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
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
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,
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
came out to parley with the Crusaders, then under the command of
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.
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,
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
died he left a young son, now the rightful Viscount of Béziers
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.
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
Click here for more about the Cité
Click on the following link to visit a Carcassonne
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.
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
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
|Perrier Stones at Carcassonne
|Perrier Stones at Carcassonne
|The Release of Prisoners at Carcassonne
During the Albigensian War Giclee Print