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1.9 Some of the Cathar Places

A very brief description of the most important towns and places linked to the Cathar history is given below. A selection had been made and it is certain that the list is not exhaustive.


Even if this town gave also it name to the heretics it did not have more to do with them that any other town probably even less. Albi has a well-preserved medieval quarter with narrow streets. Its main attraction is the big red Sainte Cecile cathedral. The people of Albi opposed strongly the Inquisition in 1234 over the exhumation of the cadaver of a woman called Boyssene. The Cathars drove away the priests charged of this unholy task. Their leader, Friar Arnold Catalan, was beaten up and threatened with death. As a result he excommunicated the whole town. (e)


The Visigoths constructed a castle here in the 7th century. Against the habit of the time this castle is built in the plain. Its high dungeon linked to four towers is another of its special features. Simon de Montfort and his crusaders destroyed it. It was reconstructed later. To-day only parts of it still exist. (e) (l)


In 1242 two Inquisitors, Guillaume Amaud and Pierre Seila, opened an investigation in Avignonet. As many heretics lived there the town was at risk. Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix left Montsegur with some knights and killed the two Inquisitors. This led to the siege of Montsegur. The Inquisition was created to eradicate the Cathar heresy. It was put under the responsibility of the Dominican Order that follows the teaching of St Dominic. The Inquisition put the heretics to jail, tortured them and burned them on the stake. The lucky ones were sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Corporal punishment was the rule and many were forced to wear a large yellow cross on their clothes to show that they were heretics. Inquisition relied heavily on informers. The accused were not allowed to call witnesses or have lawyers to defend them. People were afraid of the Inquisition as even non-guilty people were at risk. (e)


Beziers is built on a rock that dominates the river Orb. Wine has always been the wealth of Beziers. Barbarians, Vandals, Visigoths, Saracens and Francs have been staying in Beziers. The bloody battle of Beziers during the Albigean crusaders is still in the mind of the people especially as it was useless. The army under the command of Simon de Montfort and with the consent and benediction of the Catholic authorities destroyed the town and killed about 100,000 of its inhabitants, Cathars and Catholics without discrimination. The city recovered and became very prosperous. (l)


Carcassonne is made of two parts: the old town known also as City or “ville haute” and the modern part or “ville basse”. The Low Town was built in 1260 on the order of Louis IX after the victory over the Cathars. However we are mainly interested in the old town. It is built on a hill that dominate the river Aude. It exists since prehistoric times. Traces of the Gallics, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Arabs and the Francs have been found. The City is better known as a fortress that has survived from medieval time. Two concentric walls surround it and it has 52 defending towers. In the decade before the beginning of the crusade many debates led by the Cathar bishop of the City took place here. The Viscount of Carcassonne Raymond Roger de Trencavel fought hard against the crusaders. Four years after the siege the bishop of Carcassonne was removed for failing to act against the Cathars. This shows that the crusade, the persecution and the Inquisition did not prevent the Cathar religion to survive. After 1224 Carcassonne became one of the two main centres of the Inquisition. In the south chapel of the St Nazaire Church a large stone is on display. It is supposed to be one of the stone that killed Simon de Montfort in Toulouse in 1218. Other things to see in Carcassonne include the “Mure” that was the prison for the heretics and the Inquisitor’s House. After 1240 the fortress was restored by the Royal army and was used to protect the south border of the Kingdom. Its use decreased a lot with the signature of the Pyrénées treaty in 1659. It was left to fall to pieces. In the 19 the century Prosper de Mérimée then Viollet-le-Duc saved the city on behalf of the Commission for the Preservation of the monuments. Some people think that Viollet-le-Duc did too good a job and left the impression of a perfect City-Fortress. (e)(l)


Castelnaudary was the battlefield in 1211 between Simon de Montfort and his Catholic crusaders on one side and the Occitan Knights finally united on the other side. The southern coalition did not resist the difficulties and the hardship of the battle and was defeated. The town is built on a small hill and the castle was on the highest part of it. (l)


Castres is the birthplace of the Parfait Guilhabert of Castres and of the Parfaite Ermengarde. Guilhabert was engaged in the debates with St Dominic in Fanjeaux and Montreal. He is also known for urging the reconstruction of Montsegur perhaps because he foresaw the repression. He lived his last years and died in Montsegur from natural causes. (e)


It is a very well preserved medieval town built on top of a hill. It has narrow streets, medieval gates and many arches. It is like a miniature Carcassonne. Cordes was founded in 1222 by Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse to act as a defensive position and to provide a refuge for the people accused of heresy. Some parts of the original ramparts can still be seen. The heretics met frequently in secret in Cordes. In this town there were a lot of weavers and it is well known that this profession was in favour among the Cathars. It is said that the word weaver is synonymous to heretic. The assassination of three Inquisitors was planned here. The well into which their bodies were thrown can still be seen in the market place. A cross was erected near by as a kind of act of contrition. (e)


Fanjeaux was for many years an official centre of the Cathar Church. It is built on top of a rock. In 1209 before the Pope organised the crusade, the catholic priest Dominic Guzman with, among others, the Cathar Bishop Guilhabert de Castres, held debates here. By showing the good example Dominic succeeded to convert many Cathars to the Catholic faith. St Dominic’ house still exists and can be visited. There is also the Monastery of Prouilhe founded by St Dominic to fight the Cathars not with arms but with spiritual and theological arguments. (e)(l)


At that time Foix was the capital of the Comté de Foix. Its counts were very tolerant to the Cathars. Two square towers built in the 11th century and a round one added in the 15th century were the main defences of the castle. The towers are linked together by machicoulis. These towers were built on a big rock that surmount the town. It was also a shelter for the Parfaits. Inside the castle there is now the Museum of Ariege. It has two sections. The “Palaeontology-Prehistory and History” shows the skeleton of a big mammoth discovered in 1901 at Baulou in Ariege. The section “Art an Tradition” presents “an Ostal” (the only living quarter in the old houses of the Vicdessos valley). There is no Cathar exhibit on show. Simon de Montfort attacked the castle but it was not taken. Its owner, the count of Foix, gave it to the Pope’s Legate in 1215. He got it back in 1218 but he lost it again during the Royal crusade. (e) (l)


The remains of the fortified town of Hautpoul are situated a few kilometres from Mazanet, half way up a mountain. The Visigoths founded the town in the 5th century. Simon de Montfort’s crusaders destroyed it on 13 April 1212. (e)


On the 440 meters long and 40 to 50 meters wide flat top of a rock four castles were constructed in the prehistory. They are:

-Cabaret, the better known but also the strongest, gave their names to the local Knights. It is composed of a dungeon, a rectangular lodging and a strong fence wall. Cabaret was attacked by Simon de Montfort in 1211 and had to surrender.

-The Tour Regine is very near to cabaret. It is composed of a single tower and a small fence wall. It was probably built in 1260 after the crusades.

-On the very top of the rock a third castle, Fleur-Espine, was erected. Only very few remains are left. Very little is known about it.

-A little below the first three castles we found Quertinheux that is built on another rock. It is made of a round tower as Tour-Regine and a strong fence wall as Cabaret. It was a very strong fortress but little is left now.

Simon de Montfort hesitated a lot before attacking these castles. He used a cruel way to try to weaken the defenders’ moral. He sent tortured prisoners from Bram led by a one-eyed soldier, the others having been blinded. The defenders refused to give in. After the fall of Termes the knight of Lastours had his own doubts and surrendered to Simon de Montfort without fighting in 1211. (l)

Lombrives Caves

The Lombrive cave near Tarascon is one of the largest of Europe. A story says that after the fall of Montsegur the Parfaits who escaped the Inquisition and Cathars refugees hid here. A visit of this cave is recommended although there is no painting. There is a short tour (90 minutes) and a longer one (3 hours). After the visit it becomes clear why the Cathars could have hid themselves here. For instance there are 28 separate entrances and the cave is connected with some others. When they were discovered in the 18th century, the bones of about 300 people were also discovered. It was however impossible to prove that they were from the Cathars. (e)


Mazanet’s museum of Local History is very interesting and from certain point of view better that its equivalent at Montsegur. Most of it is devoted to the history of funeral rites through the ages. A section is dealing directly with the Cathars. It includes a collection of the photos of all the Cathar castles and their history. A 20 minute video explains the civilisation of the Languedoc at the time of the heresy. Poetry, literature, philosophy, music, chivalry, tolerance and freedom flourished during this time. According to the presentation the crusade had political and economical motivations rather that religious one. (e)


The village of Minerve is built on a hill in a ring of the rivers Cesse and Brian north of Lézignan. The fortress that defended the village has disappeared. Minerve looks more like an Italian village. This is due to the fact that the Romans settled here and built most of the town structures. It was one of the main Cathar place due to the protection offered by the fortress. Many Cathars hid here in 1209 after the fall of Beziers. One hundred and forty Parfaits were burnt on July 22 at the stake after the seven week siege of the town in 1210. Guillaume de Minerve decided to surrender and he saved his live and those of his soldiers. The memorial due to the sculptor Jean Luc Séverac is erected just outside the Catholic Church. It consists of a stone pillar. A dove has been carved out in its middle. The dove was one of the more important Cathar symbol. The town is on the site of a temple to the Roman goddess of Art, Craftsmen and Wisdom, Minerva. (e)(l)


The central square of this delicious little town consists mainly of old wooden buildings. Their second and third floors hang over the pavement. It is a true medieval town or Bastide. The old beams of the “Maison des Consuls” are still in part the original ones. Quite a few Cathars lived here including a few Parfaits. The local knight, Pierre Roger de Mirepoix, was a Cathar. When the town was attacked by the crusaders most of the Cathars fled to the mountain. Guy de Lévis stayed here to control the passage between the Pyrénées and the plain of “La Garonne”. (e)(l)


This is an example of a small village where the Cathar religion was still practised by people in the 14th century. Most local people at that time were tending sheep. This implied a large population of shepherds who where moving from place to place selling their labour to employers with large number of sheep. It is particularly well known since Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie has written a very popular book based on the minutes of the secretary of the Inquisition. The ruins of the castle of Montaillou are still visible on top of Mont d’Aillon. It did not suffer during the crusades even if the number of Cathars living there was important. The Inquisitor, the Bishop Jacques Fournier, led 25 interrogatories between 1318 and 1325. (k)(l)


This is another attractive small town, about 700 meters above sea level. In the Church there are Cathar crosses and Celtic knots on the walls and the ceiling. The local museum is also interesting and gives a good view of the peasant life of the region. Some exhibits are connected with Montsegur for instance large stone bullets. (e)


The word Montsegur means “mont segur” or “safe mountain”. This castle is built at 1207 meters above sea level on a rock called “Pog”. At the request of the Cathar Church renovations took place in 1204 and by 1232 it was the strong fortress that we know. Raymond de Péreille was the local Knight. He was at first undecided: on one hand he wanted to help the Cathars who were very strong in the region. On the other he did not want to go against the Catholic Church that was becoming impatient and threatening to start a crusade. Finally he decided for the Cathars and Montsegur became one of the main site of the Cathar religion. It resisted to the end to the crusaders and was the site of a horrible massacre. Some writers say that built-in features indicate the directions of the sunrise on the first day of each of the four seasons. This is difficult to accept as the Cathars were against such material thinking. Parfaits blessed the many Cathar believers who came in pilgrimage to this temple of their faith. About five hundred people lived in the castle or in Montsegur village itself. Most of them were Cathars. As the crusade against them went under way many Cathars, and most of their leaders, hid in this fortress. They thought it to be strong enough to resist any invasion. However it fell in 1244 and 200 Parfaits and Parfaites refused to abjure their faith and were burned at the stake on the hill below the castle. A small monument built in “Le Prat des Cremats” (the Field of the Burned) recall their sufferance’s. The castle was given to Guy de Lévis by Louis IX and became a Royal Fortress. The present castle was built after the crusade in the 14th century. It was still a strong fortress. (e)(l) (a)

The local museum contains a lot of exhibits and information on the Cathars and the siege of the fortress. The skeleton of two Cathars put us in the middle of the drama of so many years ago. There are also a lot of objects that show how the local people lived at the time. It is worth a visit. (e)


A town existed already on the site of Narbonne in prehistoric times. It was an important harbour dealing with Rome at the Roman time. In exchange it received marble and pottery. The Visigoths, the Saracens and the Francs stayed here. It was a very rich city until the 14th century but the harbour got sanded and Narbonne lost much of its importance. During the Albigean crusade, Narbonne surrendered in 1209 after the massacre in Beziers. It was a meeting point for the crusading armies from the North. Narbonne did not suffer much from the crusaders. (l)

Niaux, Museum “des Paysans” and cave

Although this museum has little to do with our subjects, it helps a lot to understand how the peasants lived in this period. The “Transhumance” or shepherds habit to take the animals to high altitude plains during the summer, was a social system alternative to the feudal system. As a result the social structure of the shepherd’s life was in conflict with the feudal system. The Cathars were also fighting the feudal system and this explains the affinity between these people and Catharism. (e)

The cave has been dug out by underground water that now have disappeared. It has been always occupied since the prehistory. There are a lot of drawings that become more precise as one goes in the depth of the cave. In the “Salon Noir” we can say that they are real pieces of art. They represent bisons, horses, deers, wild goats,…(l)


Peyrepertuse castle is about 10 km away from Queribus in the direction of the village of Duilhac. It is built on a rock at 800 meters of altitude. This is the largest castle in the department of Aude. It seems impossible to reach. Now this is done following a small path that turn around it. The castle is built on two levels, the higher one being the more protected. It is called “château St Jordi’ and it is really a fortress within a fortress. To reach it there is a staircase, called “Escalier St Louis”, that seems to lead the visitor into the sky. The sight from it is very impressive and the visitor is rewarded of his fear, the cold wind and the effort required to climb up to the top. Peyrepertuse is also the only castle that was not attacked. Its Knight, Guillaume de Peyrepertuse handed it to the King in November 1240, after a long negotiation. It then became part of the defence of the Spanish border. Louis IX had it renovated. The castle St Jordi and its staircase are from this period. It was used until the French revolution but its usefulness stopped after the Pyrénées Treaty of 1659. The original fort here dates from the Visigoths. The present one was started in the 10th century. Its name means “pierced stone”. (e)(l)


Puivert is on the road from Belesta to Quillan. It was attacked by Simon de Montfort in 1210 at the beginning of the crusade and fell in the same year. In the medieval time Puivert was a centre for “Troubadours”. The Troubadours were travelling from castle to castle and provided a very much requested source of entertainment. The troubadours reached the top of their popularity in Languedoc at the time of the Cathar heresy. (e)(l)


Puylaurens is at about the same level as Montsegur but it looks higher. It is about 700 meters above a typical French village. The castle is on top of a mountain and overlooks the village. The castle date from the 11th century but was finished in the 12th century. It has tall towers and is fairly well preserved. It was a typical strong fortress of the time. In 1243 after the death of his knight, Pierre de Fenouillet, it had Chabert de Barbaira as his chief. He was a fervent Cathar and he resisted well to the attacks of the crusaders. It was taken only in 1256 and entered into the King’s possessions. What we see now is the result of renovations made after the Cathar period that is when it was used by the King’s army to protect the Spanish border. Renovation works are in progress that should make it beautiful to visit. The castle was abandoned in the 16 th century but it was used later as a prison and a shelter for bandits and shepherds. (e)(l)


To reach Queribus one must leave the road D117 at Maury and to go up the D19 for about 7 km. The castle can be seen from far away as it dominates the plain, rising as it does on the top of the rock on which it stands. Queribus can be seen from far but can also see far away. Even before the Cathars it was commandeering the whole region. Queribus resisted long after Montsegur had already becomes a legend. The ruins are still in a relatively good state and we can appreciate what it must have been when it was in full operation. It is heavily fortified and difficult to take as the crusaders realised soon. It fell in 1255 and was the last defence of the Cathars. Afterwards Catharism only existed clandestinely to finally disappear under the new King rules and the power of the Inquisition. To reach it now is still difficult. Queribus, like Montsegur, is built in such a way that the rays that go through the slit windows indicate solstice and equinox. (e)(l)


Rabastens is linked to the Cathar history. Sixty Cathars were burned on the stake here in 1211 by Simon de Montfort’s army on its way from Lavaur to Toulouse. Later in the 14th century one of the last known Parfaits, Guillaume Belibaste was trained here. (e)

Razès (le)

This region includes the villages of Rennes-les-Bains (known for its hot thermal springs), Rennes-le-Chateau (see after), Alet-les-Bains (same thermal springs as in Rennes-les-Bains), Limoux, …(l)


The village of Rennes-le-Chateau is built above the valleys of the rivers Aube and Sals. Since 1960 it has become well known due to the story of a fabulous treasure hidden there. A Catholic priest, Beranger Saunière, is credited with finding a treasure and important documents that could, if revealed, change the face of the world. He never clarified what he found and his servant, Marie, who was his confident refused to talk too. He restored his church and had a tower-library called Magdala built as well as a villa. Moreover he travelled a lot and was unable or unwilling to explain the origin of the money to his Bishop. He was expelled from the Church and he dyed soon after. Since 1960 a lot of visitors have been looking for this treasure but without success until to day. (l)


Nine kilometres from Lavelanet, on top of an eroded cliff, we see the ruins of the castle of Roquefixade. A small path leads up to it. Local inhabitants took refuge there during the Albigean crusade. However it was never attacked. (l)


To day we can only see a few ruins, some pieces of walls and towers. At the time of the Cathars it was a stronghold and the fortress was assumed to be able to resist any siege. In 1210 Raymond de Termes and his son, Olivier, resisted four months to the attack of the troops of Simon de Montfort. However they had to surrender due the lack of water following a very hot summer. When the crusaders entered into the castle the battle started again as the rain finally came and was filling the cisterns. One night the remaining defenders, weakened by dysentery, tried to escape. They were massacred by the crusaders and the castle fell. During the time of Amaury de Montfort, Olivier de Termes took back the castle but he did not keep it for long and he had to surrender again it this time to the King of France. The Royal fortress was destroyed by order of the King as robbers had taken possession of it and from there they were attacking all the neighbourhood. (l)


Toulouse is the most important city in the history of Catharism. Its Count had a lot of prestige and power and ruled on an area as big as the King of France did. The town was created by the Romans on the right bank of the Garonne. It grew very fast in the 12th century at the same time as heresy spread. Toulouse was attacked rather late in the first crusade. It is still possible to visit the house of the Chief Inquisitor Seila as well as the house of the Mauran family -prominent supporters of the heresy- that is now the University of Toulouse’s Library. (e)


This Cathar stronghold hidden in “les Gorges de l’ Aude” was left out of the Albigean crusade. Its castle is now more or less forgotten. It was practically dismantled after the revolution. The few ruins left do not allow us to guess what it was at the time of the Cathars. Four Cathars escaping from Montsegur took refuge here in 1244. The legend says that they were carrying the Cathar treasure. Who knows? (l)

Villerouge Terménès

The town is located in a pretty valley. It is the site of another Cathar castle where Guillaume Belibaste, the last Parfait according to tradition, was executed in 1321. The castle has a rectangular shape with very strong round towers. It is built in the middle of the village. Extensive restorations of the castle are being made and already now the castle’s interior is very nice. An exhibition of photos of the “Chemin de Belibaste”, the roads he travelled during his life, is worth seeing. During the summer plays related to Belibaste are staged in the castle. (e)(l)