Arques Castle

An Île-de-France residence in Corbières

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A few kilometres away from Coustaussa castle, a lush green valley emerges. In this unexpected tranquillity, the keep of Arques, a Gothic architectural masterpiece from Île-de-France, emerges.

History

During the 11th century, the village of Arques was at a crossroads, linking Fenolhédès to Carcassès. By the end of the 12th century, a single seigniorial tower in the centre of the village was the only evidence of the power of the Termes family. In 1260, Olivier de Termes sold Arques to Pierre de Voisins, a powerful French knight. His grandson, Gilles de Voisins, began the construction of the castle in 1280, and decided to expand the village. Gilles and his descendants built a castle-residence away from the centre of town. They must have called upon the King's craftsmen, at work in Carcassonne and in the whole Corbières region, to build this magnificent residence, which combined comfort with military power. During the 16th century, the castle served as a refuge for the people of Arques when the Spanish, followed by the Protestants, destroyed their village. The dukes of Joyeuse, who were lords of Arques, left the castle to build a new castle in the Renaissance style in Couiza, on the banks of the Aude.

Living quarters

Located inside the outer wall, to the left of the entrance, these lodgings are in a square tower built on two floors. On the first floor is a half-buried room with barrel-vaulted ceiling. On the second floor, the room displays ribbed vaulting supported by sculpted bases. Two magnificent faces recall the elegant style of the sculptures in the minstrels' room at Puivert Castle.

The outside of the keep

With its four watch towers (one at each corner of the buttresses), the keep looks like it is on stilts. At 24m high, it is an impressive structure, made from golden sandstone and topped with pinkish tiles. The walls are covered in almost 100 openings, including arrow slits, windows, doors and deadfall trap.

4 inside floors

The short spiral staircase in the South-East turret connects the four floors of the keep. On each floor, the impressive quality of the building is evident: here, eight ribs meet at a single point. You can see a trefoil arch window, and a fireplace with sculpted columns. The room is perfectly octagonal.

A forerunner

The castle of Arques has undoubtedly benefited from all the art made by the King's master artists. Many contributions from throughout Carcassonne, Peyrepertuse and Termes, can be found displayed here. The care lavished upon interior decorating was innovative, as it suggests a Renaissance-era style, which would not take off until after the Hundred Years' War.

Things to explore

As you walk

About

Arques and Saint-Louis de Parahou are the only fortified towns in the Corbières. When the Voisins family decided to expand the village of Arques at the end of the 13th century, the new district received the name of 'bastide', or 'fortified town'. The lord attracted new residents with favourable conditions for clearing the land, grazing livestock and using the wood. In 1329, at the request of their lord, the inhabitants obtained the right to organise fairs and markets. Arques thus became a lively market town.

The attraction of fortified towns