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Cathar history in the South of France

Cathar sites & ruins in the South of France

The abundance of Cathar history in the Aude region of the South of France is amazing, with many castles, sites & ruins strategically placed on mountain tops, cliff sides and in hidden valleys.  As we here in Azille are on the ‘road to penitence’, as they say, it just seems all the more appropriate that you visit at least a few Cathar sites while staying in this beautiful area.

Azille a 14th century village

Azille a 14th century village Credits: Natalie Trent

Let’s start with the ever-popular, Carcassonne. An easy drive from Azille is this medieval Cité which was restored in1853 after have been destroyed several times throughout the centuries, one of which was the 1209 siege against the Cathars, which swept it clean. Being a World Heritage Site you will be astounded by the many towers, turrets, walls within walls, ramparts and a drawbridge of this fairy-tale city which occupies a hill adjacent to the modern city of Carcassonne. It is filled with narrow mazes of twisting cobble-stone streets and the Château Comtal, which lays claim to the Cathar heritage sitting deep within the city’s still intact walls.  It is truly a place of amazing charm, even though it is clearly a tourists’ stop. Entry is free to visit the interior of the ancient city & the Comtal castle, and is easily accessible from several large arched doorways with abundant parking at the main entrance.

Medieval Carcassonne

Medieval Carcassonne Credits: Natalie Trent

A once fortified village perched on two cliffs with one road in, is Minerve, a curvy 15 minutes into hills of the Minervois from Azille. This once-fortified village is a dramatic sight to see with only one ruined finger of masonry left from its original state that sits on a plateau in the limestone gorge. It was the site of a 10-week siege, by Simon de Montfort, who subsequently massacred its 180 Cathar inhabitants in the 13th century. The village was protected by a double curtain wall and overhanging natural ledges, above the River Cesse in a naturally strong defensive position. Near the village the river now disappears underground in a large, natural tunnel below, a nice hike to finish the day’s visit. Access to the village is from a walking path down from the modern parking lot, or by walking across a high bridge that spans from the village to one side of the gorge. Arriving at Minerve is most impressive from the South end, near the village of La Caunette. A must-see!

Minerve, a Cathar refuge

Minerve, a Cathar refuge Credits: Natalie Trent

Chateaux de Lastours, north of Azille about 20 minutes, is a cluster of 4 ruined fortresses upon a hillside in the Black Mountains protected by two deep valleys. In an unusual arrangement of three castle towers, this fortification belonged to the Lords of Cabaret, giving the name to the northernmost tower. One additional smaller tower, Le Regine, was built much later upon the same rocky outcrop nearest Cabaret, sometime after 1260. The southernmost tower, Quertinheux, is slightly isolated and seems to be an advanced lookout of sorts. Surdespine, or Thornflower, is on the highest ground of the four, however the least preserved. All four of the towers can be visited by hiking up from the village of Lastours below, following the footpath from one ruin to the next. From the top, you’ll understand the location chosen by the ancient Cathars.

The Lastour castles

The Lastour castles

Chateau d’Agel a restored Medieval Castle, now privately owned, is in the heart the Languedoc region with a history going back to before the Cathar period as well. The castle is nestled at the foot of the Black Mountains and the oldest sections date from the 12th century. The château is one of several fortified castles built by vassals of the Count of Toulouse and was used to resist the Cathar crusaders a century later. The chateau consists of a main building, four towers and a dovecote. It has extensive terraced gardens covering 2 hectares with views over the Cesse valley and the Pech Mountain. The restored castle is available to hire for private events and has even been used as a film location. It is in the very small village of Agel and is easily accessed from Azille.

This is only a teaser of Cathar history in this area, you’ll need to come for a visit and discover more of these amazing historical sites and architecture in the South of France.


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