Usson Castle


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The upper part of the Aude valley has three successive plateaus at the edge of the mountain range: Pays de Sault, followed by the Donezan and Capcir. The forest, lakes and high mountains make Donezan a magnificent natural destination. Usson Castle is not far from Rouze: it controls access to the Ariège region, yet turns towards the Aude...


At the end of the 10th century, the counts of Carcassonne and Cerdagne made an agreement and split the vast territory of Carolingian Razès: the counts of Cerdagne received Donezan, Capcir and a part of Fenolhedés. To make sure that these boundaries were respected, two castles were built facing one another, each on their own rock: Usson, in Donezan and Dournes, in Pays de Sault. In the 12th century, the lords of Usson Castle were royal vassals for the Kings of Aragon. In no way threatened by the Albigensian Crusade, they defended the besieged people of Montségur. They organised raids to bring them aid, and sheltered around thirty Cathar refugees. They believed it was worth the persecution by the Inquisition, which burned two of their members alive. Their belongings went to the counts of Foix, who were uninterested. Everyone forgot about this abandoned region, which was subjected to regular raids by the Spanish. In the 18th century, the castle was fully restored by its new occupant, the Marquise of Bonnac. But along came the Revolution...


The Heritage House

The Heritage House was established in the former stables at the entrance to the castle. It represents the beginning of the visit. Follow the long history of Usson and Donezan, from pre-history to the present day, with over 700m2 of exhibits. This history is told through exhibitions, slide shows, objects from archaeological excavations and a reconstruction of a traditional mountain house.

There is symmetry everywhere

The eighteenth-century castle was built on top of an eleventh-century castle, sometimes causing it to entirely disappear. The most striking feature of the classical style is the use of symmetry. You can see it in the entrance court, in the design of the stables. In the upper hall, three towers, two of which are fake, respond to the overhanging medieval tower to create an overall harmony. The architect has even used an ingenious optical correction for the paving in the upper courtyard to re-establish perspective.

A ventilated room

This large medieval room with a vaulted ceiling is located under the eighteenth-century dining room. Designed to store food provisions, especially grain, it benefitted from an extremely ingenious ventilation system in order to ensure that food remained perfectly preserved.

A hidden door

In the event of a siege, a discreet getaway was essential to get provisions, seek refuge etc. Here, you would need to find the narrow staircase, fitted between the apse of the church and the big vaulted room, completely covered up. Below, a small door led to freedom: a simple ladder to reach the bottom of the ramparts, where you could escape into the valley.

A mysterious church

This church was discovered during to excavations during preservation works on the castle. We wouldn't have known it was there, if it wasn't for illicit excavations, which destroyed all of the archaeological strata. However, the church contains typical elements from early Roman architecture, and remains of a painted coating...

Things to explore

As you walk


According to records kept by the Inquisition, the besieged Cathars at Montségur allegedly managed to smuggle a 'thesaurus', a treasure, out of the castle. Whether it was golden treasure, or paper treasure, it reached Usson Castle, where it mysteriously disappeared. Treasure hunters have been searching for it ever since. Despite plundering and demolishing the castle, they have had no success. However in doing so, they have certainly destroyed many archaeological objects that would have allowed a better understanding of the site.

The treasure of Montségur