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Aude History

  Hystory of Occitania
Hystory of the Languedoc

Hystory of the Languedoc
 

The Languedoc lies in the so called "Midi", which is agricultural land for as long as we remember. The knowledge of agriculture and the fertility rituals in ancient times may have been connected to the suncult. Archeologists have found traces of this suncult and some people even speculate on Egyptian colonists introducing the cult of Aton. Also the Knights Templar are connected with the suncult. Many if not all esoteric orders claim that their knowledge is originally Egyptian which has grown since that time to what it is now.

Before the Romans arrived, two Celtic tribes ruled the land.

1. The Volcae Arecomici
2. The Volcae Tectosages
 

In 413 the Visigoths arrived. When they were pushed back in 507 by Clovis at the Battle of Vouillé, in which Alaric II was killed, they founded Septimania. The number 7 is a very important number in symbolism. There were 7 planets known to the old world. The week has 7 days. Because the earth is equal to the number 4 (square) and heaven is equal to the number 3 (triangle), 7 would mean the Great Covenant between God and men. Septimania would exist for 200 years. It was inhabited not by barbarians, but by scientists and philosophers.

After the short capture of Septimania by the Muslims, Charlemagne reconquered the land and added it to the Realm of the Franks. When the Carolingian realm fell apart after his death, feudal Lords ruled the Midi. The mightiest rulers were the counts of Toulouse and Barcelona. Trade and science flourished. People lived in a mixed society with Jews and Arabs, who shared their knowledge and intellect for the good of everybody.

Hystory of the Languedoc

At the courts, troubadours sang songs of romance, but also politics. Free opinion was still tolerated here. These troubadours sang in a common dialect, so that everyone could understand what they were singing. This dialect was known as "koiné", which is better known as the langue d'Oc. In the 13th century, the whole area was called Languedoc. Oc means "yes".
Hystory of the Languedoc
The wealth of the south and their independence from the crown and the church irritated the French king and the pope was irritated by the growing anti-catholic movements like the Cathars, whose religion was based on oriental and dualist elements. This lead to the crusade against the Cathars, or the Albigenzian Crusade, a black page in the history books. Finally the Languedoc was conquered and added to the French crown. However, the bitter events resulted in a large gap between the people of the Languedoc and the kings of France. In theory, the Languedoc is part of France, but in reality you will leave France as soon as you get to Toulouse. Here, you enter the Land of Oc....
 
In the 14th century, the plague took 1/3 of the inhabitants of the Languedoc. However, thanks to the trade in textiles the people soon regained their strength. The area was still fertile for new ideas though. With the Cathar faith still deeply rooted in their souls, and their growing contempt against the wealthy catholic church, soon the Reformation became a fact. It was followed by the newly formed protestants and Huguenots. This again resulted in harsh Religious Wars. This did not only exist because of the urge for a new sort of faith, but also because of the urge to cut loose from France. Like Catharism, the protestant faith flourished in the Languedoc. After a period of sour acceptance, also the Huguenots were now publicly at war with France. As of 1685, many left the country and settled in Belgium and The Netherlands.

Hystory of the Languedoc
 

Hystory of the Languedoc

In 1791, the Languedoc was sliced up into eight departments:

The Ardeche
Aude
Gard
Haute-Garonne
Haute-Loire
Hérault
Lozère
Tarn.
 
After the French Revolution, there was still a large gap between the Languedoc and Paris. Thanks to the growing tourism, the area was made accessible and the vine culture flourished. Around 1900, the land was devastated by a very small insect, the Phylloxera lice. This caused much poverty, especially among the wine farms and in the wine trade. However, today the Languedoc is one of the largest wine-producing areas of France. But can we really say this? Because the Languedoc isn't really France, it is the Land of Oc.

Hystory of the Cathars

Nobles from the then kingdom of France in the north, led by Simon de Montfort, used their declared intention to help the Catholic Church in its attempt to stamp out the Cathar heresy as a pretext to attack the ruling seigneurs of the Languedoc.

From the 11th century onwards, the southern nobility had shown a broadminded tolerance towards troubadors and Cathar heretics alike, welcoming them into their castles. During the Crusade period, these "castles" offered asylum both to the Cathars harried by the Inquisition and to the dispossessed overlords.

Hystory of the Languedoc

Attacked and besieged by the Crusaders' army, the fortresses in the Aude fell one by one. Some were left in ruin, never to recover from the assault, whereas others, by virtue of their strategic position, were rebuilt and strengthened to ensure domination of the newly conquered lands, at the same time keeping watch over the nearby border with Aragon (Spain).

When in 1659, the treaty of the Pyrénées redrew the border further to the south, realigning it from peak to peak from one end of the Pyrénées to the other, the castles were neglected and later were abandoned and fell into ruin.
 
The term "Cathar Castles" was first used to describe these strongholds as a reminder of this period in their history. The archaeological evidence in fact tells a rather different story; these bastions were either reinforced or entirely replaced by new ones, but after the Crusade.

Today, in the Lauragais area of the Aude that was the heartland of Catharism, and throughout the narrow stretch of land that separates the Pyrénées from the Central Massif range, immemorial landmarks have survived that continue to bear witness to what was a crucial period in the history of the Languedoc.

History of Carcassonne

The History of Carcassonne

The oldest sign of habitation in this area dates from the 5th century BC. In 122 BC the Romans invaded both Provence and Languedoc, proceeded to fortify the central fortification, which they called Carcasso, and occupied the region until the mid 5th century AD. At this juncture, Spain and Languedoc fell to the Visigoths hailing from the banks of the Danube. The walled city of Carcassonne remained under Visigoths sway from 460 to 725, when in the spring of that year, the city was taken by the Saracens. The Saracens named the city Carchachouna. After the death of Charlemagne, the feudal period began. Between 1082 and 1209 the city of Carcassonne wielded tremendous influence for 130 years under the dynasty of the Trencavels, Viscounts of Albi, Carcassonne, Béziers and Nîmes. These same prosperous times also saw the swift rise of the Cathar religion - better known, perhaps as the Albigensian heresy, founded on a doctrine of Manichaean dualism and bitterly opposed to the contemporary decadence of Catholicism.

Raymond Roger Trencavel, the young Viscount of Carcassonne was sympathetic towards this heresy and offered Cathar heretics refuge on his estates. When Pope Innocent III mounted his crusade in 1209, the young Trencavel found himself in the direct line of fire: on August 15th of that year, after a two-week siege, Carcassonne fell and the Albigensian heresy was over. The city and its landed possessions were assigned to the military commander of the Crusade, Simon de Montfort. On this latter's death in 1218 he was succeeded by his son Amaury, who was incapable of retaining control over his lands. He relinquished them in 1223 and the following year handed over his Languedoc possessions to King Louis VIII.

Carcassonne became a fortress city under the successive reign of Louis IX, Philippe le Hardi and Philippe le Bel, it developed its present day aspect. In 1262 a new borough started to emerge from the flatlands on the west bank of the river, and this would become the "Bastide Saint-Louis". But in 1355, Edward, Prince of Wales destroyed it by fire. It was immediately rebuilt. In spite of the bridge which links the mediaeval walled city and the "Bastide Saint-Louis" the two have led very different existences. While the new town bustled with activity, the walled city consolidated its role as a royal stronghold.

* Today, from the top of the City's ramparts, the visitor can look out towards a variety of landscapes:

* The "Ville Basse", built from the XIII century onwards, with its striking features such as religious buildings, the vestiges of ancient ramparts, private mansion houses and also pedestrian precincts and green squares.

* To the North, the Black Mountains, foothills of the Massif Central, offer wooded hills which provide a refreshing refuge in the heat of summer.

* To the South, the Pyrénées, preceded by the Corbières, outline themselves against a blue sky where the sun shines 300 days a year.

* To the West, the rich Lauragais land makes up a multicoloured palette with its meadows, vineyards, fields of corn and barley, sweet corn and sunflowers.

Between the Black Mountains and the Pyrénées, in this passage connecting the two seas, where the Aude river and the Canal du Midi draw close together and lose sight of each other and then separating, Carcassonne, the look-out post, serves as a link for economic and cultural exchange, and the communication of ideas and stories.


Château d’Arques - Arques

The Castle of Arques

This castle was built in the northern style yet located in the centre of the south - it was constructed between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by Gilles, grandson of Pierre de Voisins, a close companion in arms of Simon de Montfort. There is a thick wall enclosing a central tower and keep.

The style is that of the Kingdom of France; the stone is that of Corbières. It is truly a work of art, a redeeming product of a time of grief.
 
The castle is located near the village of Rennes-le-Château, about 40 km south of Carcassonne and at the heart of the Corbières.

Opening hours Open from 10 am October and April; until 5 pm May, June and September; until 8 pm.
July and August; until 10 pm Open during weekends and school holidays - November, December, February and March.
 
 
The Castle of Peyrepertuse


The castle of Peyrepertuse, by the extent and the quality of the buildings, forms the largest ensemble of fortifications of its type in the Languedoc and offers the finest example of medieval military architecture in the region.

Peyrepertuse is an enormous citadel that covers 7,000 square metres. Invested unsuccessfully by the troops of Simon de Montfort in 1216, in 1240 it was captured by the royal army after a siege of just 3 days.


Château de Peyrepertuse - Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse
 
St Louis perfected the fortifications and built a second castle of the west on the Roc St-Jordy. Structures surviving from the twelfth century are the old keep, transformed into a cistern, and a small circuit of walls. The Church of Ste. Marie (also twelfth century) is contained within the ramparts. The castle is situated near the village of Duilhac and the Verdouble river, 35 km west of Perpignan.

Visiting: The castle may be visited every day. - Average duration to climb the hill and tour the ruins is 90 minutes.

 


Château de Quéribus - Cucugnan

The Castle of Quéribus

For those who come from the coast, this royal fortress atop an impressive rocky outcrop, marks the entrance to the Cathar Country.

During the Albigensian Crusade, the château governed by Chabert de Barbaira, housed many heretics and dispossessed knights (faidits). In 1255, eleven years after Montségur, this citadel of Cathar resistance fell into French hands.
 
An excellent example of military architecture, the château is famed for its polygonal keep and Gothic-style hall, of which the dome rests on a sturdy circular palm-phanged pillar. Today a circular staircase leads to a terrasse on the summit of the keep. Perched at 728 metres, it overlooks the fantastic Fenouillèdes landscape, the Roussillon plains and the Corbières.

The château lies on Cucugnan village land, celebrated for Achille Miros famous Occitan tale retold by Alphonse Daudet in his "Letters from my Windmill".

In the centre of the village you will find Achille Miros Little Pocket Theatre.
 
 
The Castle of Usson


A small castle, near the village of Usson-les-Bains above the valley of the Aude, towards the south of the Cathar region. The surrounding landscape is typified by rocky hills with sparse vegetation, and no other signs of habitation in the immediate vicinity

This region forms part of the foothills of the Pyrénées, the often impenetrable barrier between France and Spain. Usson is 81 km south of Carcassonne by road.

Château d'Usson - Rouze
 
In this lonely place, the ruins stand out starkly against the usually deep blue sky, buffeted by the relentless winds that gust around this exposed place. Beneath the castle, the Bruyante stream flows endlessly around the foot of the castle walls.

Visiting: The castle may be visited every day. - No payment is required.
 
 
The Castle of Lordat


Perched 400 metres above the valley of the Ariège, the Castle of Lordat has a commanding position on a small, steep hill that overlooks the surrounding undulating landscape for many miles.

Lordat is a tiny village at the extreme southwest of the Cathar region, close to the Sault Plateau and the Pyrénées foothills - 70 km from Carcassonne directly, but nearer 120 km along the winding roads of this region.

Château de Lordat - Lordat
 
This part of France is hot and dry during summer but often very cold and snow-bound for months during winter. These extremes of weather have taken a heavy toll on the castle, and now only vestiges of the once-formidable structure remain.

Visiting: - The castle may be visited every day. - No payment is required.

The Castle of Roquefixade

A still point in the world. Here the wind is for ever erasing from the stones what time writes wordlessly with its vast blind force. the castle kneels before the light springing up from behind the mountain. The castle has an elevated position atop a particularly steep promontory above the Valley of the Baure, in the Pays de Foix region. For many miles beneath, fertile farmland spreads out under the remains of this former Cathar stronghold.
 

Château de Roquefixade - Roquefixade

Roquefixade is along the D117 near Lavelanet, about 85 km from Carcassonne.

Visiting:
- The castle may be visited every day.
- No payment is required, but access is difficult.
 
The Castle of Puivert

The present castle of Puivert dates mainly from the fourteenth century. The castle which the troops of Simon de Montfort besieged, under the leadership of Thomas-Pons de Bruyères, was on a slightly different site, and has almost entirely disappeared.

Standing at the edge of the Ariège region, the fortress guarded the road between Foix and Perpignan. Today, the imposing keep contains several rooms including a musician's chamber with many sculptured stone figures.
 
 
Puivert is a charming old town, 50 km from Carcassonne, and is dominated by the well-reserved castle.
According to legend, the castle is where some of the greatest troubadours of the land came to hold a court of love. Time has silenced their voices. The crusade swept across this peaceful country.

What remains are the songs of birds in the eternal wild grasses and these upright walls where love poems and war cries seem together to have given birth to nothing but peace.

Château de Puivert - Puivert
 
The Castle of Montségur

Accessible on foot from the parking place, just outside the old town. It's quite a climb, remember to take water with you and keep your head covered from the sun. It may take up to 2 hours when you leave from the village. This castle is the most famous of them all and attracts pilgrims from all over the world. In the village below you can have a wonderful lunch in the picturesque little Gite de France, which also has a souvenir shop.
 

Château de Montségur - Montségur

On the spot of an earlier fortress, a new castle was built in 1204. Here the soldiers of Pierre-Roger de Mirepoix were situated, while the Cathars lived around the castle. Montségur was one of the last Cathar strongholds to be taken, but that was no easy job. Because it seemed to be the safest place for them, there were many Cathar perfecti here, along with their most precious possessions. The siege begun in July 1243, followed by months in terrible Winter conditions. Neither gave in. The crusaders then built catapults to destroy the buildings which protected the people from the elements.
 
On March 1st, the crusaders agreed to give them a 15-day peace, so that they would get to a decision. Pierre-Roger agreed to surrender, but he wanted the promise that his garrison would be spared. During this period, several Cathars escaped the castle with a secret baggage. This would become the basis of many Grail legends. All other Cathars who would not become roman catholics, ended in the flames of a huge stake. They would throw themselves into the fire, "happy" to leave the material world behind them.

The castle you see today is a new building, a third castle, built by the new Lord of Mirepoix, Guy de Lévis II in 1245. On the northwest side of the castle lie the ruins of the Cathar village, where people are excavating the site.

On route to the castle you arrive at the "Prats dels Cramats", where you can see a monument to the Cathars who were burned here on 16th March 1244. The monument, which is situated on one of the loveliest spots in the Midi-Pyrenees, says it all: "Als Catars, als martirs del pur amor chrestian, 16 mars 1244". (To the Cathars, to the marters of the pure christian love, 16th March 1244).

The Castle of Puilaurens

On a rocky pedestal reaching 697 metres into the sky the fortress of Puilaurens blocked one of the gateways to the Fenouillèdes. Saint Louis ordered it to be fortified. It was taken time and again, but finally fell once and for all under the power of the French king around 1250.
 
 
For four centuries, Puilaurens was France's most southerly fortress. During the Albigensian Crusade it sheltered many important historical figures. The castle of Puilaurens in the most complete defensive site of its type.

Nothing remains of the first castle built on this site. These ruins are what is left of the last. Castles are like human beings: they pass through childhood, adult vigour and old age to a motionless eternity - not stripped of flesh but released from the flesh, in all lights and all weathers.

Château de Puilaurens - Lapradelle-Puilaurens
 
Visiting: - Average duration tour the ruins is 60 minutes
- Open all day April to October
- Open for weekends and school holidays November to March
- Closed in January

Copyright Anneke Koremans (www.panoccitania.com)

 
Musée
de Préhistoire
de Tautavel

Musée de Préhistoire de Tautavel

The site of Tautavel Cave (also called Caune de l'Arago) is an ancient karst cave in the Tautavel valley of France with over 35 feet of deposits containing over 40 very old stratified occupations, dated between 450,000 and 100,000 years before the present. Stone tools and faunal remains have been found in abundance. The oldest layers include several bone and bone fragments of several individuals of the so-called Tautavel Man, called Homo erectus tautavelensis. Archaeologist Henry de Lumley of the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine has been excavating the cave since 1964 and continues research today...


Abbaye de Fontfroide

Abbaye de Fontfroide - Narbonne

Immerse yourself for a day in the silent universe of the Cistercian Monks, who had only the cicadas’ song to distract them from contemplation. Standing in front of its high walls, it’s hard to imagine just how vast the Abbey is. Once you have passed the gate, the splendour of the ochre sandstone building will be revealed. It is one of the most beautiful Cistercian abbeys of France, founded in 1093 and saved from ruin in 1908 by art patrons Gustave and Madeleine Fayet. While discovering the dormitory and refectory, you will plunge into history and learn about the particularities of the Cistercian Order. You will find out, for instance, that the professed monks never met the conversi, or lay brothers, who were manual workers...


Les Quatre Châteaux de Lastours

Les Quatre Châteaux de Lastours

Built on the top of bedrock at 300m above sea level, the four towers of the site of Lastours (Cabaret, Tour Régine, and Surdespine Quertinheux) proudly dominate the course of Orbiel (the river of olive trees) and the torrent Grésilhou in a wild landscape bristling with cypress. Lock Cabardès since the early Middle Ages, they controlled one of the main pathways in the Cabardès and the Black Mountain and took all their importance at the time of the crusade against the Albigensians. Archaeological excavations carried out since 1980 under the direction of Marie-Elise Gardel, have helped to uncover the medieval village of Cabaret, the Mecca of Catharism and the resistance against the Crusader armies. This ancient fortified settlement called " Castrum ", consisted of a hundred houses and many forges. These places were abandoned abruptly without the inhabitants were able to take any object...


Carcassonne,
La Cité

Carcassonne, la Cité - Carcassonne

The Walled City of Carcassonne is known first and foremost as a fortified medieval town; but this rocky outcrop has been occupied by man since the 6th century B.C., first as a gaul settlement, then as a Roman town fitted with ramparts as early as the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. On the western face of this primitive fortification rests the castle, built in the 12th century by the vicomtes Trencavels.In the early 13th century, Carcassonne was taken by Simon de Montfort during the Albigensian Crusade, then annexed to the royal estate. Fortification works lasted throughout the 13th century, with the construction of the outer wall and the modernisation of the inner rampart, making this place an impregnable fortress. The Cité lost its strategic importance after the signing of the Pyrénées Treaty in 1659. In the second half of the 19th century, it underwent a major restoration project supervised by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and was included by UNESCO in the World Heritage List...


Minerve

Minerve

Minerve has been selected as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (‘The Most Beautiful Villages Of France’). Historically, the village has been the capital of the Minervois wine region. The main bridge leading into the village is closed to all passenger vehicles not owned by residents of Minerve. Of all of the original fortifications, only a slender octagonal tower, known locally as the Candela, survives. The village is situated on top of the gorge of the River Cesse in a naturally strong defensive position. Near the village the river disappears underground in large, naturally-carved tunnels...


Château de Montségur

Château de Montségur - Montségur

The Château de Montségur is probably the best known of all Cathar Castles. It is famous as the last Cathar stronghold, which fell after a 10 month siege in 1244. A field below the hill-top castle is reputed to be the site where over 200 Cathars were burned alive, having refused to renounce their faith. A building on this site sheltered a community of Cathar women at the end of the twelfth century. Early in the thirteenth, Ramon de Pereille the co-seigneur and Chatelaine, was asked to make it defensible, anticipating the problems to come. It is open to the public, as is a museum in the nearby modern village of Montségur. There is an entrance fee for both...

Musée
de l'Abbé Saunière -
Rennes-le-Château

Musée de l'Abbé Saunière - Rennes-le-Château

Experience an amazing place to visit ... Rennes-le-Château offers a variety of sites to visit, where traces of François Bérenger Saunière, also known as the Abbé Saunière, can still be found: the Church of Saint Mary Magdalen (10th century), its gardens, the presbytery of the Abbé Saunière (where he lived from 1885 to 1917) which has been converted into a cultural and historical area, the Abbé Saunière's Estate, the Magdala tower, the Béthanie Villa and the orangery...


Saissac

Saissac

The Château de Saissac is a ruined Cathar castle in the southernmost tip of the commune of Saissac in the Aude département in the north-west of Carcassonne, France. It was once the residence of the powerful vassal family of Trencavel. Today the ruins are protected as official historical monuments of France. Saissac is mentioned in a legal document (an Acte) from the Abbey of Montolieu in 958, and again in a text of 960. The village is typical of the Black Mountains and is built between the ravines of the rivers Aiguebelle and Vernassonne, just above their confluence. Things to see in the village include the porte d'Autan, a lavoire built in granite, a second covered lavoire and a fine echauguette. Vestiges of the city walls (enceinte) are still visible around the ancient village. These walls date from the Fourteenth century, the same period that the castle of Saissac was restored...


Abbaye
d'Alet-les-Bains

Abbaye d'Alet-les-Bains - Alet-les-Bains

Abbaye Sainte-Marie d'Alet (more commonly known as the Abbey of Alet les Bains), is situated between the Aude river and the Pyrenees mountains in the heart of Cathar country. The abbey is considered by some to be the most beautiful ruin in France. To see: Resplendent in its mountainside setting, the ruined abbey is characterized by warm colors that soak up the sun. Of the original abbey, remains of two towers can still be seen, St. Michael's Tower (north) and Notre-Dame Tower (south). The small chancel is well-preserved. The pillar capitals are ornately decorated with vegetation and geometric patterns....


Lagrasse

Lagrasse

Officially designated ‘One Of The Most Beautiful Villages In France’, Lagrasse nestles at the confluence of two valleys in the stunning Corbières wine region of the South of France. The village is linked to the 8th century Benedictine abbey to which it owed its original prosperity by two graceful bridges spanning the river. Between Carcassonne and Narbonne, Lagrasse is set in the Orbieu valley, in the Corbieres massif. The Orbieu river separates the abbey, rising over the left bank, from the village which spreads along the right bank and is listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France. The foundation charter of the Benedictine Abbey of Sainte Marie de l'Orbieu dates from the end of the 8th century, even if another building probably existed on the site before the Carolingian period...


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