Monday, October 03, 2011

The Cathar Fortresses

A long steep pae zig zagged it's way up to Queribus
The word Cathar probably came from the Greek "pure". Their "ministers" were called "Perfects". It appears in fact that they were a religion where being good was the point. Naturally they were wiped off the earth - in this case by the Catholic church. Not by Catholics in general however. Their Catholic neighbors and Lords were killed too because they refused to give them up or denounce them.
Cathars recognized the world as governed by two principles; good and evil. This dualist principle goes back to the middle east 1000 years or so BC and a legendary figure named Zarathustra.
Looking up at the Fortress as we walk

The vaulted ceiling in the main keep

The view down the ridge from Queribus

Peyrepertuse, strung out along the mountain ridge

View from the ramparts

View along the ridge of the Fortress

Steep staircases are carved in the rock

Scott and Heather at  the top of the stairs

Look out below

And from the top

Puilaurens from the road

A closer look at Puilaurens from the beginning of the path
Since God was good (and only good) this world of tribulation and evil must be Hell. They had every reason to believe so.
The majority of the adherents were in Occitania in the 11th and 12th century, now mostly the province of Languedoc, but it spread out much further. Most were poor but there was a significant number in the merchant and in the nobility. This last group were really important as they provided protection from the 

Inside one of the courtyards
Church for several hundred years. Raimond V, Count of Toulouse was almost independent of his nominal sovereign. Near him were the Counts of Fix, many of whose women became "Perfects" (they were men and women - imagine!), and the Trensavels who controlled the Carcassonne area and were vassals of the Count of Barcelona (now Spain). All of these families would suffer loss of lives and property as a result of supporting the Cathars.
The Pope called for a Crusade and more northern French nobles came for land and power than for

Much of the existing walls were added in 1235 by St. Louis
religious fervor. Their leader Simon de Montfort ended up taking over huge tracts of their land and cities.
Nevertheless, despite thousands massacred, some seven thousand alone in the Cathedral of Beziers (Cathars and Catholic townspeople alike, women and children included), the crusade didn't do the job. The Cathars had a few years respite before the Inquisition finished the job. The last known Perfect was burnt at the stake in 1321.
We had read this history and seen the pictures of the fortresses before coming to France and it was one of the reasons we came to this area. We visited many of the cities and town famous in Cathar history and 3 of the fortresses, shown here.
Happily all involved beautiful drives and hikes up into the Pyrenees.
Our boat trip on the Canal de Midi went right through Cathar country. One particularly atmospheric town was Bram. There Simon de Montfort was particularly brutal. He mutilated 100 men, women and children and blinded all but one. Then sent them off to the next town, carrying their cutoff body parts, led by one man with one good eye to convince the occupants to surrender immediately.  We assume they did but my research doesn't indicate whether that did them any good.
These mighty fortresses and the others of their kind sheltered the Cathar people until the end.
Queribus held out until the end when the brave Chabert de Barbeira was forced to surrender the castle to King Louis IX, not by military force but by inevitable political pressure. Peyrepertuse was first mentioned in 1020 and was on the northern frontier of Spain. In the 13th c it was sold to Louis IX and became a citadel against the Spanish on the French border.
Puilaurens was referred to by 985. It's famous castellan Guillaume de Peyrepertuse fought Simon de Montfort until his death. As with the others, it was built up after falling to the french crown to guard against Spanish incursions.
The treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659 gave Rossignon and Perpignan to France and moved the border with Spain far south. All three of these fortresses were mostly abandoned and fell into disrepair. Now they are being somewhat restored by the country and local communities.

After the border with Spain moved south these fortresses were largely abandoned

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