Cathar Castles
Château Comtal de Carcassonne ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about Occitan. Castèl de Carcassona)

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The Château Comtal (Count’s Castle) is a medieval castle within the Cité of Carcassonne, the largest city in Europe with its city walls still intact. The Medieval Cité lies within the modern city of Carcassonne in the Aude department, of which Carcassonne is the prefecture, in the former province of Languedoc.

Although the outer curtain wall of the cité is French, and the whole site has been substantially restored, the Château Comtal has a strong claim to be called a "Cathar Castle". When the Catholic Crusader army arrived in 1209 they first attacked Raymond-Roger Trencavel's castrum at Bèziers and then moved on to his main stronghold at Carcassonne.

The castle was restored in 1853 by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. You can visit the medieval cite (free) and the Château Comtal (entry fee).

 

 

Carcassonne was besieged from 1st to 15th of August 1209 during the early phase of the War against the  Cathars of the Languedoc. The siege followed soon after the Crusaders' massacre of the entire population of Béziers, an act of terror designed to terrify the people of the area. Raymond-Roger Trencavel was Viscount of Béziers as well as Carcassonne - his cities were deliberately targeted by the Crusaders, as the Count of Toulouse had joined the Crusade himself, gaining immunity for his own lands.

The Château Comtal - entrance from the Cité
 
The Château Comtal - the Aude Gate

 

Here is a description of the event, from the contemporary Song of the Cathar Wars , laisse 15, written in Occitan, by a poet sympathetic to the crusader cause. He recognises Raymond-Roger's nobility but carefully skates over what happened at Carcassonne, and afterwards:

Lo vescoms de Bezers no fina noit ni jorn
De sa terra establir, car mot avoit gran cor.
En tant cant lo mons dura n'a cavalier milhor,
Ni plus pros ni plus larg, plus cortes ni gensor.
Nebs fo del coms Ramon e filhs de sa seror.
Sest FO catholicals: de so trag az auctor
Mot clerc e mot canonge qu'estan en refrechor;
Mans, car era trop joves, avia ab totz amor
E sels de son païs, de cui era senhor,
No avian de lui ni regart ni temor,
Enans jogan am lui co li fos companhor.
E tuit sei cavalier e l'autre valvassor
Tenian los eretges, qui en castel, qui en tor;
Per que foron destruit e mort a desonor.
El meteis ne morig, a mot granda dolor,
Dont FO pecatz e dans, per cela fort error.

Google map showing the location of Château Comptal de Carcassonne

 

 

 

[Raymond Roger] the Viscount of Béziers worked day and night
To defend his lands, for he was a man of great courage.
Nowhere in the wide world is there a better knight
Nor one more generous and open handed, more courteous or better bred.
Nephew to Count Raymond, the son of his sister.
And he was certainly Catholic; I call to witness
Many a clerk and many a cannon in their cloisters;
But he was very young and therefore friendly to all
And his vassals were not at all afraid of or in awe of him,
But laughed and joked with him
As they would with any comrade.
And all his knights and vavassors
Maintained the heretics in their castles and towers,
So they caused their own ruin and their shameful deaths.
The Viscount himself died in great anguish,
a sad and sorry loss, because of this grievous error.

Google map showing Château Comptal de Carcassonne

 

Raymond-Roger came out to parley with the Crusaders, then under the command of the Abbott-Comander Arnaud Amaury. He was offered the opportunity to leave the city with a few of his senior nobles, but declined the offer. What the author of the Song of the Cathar Wars conceals in his narrative is that the city and its castle were taken by deceit, when Raymond-Roger came out to parley. Scandalously, the Viscount was seized and taken prisoner. Without his leadership, resistance crumbled and the city surrendered.

The Crusaders expelled the inhabitants with a day's safe conduct, so that God's army could loot at leisure. Their lesson from Béziers had been that massacres risked the total destruction of the city, including the loss of all loot by fire. Arnaud wrote to the pope, Innocent III, to explain why on this occasion no-one had been killed. It is at this stage that Simon de Montfort was appointed to hold Raymond-Roger's territories.

Soon afterwards, on the 10th November, Roger-Raymond died in mysterious circumstances in his own prison. He had reigned for fifteen years and was aged just 24 at the time of his death in the custody of the French Catholic Crusaders.   According to a rumour current at the time (mentioned in the contemporary Song of the Cathar Wars, laisse 37) he was murdered during the night. Later, the pope himself referred to the disgraceful killing of the Viscount in letter that still survives. Do not expect to hear about this, or anything else about the period, if you take the guided tour.

the arms of de MontfortThe coat of arms of the House of TrencavelWhen Raymond-Roger died he left a young son, now the rightful Viscount of Béziers and Carcassonne, but dispossessed of his inheritance by Simon de Montfort who took the Trencavel titles contrary to all feudal law but with the blessing of the Catholic Church. The son, Raymond Trencavel II, took refuge with his kin, the Count of Foix, and his suzerain, the King of Aragon. Years later, in 1240, Raymond II attempted to regain his patrimony by force of arms, and almost succeeded in taking Carcassonne. After his failure he broke his seal as a token to his submission to the King of France, releasing his vassals from their allegiance, and the great The House of Trencavel disappeared from history.

Ramparts. The Cité's outer ramparts, complete with turrets, towers, and crenellations, were built during the reign of Louis IX.  His son, Philip III, continued the work.  He also added a main gate, called the Porte Narbonnaise, to the inner walls.  The Porte is the only entry into the Cité by road.  It is guarded by two flanking towers and a double barbican.

Château Comtal. 12th century castle belong to the Viscounts.  It is located within the Cité's ramparts.   Its fortifications are among Europe's finest medieval remains.  You can take a guided tour, but don't expect too much by way of historical expertise.

Click here for more about the Cité of Carcassonne Next.

Click on the following link to visit a Carcassonne Photo Gallery

After the initial attacks of the Crusaders, the Roman Catholic Church soon recognised the need for a way to keep the local population subjugated and compliant. The solution was the Inquisition - the first papal Inquisition in Europe - largely manned by the new Dominican Order, founded by Dominic Guzman. Though Inquisitors travelled extensively, they were based in major power centres like Carcassonne. You can still see their headquarters in Carcassonne and a tower they used.

For accused first offender "heretics" willing to repent the penalty was not death, at least not a formal sentence of death. Inquisitors had a range of punishments, including close imprisonment on a diet of bread and water which generally killed people within a few months. Occasionally people might survive for a year or two, despite the poor diet, lack of heat and light, and lack of any hygiene or medical facilities. To create enough prison space Inquisitors at Carcassonne would wall up their victims - a punishment known as strict immuration.

The only Catholic Churchman generally recognised outside the Church as having acquitted himself with honour during the whole period of Cathar repression was a Franciscan friar called Bernard Delicieux. He is shown here on the right releasing prisoners who had been condemned by Inquisitors to imurration. Delicieux was eventually charged with treason by his Dominican enemies and himself condemned to the wall where, predictably, he died under the harsh conditions.

Two, more fortunate, victims in the early fourteenth century were a Catholic priest named Barthélemy Amilhac and his wife Béatrice de Planissolles, sometime chatelaine of Montaillou. They were sentenced to the wall in perpetuity but survived for more than a year and were released. They had been questioned by Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers sitting with Inquisitors from Carcassonne. Click on the following links to read English transcripts of the interrogation of Barthélemy Amilhac and Béatrice de Planissolles.

 

 

Perrier Stones at Carcassonne

 

Carcassonne

 

Perrier Stones at Carcassonne
Stones at Carcassonne chiselled into spheres as amunition for trebuches
 

 

The Release of Prisoners at Carcassonne
During the Albigensian War Giclee Print
Thomas, E
 

 

 


GUIDED TOURS OF CATHAR CASTLES OF THE LANGUEDOC

You can join small exclusive guided tours of Cathar Castles
led by an English speaking expert on the Cathars
who lives in the Languedoc
(author of www.cathar.info)

Selected Cathar Castles. Accommodation provided. Transport Provided.

Cathar Origins, History, Beliefs.
The Crusade, The Inquisition, and Consequences

Visit the Cathar Tours Website for more information

 

 

Residents being expelled from Carcassonne in 1209

 
 
 

Narbonne gate and barbican as it might have been before the Cathar Wars

 

Carcassonne Corbel

 
 
 

 

View of the Château Comtal with barbicans on both sides

 

View of the Château Comtal from the Aude side

 

Drawing of the Château Comtal before the Cathar Wars

 

View of the Château Comtal from the city side

 

View of the Château Comtal from the city barbican

 
 

 

The arms of Trencavel might well have been red and ermine rather than gold and ermine (no examples in colour survive)

Blazon (French): fascé gueules et hermine

Blason (English): bary gueules and ermine

 

These arms are those of the city of Carcassonne

 

Autoroute sign - there is a spectacular view of Carcassonne from the Autoroute

 

Carcassonne Corbel

 

Carcassonne Corbel

 

 

Outer defences to Château Comtal and Cité - part of the Aude barbican

 

Outer defences to Château Comtal and Cité - part of the Aude barbican

 

Google Doodle on 27 January 2014, marking the bicentenary
of the birth of Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (born on 27 January 1814)

 

Château Comtal

 

Outer defences to Château Comtal and Cité - part of the Aude barbican

 

Trebuchet stones

 

A memorial shows the state of the city walls before restoration - you can clearly see the Narbonne gate with no roof, a badly decayed barbican and the treasury to the right

 

Road name commemorating the murdered Viscount

 
 
 

Hourdes on the walls of the Château Comtal

 

Inside the hourdes on the walls of the Château Comtal

 

City entrance to the Château Comtal

 

Gargoyle on the Basilica of St Nazaire

 

Gargoyle on the Basilica of St Nazaire

 

One of the four main entrances to the Cité

 

Château Comtal

 

Château Comtal

 

One of several wells in theCité

 

Cité ramparts

 
Eternal stairway inside the Cité
 

Outer defences to Château Comtal and Cité - part of the Aude barbican

 

Outer defences to Château Comtal and Cité - part of the Aude barbican

 

Outer defences to Château Comtal and Cité - part of the Aude barbican

 

View of the Cité of Carcassonne

 

View of the Cité of Carcassonne

 

Aerial view of the Cité of Carcassonne

 

Outer defences to Château Comtal and Cité - part of the Aude barbican

 

Outer defences to Château Comtal and Cité - part of the Aude barbican

 

View of the Cité of Carcassonne

 

Imagined view of the Cité of Carcassonne before the Cathar Wars

 

Imagined view of the Cité of Carcassonne after the Cathar Wars (but before the Narbonne gate was rebuilt)

 

The Court du Midi Cité in the Château Comtal

 

The Court du Midi Cité in the Château Comtal

 

Postern gate

 

Museum in the Château Comtal

 

Medieval re-enactment at the Château Comtal
T his chap is wearing the surcoat of Simon de Montfort but carrying the shield of the King of Aragon

 

Inside the Château Comtal

 

Dame Carcas - According to tradition she was a Muslim ruler of Carcassonne who cleverly saw off a Frankish siege

 

The Basilica of Saint Nazaire

 

Near the bell is a slab on the wall depicting the death of Simon de Montfort in 1218 and his original tombstone

 

Close up of Simon de Montfort's surcoat on his original tombstone

 

An effigy of a bishop of Carcassonne - the Basilica was a Cathedral up until 1805

 

Gargoyle on the Basilica of St Nazaire

 

An unusual heraldic design known as camponny

 
 

 

 
 
Aerial view of the Cité of Carcassonne
 

Château Comtal at night

 

View of the Cité of Carcassonne

 

Aerial view of the Cité of Carcassonne

 

Views of the Cité of Carcassonne - drawings by Violet le Duc

 

View of the Cité of Carcassonne after restoration

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

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