In the heart of Occitania between the Massif Central and the Pyrenees, the Aude department is home to the jewels of our department; The Cathar Castles. About ten fortified villages set in a wild and spectacular setting.
13 medieval citadels and among the most famous, the Château de Quéribus perched at an altitude of 728m, further south the Château de Peyrepertuse; the stone pierced Occitan, but also the Medieval City of Carcassonne classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And finally at the limit of the Aude and the Eastern Pyrenees; the Castle of Puylaurens the fortress is set on the Mont Ardu. Less known on a rocky spur overlooking the Gorges du Terminet, are the remains of the Château de Termes.
These 8 castles of breathtaking beauty and exceptional History will immerse you in the fascinating History of Catharism.
Leaving our campsite and our beautiful department of the Aude without having seen and visited the Cathar Castles is not possible. A short hike to discover these vertiginous citadels and at the same time our fabulous landscapes that nature offers us.
A little story :
The Cathars are members of a religious movement which developed between the 10th and 13th centuries in several parts of Europe, particularly in the South of France where they were 2 to 5% of the population.
The Cathars did not call themselves Cathars at that time, this name only appeared in 1960, 700 years after they lived. They called themselves Good Christians and the others who were not Cathars called them the Perfect Ones or the Albigensians because they lived around the Albigensian territory.
Their religious movement was placed on two pillars; good and evil. Good is Christ and everything that revolves around Christ. This was the way of life of the very first Christians in the first century. They therefore deny everything that the institution of the Church has put in place over the millennium. For example, they denied the Eucharist, baptism, marriage, Catholic priests, the Old Testament. They have a very acetic life, they try to distance themselves from everything material and carnal.
The Church takes a dim view of this religious movement and declares it to be heretical.
At that time, it was the time of the Crusades, for the first time in 1209, Pope Innocent III was to declare a crusade against Christians, against good Christians calling the Albigensians. This is called the crusade against the Albigensians.
France was in the feudal system, i.e. the royal territory was very small and all the rest of the territory was duchies and autonomous counties. The lords of these duchies and autonomous counties saw in the crusade a good opportunity to conquer new territory, the territory of the South, and so they embarked on this crusade, they besieged Béziers, Carcassonne, they conquered the whole Albigensian region and when they arrived in Toulouse they were repulsed.
From 1226 onwards, Louis IX took things in hand again because he had a policy of unifying the territory and he saw in the crusade against the Albigensians an opportunity to conquer the South and bring it back to the French crown. So this time, he will bring back the royal army against the Cathars.
The people of the South were conquered quite quickly. The primary objective of the crusade against the Albigensians was to eradicate all the Cathar heretics, which is not accomplished for the moment.
The new Pope Gregory IX will decide to set up the inquisition, it is a tribunal led by the church and which judges heretics including those who do not believe in the official version of Christianity and they have two choices :
Either they convert to Christianity and they are detained for life.
They decide to keep their heretical faith and they get burned in the buchet.
So the inquisition is going to be set up in this region and the Cathars and the people of the South will take refuge in citadels at the top of the hills. In one of these citadels, called Montségur, there will be a 10 month siege at the end of which the Cathars refused to convert to official Christianity and they will be burnt alive inside this fortress.
From then on, it was the end of all organised resistance and the fortresses fell one by one, the Château de Puylaurens and that of Queribus.
The Cathars are exterminated (they survive all the same until the 14th century). The citadels are therefore abandoned but they are in a strategic location as they are situated all along the border with the Kingdom of Aragon. Louis IX, who had just conquered this territory, wanted to defend it and so he razed these small castles to the ground and built true fortified citadels all along the border, which are now known as the Castles of the Cathar Country.