Villerouge-Termenes Castle

In memory of the last Occitan Cathar

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An enduring fixture in the middle of the village, the archbishops' castle of Narbonne contains high ramparts with crenelated towers. Inside, the colours and smells of the Middle Ages come alive. This experience is one-of-a-kind in Europe, and takes place in the small valley of Hautes Corbières.

History

At the end of the 11th century, Villerouge-Temenès Castle was owned by Guifred de Cerdagne, the archbishop of Narbonne. His successor was threatened by the bishop of Rodez. The latter seized an archiepiscopal seat, and ceded Villerouge to the lord of Peyrepertuse, who was himself confronted with demands from the lord of Termes. A new archbishop was declared by the papacy after two years, but it would take 33 years before the co-lords of Villerouge returned the fiefdom and the castle to the archbishop of Narbonne. During the Albigensian Crusade, Alain de Roucy, a companion to Simon de Montfort, seized the castle, which was eventually returned. In 1321, a dramatic event took place: the burning of the last Cathar, Guilhem Bélibaste, signalling an end to Occitan Catharism. Until the French Revolution, a succession of archbishops of Narbonne wielded the power of a great lord, with the ability to set taxes and serve justice.

 

The fortress

This fully-restored castle provides an excellent, complete example of military architecture during the 13th and 14th centuries. It's one of the rare fortresses that is built on the edge of a stream, in the middle of a vale and closer to cultivated fields, rather than on a rocky outcrop. Crouched between its four corner towers, the castle casts a massive shadow. An access ramp runs along the ramparts up to the entrance in a sort of tower-porch, barely visible. A door opens, equipped with a deadfall trap.

The keep

The "Great Tower" has three levels. The staircases are set on the inside of the ramparts to obstruct potential attackers. In the upper room, windows with benches overlook the surroundings, four arrow slits are open, two to provide a grazing blow. Finally, the keep defends itself with its 22m-high crenelated wall.

Cathar and the Archbishop

In the eastern wing of the castle, history is made flesh through reconstructed scenes, videos and models. The intersecting histories of Bélibaste and the Archbishop Bernard de Fargues, who oversaw his torture, provide an opportunity to dive into 14th century life. The narration, based on the novel by Henri Gougaud, is true to life, and tasty as well...

The medieval feast

The "medieval grill room" is located in the western part of the castle. It offers dishes made using recipes from the 13th and 14th centuries. Served by people in costume, they tickle your imagination as well as your tastebuds.

Things to explore

As you walk

About

Corbières has a significant mineral wealth, mostly comprising of iron and silver. Iron mines have existed here since Antiquity, with elaborate operations created by the Romans. Mining was also a major cause of the power of Lagrasse Abbey and the lords of Termes in the Middle Ages. In the 17th century, Colbert relaunched its mining industry, which grew enormously over the following centuries. One of the biggest mining sites is around Palairac, a small village around 15km from Villerouge-Termenès. The 19th-century engineers listed approximately 300 mines. The ore was soon no longer purified on site, but transported to places rich in water and machines, such as the Quillan forge. In the 20th century, iron ore was transported from Palairac via a 5km cable where buckets were hoisted up to the rail station of Félines-Termenès. Mining activity ceased in the 1960s.

The Mines