For all those history lovers out there, the Cathar Castles in the area of Carcassonne should definitely be one of the items on your Travel Bucket List.
Having stood strong through the centuries, through wars and occupations, religions and politics, its massive and impressive walls survived both the test of time and humanity. They live on, bursting with stories and tales to tell us, and give us a glimpse into middle ages . So all aboard with high speed train Renfe-SNCF en Coopération , and get ready to travel back in time.
Catharism, from the Greek word Katharoi, meaning “the pure ones”, is a religious movement, sometimes referred to as a “spin-off” of Catholicism that flourished from the 12th to 14th century, particularly in certain areas in France and Italy. The Cathars believed in two Gods, an evil one who ruled the earth, and a good one who ruled the heavens; and were therefore viewed as heretics by the Christian church. Though persecuted and eventually eliminated, for a time they did thrive, with a special focus in the region of Languedoc, in the area of Carcassonne, France.
View of the fortified city - Cité de Carcassonne
In the 13th century, castles that were located near the border between France and Aragon, which was divided by Roussillon were claimed from the Cathars by the French king as frontier fortresses. As a measure of
protection of French territories, five of these castles were turned into Royal Citadels, known as les cinq fils de Carcassonne, or the five sons of Carcassonne.
Later in the 17th century, a marriage uniting the Spanish and French royal families led to Roussillon being given to France, moving the border between the two countries further south, eliminating the need for Royal Citadels, who lost their importance and eventually became abandoned.
The truth is that there are several castles advertised as “Cathar Castles” that are actually not. Many of them are castles that were built in the place of the original Cathar castles by the French after the Cathar crusades, or simply castles that at some point, housed Cathar refugees. It is said, however, that Carcassonne is one of the sites with the closest claim to being a true Cathar Castle, being one of the few in which parts of the original castle can still be made out.
The Château Comtal de Carcassonne, or the Count of Carcassonne’s castle (previously known as the Castèl de Carcassona), is one of them. Built in medieval style, it is located within the walls of the Cité de Carcassonne, a fascinating fortified city on top of a hill just outside Carcassonne
. Since 1997 the Cité de Carcassonne is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage, and is currently the largest European city with its city walls still entirely intact.
For others UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit, read here
View from the Castle - Cité de Carcassonne
Thanks to having been rebuilt and restored, the castle is in excellent condition, allowing visitors not only to roam the grounds around it, but to enter into the castle and marvel at it from the inside as well, decorated with countless treasures and works of art. The more adventurous can choose to wonder around on their own simply soaking in the atmosphere and feel of the castle and its grounds, though there are also audio guides and guided tours, explaining the site’s fascinating history and tales.
If your passion is history, the Château Comtal de Carcassonne is a sight you can simply not miss out. Its walls have looked over hundreds and hundreds of years of history. Everything from wars, celebrations, plagues and epic love stories have taken place under its watch, and its centuries of existence and wisdom can be felt in its powerful presence. For those who love nature, the grounds around the castle and the city are a remarkable place to wander, and the exquisite views over the hills of Carcassonne are simply sensational. And for those who favour the arts, the frescoes that line the inner walls of the castle are most certainly a sight to be seen. In short, you will find something for everyone in the beautiful city of Carcassonne that doesn’t lack beautifully outstanding sights to see.