel, Viscount of Béziers, Carcassonne and Albi, Cathar fiefdoms that showed resistance. When Béziers was taken and its inhabitants put to the sword, the crusader’s arch-enemy sought refuge in Carcassonne. And so, the siege began...

A game of bluff in Carcassonne

In Cathar country, Carcassonne and its battlements are a must-see. But do you know the legend of Lady Carcas? It is said that when she alone stood in charge of a city that had been besieged for 5 years by the forces of Charlemagne, she asked for an inventory of the food stocks. A suckling pig and a bag of wheat: that’s all she got. In one final bluff, she ordered the animal to be stuffed before hurling it from the highest tower. The subterfuge had its intended effect! Charlemagne, seeing the precious grain in the guts of the sacrificed piglet, thought it would be futile to lay siege to a city that could afford to feed its livestock so lavishly.

Turncoats in Occitane

Come to bolster the lines of their southern compatriots, the crusaders from the north weren’t all saints... far from it. Indeed, the crusades were not free from atrocities. Despoiled by their own comrades in arms, the disillusioned lords preferred to change sides and joined the ranks of the Cathars.

Peyrepertuse

In Occitan, Pèirapertusés means “pierced rock”. Some say that in the days of the Cathar, the castle could be accessed by a hidden entrance in the rock. It was so secret that it has still never been found. But perhaps if you look carefully...

No happy ending here

The Cathar period was bloody down to the final act. The siege of Montségur ended on 16 March 1244 in a bloodbath in which hundreds of Cathars leapt to their deaths rather than renounce their faith.

A playlist for further listening
  • The graphic novel: Le dernier cathare (The Last Cathar), by Eric Lambert, Arnaud Delalande, Bruno Pradelle, from Glénat.
  • The city: Carcassonne, of course! (External link)
  • The mini-series: Labyrinthe, adapted by Ridley and Tony Scott from the historic fiction of the same name by Kate Mosse.