""Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." — "Kill them all, The Lord will recognise his own."" - Arnaud-Amaury, Cistercian abbot-commander against the Cathars
The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century, their origins something of a mystery though there is reason to believe their ideas came from Persia by way of the Byzantine Empire, the Balkans and Northern Italy. Records from the Roman Catholic Church mention them under various names and in various places. The Pope, Innocent III, called a formal Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc, appointing a series of military leaders to head his Holy Army. The first was a Cistercian abbot (Arnaud Amaury) now best remembered for his command at Béziers "Kill them all. God will know his own". The second was Simon de Montfort now remembered as the father of another Simon de Montfort, a prominent figure in English parliamentary history. The war against the Cathars of the Languedoc continued for two generations.
From 1208, a war of terror was waged against the indigenous population and their rulers, During this period an estimated 500,000 Languedoc men women and children were massacred - Catholics as well as Cathars. The Counts of Toulouse and their allies were dispossessed and humiliated, and their lands annexed to France. Educated and tolerant Languedoc rulers were replaced by relative barbarians. Catharism is often said to have been completely eradicated by the end of the fourteenth century. Yet there are more than a few vestiges even today, apart from the enduring memory of Cathar "martyrdom" and the ruins of the famous "Cathar castles", including the Chateau of Montsegur. There are even Cathars alive today, or at least people claiming to be modern Cathars.
Cathar castles (in French Chateaux 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. In Languedoc, the only real "Cathar castles" were fortified homesteads (castrum), such as Laurac, Fanjeaux, Mas-Saintes-Puelles. Certain sites like Lastours-Cabaret, Montsegur, 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.
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 Corbieres region and built citadels to protect the frontier with the kingdom of Aragon.
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.
On March 16, 1244, after a year-long siege, more than two hundred Cathars were captured in their fortress stronghold of Montsegur in the Pyrenees of southern France and burned alive by troops of the Inquisition. According to legend, one of the secret purposes of Montsegur was to protect the most sacred treasure, the Holy Grail. The safekeeping of the Grail was allegedly part of the function of the Cathars.
Unfortunately all their writings and possessions were burned by the Inquisition along with their bodies in a mass suppression of their culture right across southern France. Many believe that it may still reside in one of the many limestone caves that surround Montsegur, or maybe in an abandoned, water-logged mine in the Ariege. It was this kind of speculation that led rebel Huguenots of the 17th century and members of Hitler’s S.S. to scour Europe looking for the ultimate treasure.
Carcassonne was struck from the roster of official fortifications under Napoleon, and fell into such disrepair that the French government decided that it should be demolished. A decree to that effect that was made official in 1849 which caused an uproar. The architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, was commissioned to renovate the fortified city who's origins date to the Romans who occupied its hilltop until the demise of their western empire and was later taken over by the Visigoths in the fifth century who founded the city, works began 1863 and would not be finished until 1960.
These five castles are often called the cinq fils de Carcassonne (five sons of Carcassonne)
An inner keep built in the XIIth century, outer pentagonal fortifications from the XIIIth century. the castle would be continually under siege by opposers to the French or Spanish rulers until the XVIth century, when the border was pushed back by the treaty of the Pyrenees, the castle gradually lost its strategic importance and was abandoned in 1569.
Chateau de Peyrepertuse
Strategical position which at the same time makes it possible to see far in the various valleys, occupied at the time of the Romans Ist Century BC. 806 first mentions of the castle, one of the royal fortresses rebuilt XIIIth century to defend the border against the kingdom of Aragon then Spain until the XVIIth century. It will be then given up and just its ruins remain.
Chateau de Puilaurens
One of the so-called Cathar castles, acquired by the Queen of Aragon in 1162. but a castle was here before this, ceded to the French some time before 1255. 1258 the Treaty of Corbeil, when the Aragonese border was moved. In 1260, garrisoned by 25 sergeants. taken by Spanish troops in 1635, but lost all strategic importance after the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.
Chateau de Queribus
Regarded as the last Cathar stronghold after the fall of Montsegur in 1244, one of the "Five Sons of Carcassonne" is first mentioned in 1020, In 1255, a French army was dispatched to deal with these remaining Cathars, but they slipped away without a fight, Queribus along with Aguilar, Peyrepertuse, Termes and Puilaurens were strategically placed to defend the French border against the Spanish, It lost all strategic importance after the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.
Chateau de Termes
Covering an area of 16 000m˛. In 1210, held by the Cathar heretic Ramon (Raymond) de Termes, the castle only fell to Simon de Montfort after a siege lasting four months, Rebuilt in the 13th century as a royal garrison, the castle was one of the sons of Carcassonne, a master mason spent 1653 and 1654 blowing up the walls and reducing them to piles of rubble, when the border of france moved further south.
These five fortresses resisted various assaults led by the Aragonese army.
Other Castles or Religious Establishments associated with Catharism
Chateau de Coustaussa
Built in the XIIth century and altered again in the XVIth century, little inhabited the castle was to become unusable by the time of the XVIIth century, 1819, the end approaches its owner, Mr. Azais, living in Arques, decides to destroy the roof frames in order not to have to pay a tax on land, the building is then sold stone by stone in 1820 leaving only the current ruins.
Chateau de Durfort
XIth century, its lords are the Counts of Carcassonne, during the Crusade against the Albigensians, the lord of Durfort lines up on the side of the cathares, XVIIth century, loses its strategic interest after the Peace Treaty of the Pyrenees, it is then arranged to offer more comfort. It is finally abandoned in the XVIIIth century.
Chateaux de Lastours
The four castles are on the top of a crest on a north-south axis: Cabaret, Tour Regine, Surdespine and Querthineux. They controlled the principal access routes into the Cabardes and the Montagne Noire regions. The castles of Lastours were a centre of Cathar religious activity during the 13th century. The castle village sheltered numerous 'Perfects' homes and the Cathar bishops went to stay in Cabaret.
Chateau de Montaillou
A rectangular castle with a tower, walls and earthworks. built by the lords of Alion during the XIIth century. On a platform roughly 100m by 30 to 40 m wide, 13th century, the Count doubled the thickness of the walls. It survived the Albigensian Crusade but fell into disrepair later. all that now remains are three walls of the ruined keep.
Chateau de Montsegur
The present fortress on the site (1207m), though described as one of the "Cathar castles," is actually of a later period. signs of human settlement during the stone age and Roman occupation, XIIIth century, Cathars surrendered and 220 were burned in a bonfire, updated over 300 years until the XVIIth century, after this the chateau is abandoned.
Chateau de Padern
Mentioned as of 899. At that time, Carolingian king Charles gives the territory of Padern to the Abbeye de Lagrasse, which will be owned until 1579, fortifications are mentioned in Padern in 1026 for the first time, about 1165-1192 a 'forcia', secondary fortification, XVIIth century modified by Seigneur Pierre de Vic, By 1790 it is abandoned, the chateau pillaged for its stone.
Chateau de Puivert
At an altitude of 605 m. a castle has been here since before 1170, construction of the present chateau dates from the 13th century. The first mention is in 1170, XIVth century, Thomas de Bruyere (grandson of Pons) had the new castle built to the east of the old castle. The surface area of the site is very large: 3200 m2 inside the walls.
Chateau de Roquefixade
Records begin in 1180, XIIIth century, Roquefixade a stronghold at the end of a line of royal fortresses. XIVth century, The keep was remodelled, more alterations in the XVth and XVIth centuries. In 1632, French king Louis XIII on his way to Toulouse for the execution of the Henri II, ordered it's destruction, serving no purpose and being costly to maintain.
Chateau de Saissac
Several re-working's during the centuries. First is carried around 1300, The Donjon, the quadrangular Towers go up at that time. The second re-working in the XVIth century, returns the castle to a more "comfortable" place than fortified, The castle unoccupied and is already dilapidated in the middle of the XVIIIth century.
Chateau of the XIth century (perhaps earlier) and certainly during the Cathar period marked the eastern boundary of the territories of the Counts of Foix. In the XIIth century, this was the capital of the Donezan region. On display at the castle are parts of the wreckage of a Second World War British Dakota transport aircraft which crashed on 5 December 1944 on a nearby mountain with the loss of seventeen lives.
Priory of the VIIIth century. founded by Bera, viscount of Razes. By the XIIth century, it had a lot of influence and a large number of pilgrims, 1318, the abbey became a bishopric in order to continue the fight against the cathars, 1577, largely destroyed by the Huguenots during the Wars of Religion it was not rebuilt. after the French Revolution, it became a stone quarry.
Chateau de Villerouge-Termenes
The first historical data concerning the site dates from the XIIth century. At that time until the French Revolution, Narbonne's archbishops were lords of the castle and village. Even so, the castle was much coveted. The village is closely linked to the decline of the Cathar church: in 1321, Guilhem Belibaste, the last known Occitan Cathar perfectus, was burnt alive here.