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      October 2010 > Castles in the sky
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Castles in the sky

The castle at Puilarens, FranceAs you approach, you wonder if your eyes are playing games with you - is that a rocky outcrop on top of that ridge or is it man-made? Peering up into the bright sky, it’s so hard to distinguish where the land ends and where the castle begins. When at last you do get close enough to see turrets, battlements and windows, you constantly ask yourself, “How on earth did they do that? How did they build that castle, those castles, way up there?”

I’m deep in the Corbières region of southern France, not far from the fairy-tale city of Carcassonne, enjoying a walking holiday that explores the history and landscapes of the Castles of the Cathars. But who were the Cathars, and why did they feel the need to build such incredible defensive structures in such inaccessible places? Who were they hiding from?

Peyrepertuse Castle, FranceThe answer comes from the mid-13th century when an offshoot of the Church developed in this area of rural Languedoc. Pope Innocent III deemed it heretical and set about annihilating all trace of this threat to his authority. The Albigensian Crusade was instigated and Papal armies embarked upon a campaign of slaughter and massacre that eventually ousted the Cathars from their many hill-top fortresses.

Today, these amazing castles stand testament to the fortitude and determination of the Cathars not to be deprived of their beliefs or homes. They were built on high, rocky outcrops for obvious defensive reasons, the most prominent now known as the ‘Five Sons of Carcassonne’.

Queribus Castle, FranceOn this holiday we walked from Puilaurens (top) to Peyrepertuse (above) and finally Quéribus (left) - the others are at Aguilar and Termes - to get an insight into what it must have felt like to be on the look-out for an unfriendly, advancing army.

And because these castles command such fantastic viewpoints in all directions, the defenders would have seen for miles. The views from the top of these seemingly impregnable fortresses are truly wonderful (see below). Sadly, siege and constant attack saw them all eventually fall and the inhabitants burned.

Each is a remarkable feat of medieval engineering. Indeed, it would be quite a challenge to build such a structure with today’s technology, never mind in the early 13th century! I think even Fred Dibnah would have been impressed…

Posted: 01/10/2010 14:42:28 by | with 2 comments
Filed under: France, heritage, walking


Comments
Sarah Ridley, Sales & Customer Services
Glad you enjoyed reading it. If you get the chance, you must go - a quite remarkable area.
01/11/2010 08:41:59

John
I've always been fascinated by the Cathars. Loved this post!
27/10/2010 17:17:01

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