Raymond de Péreille, feudal lord of Montségur, erected a small defensive compound and a few Cathar religious houses on the pog. He granted the Church of these heretics refuge there in 1232 and allowed them to set up their “capital and heart” there. Lords chased from their lands, men-at-arms and the faithful among the common people inhabited this fortified village, which offered them guaranteed protection. The pog became a symbol of religious, military and political resistance. In 1242, it was the point of departure for the troops who massacred the Inquisitors in Avignonet, Lauragais. That was the last straw for the French king. He resolved to do away with Montségur. The pog was placed under siege. This siege was to last from spring 1243 to March 1244. A commando succeeded in conquering the peak of Roc de la Tour and installed a bricole there to bombard the castrum, where the defending troops were now trapped. The garrison was exhausted. Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix, the commander of the fortress, negotiated their surrender. The Cathars were faced with a choice: convert or die. They chose the stake. After these events, the lord of Lévis, acting on behalf of the king, had a new château built to keep watch over the area from the mountaintop...
First of all, we can see some prairies, which may have been the theatre for the great burning of 1244, then a stele erected during the 60s by the Société du Souvenir et des Etudes cathares (the Cathar Memorial and Study Society) to the memory of those who lost their lives at the stake. Further up is the “donkey’s step”, a remainder of the original path, which was solidly built to make it easier for horses to walk along it. Knights, traders, farmers bringing supplies to the castrum, visitors come to hear a sermon, receive consolamentum or see a relative...all these trod these slopes on a daily basis.
The château of the lord of Lévis hugs the outline of the rock face tightly. Inside, cut off from the modern world and seated on the silent stones, you can listen to the guide tell the epic tale of the siege of Montségur and its tragic outcome. After this moving story, move on to the dungeon, with its beautiful windows, and where you can make out a staircase joining the two floors.
A few walls can be seen on the slopes. Soon, you will be able to see the peak of Roc de la Tour, just coming into view in the forest in the distance. This is the route that the assailants took in order to surprise the defenders: the barbican defending the castrum fell, then the final ramparts caved under the blows from stone cannonballs, some of which have been found.
There is a 360° view from the château, and the viewpoints are spectacular. From the entrance, the village down below looks tucked into the valley, dominated by high mountains. On the castrum side, the countryside unfolds as far as the eye can see in the direction of the Toulouse region, Lauragais and the Sault plateau.
As you walk
Visiting the museum is as essential as visiting the site itself. A 3D reconstruction of the castrum bursts onto the screen to become a living, breathing settlement once more. Its triple outer walls, its mountain homes...everything comes back to life. The display cabinets contain items found in the castrum that illustrate the daily lives of its inhabitants. The museum, now redesigned and moved to larger premises, will be offering an enriched visiting experience in 2020, worthy of the exceptional stature of this site.
This is what is known as a “sunny side” village: all the houses, arranged in neat lines on the buttress of the mountain, face south. They are bathed in sunshine. Because the mountains are so high, the temperatures quickly become cool, and the shade is quick to fall. But a casual stroll through the village gives no clue of how harsh mountain life can be.
The château was abandoned in the late 16th Century and became a quarry for the few villagers living in the new village of Montségur. The neat cuts of its stones stand out against the roughly hewn stones of the houses. In the village, a 17th Century cross bears the Lévis-Mirepoix coat of arms. This family, which paid tribute to the king for Montségur in 1245, did not gain a great deal financially from taking the actual control of the site. The family however still proudly bears the title of the lords of Montségur: the symbolic value is strong enough to blot out the economic reality...
The Massif du Saint-Barthélémy Nature Reserve
The giants are looking at each other. The pog of Montségur, a giant in the history of the Cathars, and the mountains, Saint-Barthélémy and Soularac, that familiar pair visible from Toulouse to Carcassonne. This protected natural environment offers unforgettable hikes: from the dark surfaces of mountain pools to the exuberant rhododendrons bursting forth like fireworks from the unforgiving mineral of the mountain peaks...peregrine falcons, griffon vultures and even Egyptian vultures glide through the sky...down below stands the château, the proud and solitary guardian of the Lasset Valley that finds its roots here.
This is a spring that bursts forth as broad as a river. It flows regularly for most of the year. From July until October, however, when the water table is low, it becomes a joyfully chaotic and intermittent sputter. The effect is remarkable and young and old alike flock to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon. People wait, watch for the water and, when it arrives, courageously take off their shoes and walk through the cool water towards the back of the cave.
Mentioned as early as the 11th Century, Roquefixade belonged to the lords of Pailhès, faithful vassals of the Comtes de Toulouse and de Foix, alongside whom they fought. It was acquired by the king of France, refortified and assigned its own garrison. During the 17th Century, Louis XIII ordered that it be dismantled. Its imposing remains are today listed as Historic Monuments. From Montségur, you can get to Roquefixade via a path that overlaps the relevant section of the Cathar trail, going from the sea to Foix, and the GR107 hiking trail known as the “sentier des Bonhommes” (“Trail of the Perfects”), a trail that crosses the border from Foix to Aragon.
Textile and Comb Museum, Lavelanet
During the 20th Century, wool-working was a major economic activity in this region. The story told here is recent and yet seems such a long time ago. The cards of a 19th Century mechanical spinning mill, hand-operated looms and more come to life in the atmosphere of the largest factory in Lavelanet, which during the Trente Glorieuses period (1945-1975) became the capital of French weaving. You will learn everything about how fabrics are made.
On 1 March 1244, Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix negotiated the surrender of Montségur. Talks were successful. A partial amnesty was granted to all the defenders, including those who had participated in the Avignonet expedition. They were to be punished only lightly by the Inquisition. The inhabitants of the castrum who renounced their Cathar faith were promised their lives and their freedom. The others would be burned alive. A two-week truce was granted by Hugues d’Arcis, leader of the besieging troops, before this agreement is enforced. Why did he grant this truce? Which reasons were given? What happened during those two weeks? . No-one knows, but no Cathar renounced his faith, and some people even converted to Catharism. All of them, over 200 in number, chose the stake. The symbolic significance of this event is so great that its power can still be felt today.