Cathar Castles:   
Château de Lastours (or Cabaret) ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about Occitan. Castèl de Las Tors)

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An unusual arrangement of three castle towers (Las Tours, The Towers) this fortification belonged to the Lords of Cabaret, who held in fief from the Trencavels.

In the thirteenth century there were three towers here, built on the same rocky outcrop.  They are called Cabaret (to the north), Quertinheux and Surdespine (to the south).  These are some of the few original Cathar castles left.

The Seigneurs of Cabaret received troubadours here, including Raymond de Miraval and Peire Vidal, who dedicated verses to the Cathar Ladies of the place.

During the Cathar Crusade this was one of the most ardent centres of resistance to the French Crusaders,

 

Lastours is also the name of a nearby modern village and commune in the Aude department in southern France. Lastours lies in the Aude departément just north of Carcassonne.

The four castles stand on a rocky spur above the modern village of Lastours, isolated by the deep valleys of the Orbeil river to the east.and Grésilhou river to the west. They were built at an altitude of 300 m along a rock wall just 1500 feet (450 m) long by 165 feet (50 m) wide. Cabaret, Surdespine and la Tour Régine stand in line, while Quertinheux is built on a separate pinnacle close by.

Cabaret gives its name to the surrounding area - the Cabardès.

Lastours is located 18 km (10 miles) north of Carcassonne, in the valley of the River Orbeil. The castles were built to control the access to Montagne Noire and the Cabardès region.

The fortification here belonged to the Lords of Cabaret, who held in fief from the Trencavels.

Google map showing the location of

 

 

The Pre-Cathar Period

The most ancient remains date to the Middle-Bronze Age at around 1500 years BC. The tomb of a young girl known as "the princess with the necklace" was found in a cave (which you pass through on the path up to the castles). Her body was covered with objects such as amber pearls and jewellery reminiscent of Mycenaean or Egyptian art.

There is little information from the medieval period. Gregory of Tours mentions "Capur Arietis" (Ram's Head) which has the same meaning as "Cabaret". In 585 it seems that the son of the King of the Wisigoths took the castra of "Caput Arietis" from the King of Burgundy.

There seems to have been iron mines here since ancient times. In 1119 Huges de Cabaret made a donation of his mines ("ferrières') of Carrus to the Church of St-Stephen de Cabardès. In 1153 we find a mention of a Sunday market at Cabaret, and it around this time that Surdespine was built.

In the thirteenth century there were three towers here, built on the same rocky outcrop. They are called Cabaret (to the north), Quertinheux and Surdespine (to the south). These are some of the few original Cathar castles left.

The Seigneurs of Cabaret received troubadours here, including Raymond de Miraval and Peire Vidal, who dedicated verses to the Cathar Ladies of the place.

Google map showing

 

The Cathar Period

The Lord of Cabaret during the Cathar period was Peir Rotgiers (Peter-Roger) - or rather he was the most important of the Lords of cabaret.

His castles and village sheltered Cathar 'Perfects' during the Cathar wars (Albigensian Crusade) and Cathar bishops are known to have stayed in Cabaret, including Arnaud Hot, Pierre Isarn and Guiraud Abith.

During the Cathar Crusade this was one of the most ardent centres of resistance to the French Crusaders, In 1209 it was besieged unsuccessfully, by Simon de Montfort. The Song of the Cathar Wars makes no mention of this unsuccessful siege, but relates what happened in Spring 1210 at laisse 41. One of Simon de Montfort's lieutenant, Bouchard de Marly, whom Simon had appointed as the new lord of nearby Saissac, rode out with an inadequate military escort:

Bouchard was holding Saissac, which had been given to him by simon.

He and Fifty Frenchmen went out in arms one day
and encountered the men of Cabaret.
There were at least ninety of these: horse, foot
and fourteen archers, and they encircled the French
and attacked and pressed them hard.
But our Frenchmen kept close-ranked and in good order
and were not alarmed by their threats and shouting,
so that many were killed on both sides.
In the end, sadly, it was Bouchard's men who suffered defeat,
and he himself was captured and taken away.
As for those who died, they are forgotten.
May God receive their souls in his glorious heaven
when this world comes to its end

In the Summer, The Song of the Cathar Wars laisse 54-56 reports the Lord of Cabaret, Peir Rotgiers (Peter-Roger), riding out by moonlight to burn trebuchets at Carcassonne that had been loaded onto carts next to the river Aude, to take to Termes.

It was at Cabaret that a line of a hundred men appeared on foot, having snaked their way from Bram, their eyes torn out, their noses cropped and their lips cut off by the Holy Catholic soldiers of Christ carrying out what they described as "God's Business". They were sent to Lastours to horrify and terrify the people there.

In March 1211, a few months after the fall of Termes, a new crusader army arrived at Carcassonne. Peter-Roger de Cabaret feared that he could not withstand a siege like that of Termes. Taking a massive risk he released his prisoner Bouchard de Marly, gave him fine clothes, a fine palfrey and his castle at Cabaret. Simon's banner now flew over another Cathar stronghold. (The Song of the Cathar Wars laisse 62-65)

By 1223 the position had changed significantly and Simon de Montfort and his crusaders were more hated than ever. Pierre-Roger recovered his property. Once again Cabaret became the foremost centre of resistance against the French invaders. The Lords of Lastours lead resistance to the Crusaders between 1220 to 1229, a period therefore known as the Guerre de Cabaret. The Cathar bishop of Carcassonne, Pierre Isarn, was given refuge here until 1226 and it became the seat of his bishopric.. 

In 1227, the castles were again besieged, unsuccessfully, this time by Humbert de Beaujeu during the Guerre de Cabaret. After the Council of Toulouse in 1229 the Seigneurs of Cabaret were obliged to abandon their stronghold. It was then confiscated by Humbert.

The population was moved to a new settlement called Riviere, on the site of the terraces between the Old Church and the river.

In 1238 orders were given for Lastours to be transformed into a royal fortress. The Seigneurs of Cabaret regained it, briefly, when they accompanied their liege Lord, Trencavel, in his attempted re-conquest in 1240.

Riviere was abandoned in turn in 1836, when the populace was moved to present location of the village of Lastours.

 

 

1211. Release of Bouchard de Marley & Surrender of Cabaret. Laisse 63-66

[Laisse 63]

A l'intrar de caresma, cant baicha la freidor
E comensa a venir lo dous temps de Pascor,
Si movon li crozat e li ostejador,
Que somonitz los an nostre prezicador.
L'avesque de Tholosa, cui Dami-Dieus honor !
En an dedins la vila receubut per senhor
A gran procecio com un emperador.
Del devet los absols, si qu'ieu cugé laor
Que aguessan patz faita per totz temps de bon cor;
Mas pois vi ques mescleron per mot granda iror.
L'avesque anec en Fransa prezicar cascun jorn,
E crozan se li princep, H baro elh comdor
El cavaler de lai.

 

[Laisse 63]

Lo coms P. d'Ausurra, Rotberts de Cortenai,
El chantres de Paris, si col libres retrai,
Vengron ab mot gran ost devas Paris en sai.
A Carcassona intrero en lo pais de sai.
E aujatz de Jhesu quinhas vertutz i fai,
Aisi coma lo libres vos ditze \'os retrai.
Aicels de Cabaretz s'en deron gran esglai ;
Lo senher P. Rogiers gran matinet s'en vai
An Bochart, que es près, en la cambra on jai :
« Bochart, » so li a dit, « vos estes, ben o sai,
« De mot granda natura e proz om e verai ;
« Vos no faretz ja causa que a faire no fai,
« E si ieu vos solvia no sai si i trobarai
« Merce ni cauziment, mas tôt o assajarai.
— Ane no fi traïcio ni no la perchasai.
— Doncas, » ditz P. Rogiers , « vos no siretz près
« E mi e mo castel vos Ihivre atrazai. » [mai],
Apelè .1. maestre, dels fers traire lo fai,
Tondrel fai e banhar tôt suavet, e mai
Una mot bêla rauba e un palafre bai
Li a fait amarvir, c'anc nol mes en assai.
Gant aiso viu Bochartz sapchatz mot en fo jai.
Mais non ac tant gran joia des aicel temps en sai
Que de maire nasquet.

 

[Laisse 64]

Senhors, tôt en aisi com denant vos ai dit
Lo senhor de Cabaretz no[s] mes pas en oblit :
Un maestre apela, dels fers gitar lo fist,
E de mot richa rauba noblament lo vestit.
Un palafre amblan, c'anc om gensor non vit,
Li donè a chivager ; e can fo be vestit
Très donzels per solatz a chivau li amarvig,
E el anè ab lui tro a deforas per guit ;
Mas ans que s'en anesson nis fossan départit
De Ihui e del castel l'a del tôt revestit
E Ih'en fist omenatge senes tôt contradit.
En Bochartz li promist elh juré elh plevit (p. 38)
Que de las soas partz no sera ja trait,
Ni, can venra a la fin, quel plaitz er devezitz,
Nol tindra om per fol nin sera escarnitz. _
E el no i falhit doncas, que ben lo atendit j
So que promes l'avia.

 

[Laisse 65]

Cant lo coms de Montfort e l'autra baronia
E li un e li autre an la noela auzia
Que mesira Bochartz es souts e que venia,
No vos cal demandar s'ilh agron alegria.
Tuit van encontra lui a aicela vegia.
Can so [s'jentrebaizé, pregan lo que lor dia
Si el s' es ostatgetz, e el ditz que no mia,
« Ans avem lo castel e la nostra bailia,
< E soi totz souts e quites co auziretz d'aital guia :
« Mosenher P. Rotgiers m'a dat la senhoria
« De trastot son castel que contra nos ténia,
« E a preza amistat am mi e gran paria ;
« Es eu li ai promes, si Dieus mi benazia,
« Qu'ilh en sera trop mielhs a trastota sa via,
« Elidonraidostansqu'iln'otdemanentia.[auria
— Doncas, » ditz lo coms fortz, « ben gran tort en
« Si no Ih'en era melher la nostra companhia.
« Ja mais nulhs om de vos alunhar nol devria.
— Oi Dieus ! » dizon trastuit, « dama santa Maria,
« Co a fait gran proeza e granda cortezia !
< No a baro en Fransa, ni cug que mais i sia,
« Que l'agues comensea. »

 

[Laisse 66]

Tota aisela noit tro en la matineia
A mesira Bochart gran joia demeneia ;
E l'endema tan tost co l'alba es crebeia
En es ves Gabaretz lo plus de l'ost aleia.
Lai fon lor acordansa dicha e devizeia ;
Bochartz l'a tôt primer, vezent de totz, parleia,
Que als us e als autres de totas partz agreia.
La senha al comte fort an sus la tor montea ;
Lo castel establiron ladoncs nostra crozeia ;
Aisi fo Gabaretz comquis esta vegeia.
Ar vejatz cals vertutz i fo doncs demonstreia :
Que si tota la gent que en est mon fo neia
Esteso tôt entorn e enviro asetgeia
Nol prezeran ja ilh una poma peleia ;
Mas contra la ost de Crist no a castel dureia,
Ni ciutatz que ilh trobon ; tan no es enserreia.
E per so fa que fols qui am crozatz guerreia,
Cane om no s'en gauzi can venc a la fineia,
Que non fos cofondutz.

 

 

1211. Release of Bouchard de Marley & Surrender of Cabaret. Laisse 63-66

Laisse 63

Count Peter of Auxerre, Robert of Courtenay and the precentor of Paris, as the book says, brought a very strong force from the Paris region and entered Carcassonne. Hear what a miracle Jesus did there, as the book tells you -

The men in Cabaret were very alarmed at the arrival of this contingent, and one morning very early Peter Roger, lord of Cabaret, went to see his prisoner Sir Bouchard in the room where he lay in irons.

'Bouchard,' he said, 'I know you have a noble heart, you are a true and valiant man and would never do anything that should not be done. I don't know whether I shall meet with thanks and compassion if l set you free, but I am going to take the risk.'

'I have never done or commanded anything dishonourable'

'Well then,' said Peter Roger, 'you are no longer a prisoner, and here and now I make over to you my castle and myself.' He sent for a smith and had Bouchard released from his irons, had him given a comfortable bath and his hair cut, and besides this he gave him very handsome clothes and a bay palfrey, for he was not joking but in good earnest. You can imagine Bouchard's delight. Never had he known such happiness since the day his mother gave him birth.

Laisse 64

My lords, just as I have been telling you, the lord of Cabaret omitted nothing: he summoned a smith and had Sir Bouchard freed from his irons and nobly clad in rich robes; he gave him a pacing palfrey to ride, the handsomest ever seen; and when he was properly dressed he gave him three young noblemen on horseback for an escort and himself rode with him out of the castle. Before they went, he invested him with the castle and with himself and did him unconditional homage. Sir Bouchard promised him on oath that he for his part would never betray Peter Roger's trust, and that when his case was finally settled no one should think him a fool or laugh at him for releasing Sir Bouchard. Nor did Bouchard break his word, for he kept his promise faithfully.

Laisse 65

You need not ask whether the count de Montfort and his lords were glad when they heard that Bouchard was free and would soon be with them. They all went at once to welcome him. When they had met and kissed, they begged him to say whether or not he had given hostages, and he said no, indeed he had not.

'On the contrary, I am absolutely free and we have command of the castle. Listen, and I'll tell you how it happened: my lord Peter Roger has given me the lordship of his whole castle which he was holding against us, and has established friendship and a close alliance with me. And I, God grant me his blessing! have promised him that he shall be the better for this all his life long, and I will give him twice as much as he now possesses.'

'In that case,' said the Count de Montfort, 'it would be very wrong if our company were not to be good to him. Not one you must hold him at arm's length.'

'Ah God'; said they all, 'blessed Mary! What a noble deed he has done, what an act of courtesy! There's not a man in France, I'm sure there never will be, who could have done this.'

Laisse 66

Sir Bouchard celebrated his release all that night till dawn, and at ñrst light the majority of the force entered Cabaret. There the terms of the agreement were-announced and discusssed. Bouchard spoke fist, in the hearing of them all, and the agreement was fully accepted by all parties on both sides. Count Simon's banner was raised on top of the tower.

That is how Cabaret was taken, and how our crusaders manned its castle.

See what a miracle it was, for if all the people ever born in the world surrounded that fortress, the defenders would think them worth less than a peeled apple, it is so strong. But against the host of Christ no castle, no Citadel can stand, however strong its battlements. Only a fool opposes the crusaders, a fool who may rejoice at first but in the end must be defeated.

 

Lastours from a distance

 

The route up to Lastours

 

Cabaret - courtyard
 

Quertinheux

 

Cabaret - courtyard, blind arcades

 

 

The Post Cathar Period

After their rendition, the villages and the castles were plundered. The French king decided on the destruction of the three towers and their houses in order to eliminate any prospect of a refuge for surviving Cathars. The castles were rebuilt on the crest where they were less accessible to enemy fire. The Tour Régine (the "new" fourth tower) was built by order of the French king to assert his supremacy. Lastours became the administrative and military centre of six communities forming the châtellerie of Cabardès.

In the 16th century, the castles were occupied by Protestants during the Wars of Religion. They were dislodged by maréchal de Joyeuse in 1591.

At the French Revolution, the castles of Lastours were definitively abandoned.

Today, you will find four towers at Lastours. Traces of the original villages can be found on the west flank of the hill arranged in a semicircle following the contours around an older chateau, the foundations of which are still visible.

The site has been classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1905 and archaeological digs are still in progress.

 

 

 

an old depiction of Lastours,
showing the towers in good repair

 

 

Architecture

Lastours controlled the principal access routes into the Cabardès and the Montagne Noire regions. The main route linking Carcassonne to Albi up until 1830 can still be seen, though badly degraded.

Archaeological digs have been carried out here since the 1961 when "the princess with the necklace" was discovered along with material from the eastern Mediterranean. Amphorae have also been discovered here. There was also an extensive site at Le Jocas, about 1 km away.

 

Cabaret - tower vault

 

 

 

Cabaret.

Cabaret is the main citadel with a barbican defence system. It consists of a north tower, a polygonal keep in the south and a group of residential buildings in the centre. The whole is surrounded by ramparts with a round walk. The crenelated wall is built with irregular material, with large stones forming the corners and openings. Some notable features are:

  • square tower to the north
  • polygonal courtyard - two courts with buildings
  • 3 staircases
  • 2 cisterns, one 13 Century and one 16 Century
  • outer walls dating from the 14th to 17th centuries with cannoniers

Cabaret as it would have looked around 1300
(by Peter Dennis from Marcus Cowper, Cathar Castles, Osprey 2010)

 

Cabaret

 

a Entry / Entrée
b Defensive wall / Dispositif de défense
c Curtain Wall / Courtine
d Court / Cour
e Entry to the main building / Entrée du cors de logis
f Logings / Corps de logis
g Keep / Donjon
h Cistern / Citerne
i Staircase / Ancien escalier
j Keep staircase / Escalier du donjon
k Tower / Tour
l Postern Gate / potern

 

Quertinheux.

Quertinheux castle is furthest south along the crest on an isolated rocky outcrop - it was probably a sort of advanced look out post.

It consists of a circular tower and a polygonal curtain wall.

A chicane defends the entrance.

There are two water cisterns - one for rainwater from the roof, and one for rainwater from the chemin de ronde.

It overlooks the remains of a Romanesque church.

 

 

Quertinheux as it would have looked around 1300
(by Peter Dennis from Marcus Cowper, Cathar Castles, Osprey 2010)

 

 

 

 

Quertinheux

1 Entrance / Entrée
2 Chicane
3 Cistern / Citerne
4 Tower / Tour
5 Staircase / Escalier
6 Curtain Wall / Courtine

 

 

Surdespine.

Also called Fleur-Espine (Thornflower), this castle is the least well preserved of the four.

It was first mentioned in 1145.

On the highest part of the site, it consists of a square tower, a rectangular lodging and a cistern.

A trapezoidal curtain wall (courtine) gives protection.

Surdespine is noted for the rarity of its murder holes and its four semi-circular arched windows.

Its cistern holds 26 cubic meters and is still crepied.

Surdespine as it would have looked around 1300
(by Peter Dennis from Marcus Cowper, Cathar Castles, Osprey 2010)

 

 

Surdespine

1 Original Entrance / Entrée originelle
2 Present Entrance / Entrée actuelle
3 Curtain Walls / Courtines
4 Main Building / Logis
5 Cistern / Citerne
6 Tower / Tour

 

 

Tour Régine.

The Tour Régine, closest to Cabaret, (Régine Tower) is the most recent fortress and the smallest. It consists of a round tower, surrounded by a small curtain wall which has collapsed. Below ground, the tower contains the largest cistern of the four castles. The tower has three storeys and is flanked by a spiral staircase. The white limestone used is identical to that at Cabaret.

It is thought that this tower was built after the Albigensian Crusade: There is no mention of this structure before 1260, and afterwards it was for a while called the "New Tower". The name Régine also suggests a French Royal connection (Blanche de Castile?) as do architectural features similar to contemporary work at Carcassonne

Some features to note

  • Defensive chicane
  • Polygonal courtyard
  • Chemin de ronde
  • Curtain walls with blind arcades and discharging arches
  • Arrow loops including archéres à étrier - loops with a distinctive stirrup shaped base
  • Cannoniers to the east - adaptions post 1500 for guns
  • Circular keep 13th century, with spiral staircase and Gothic vault
  • Putlog holes for hourds

The Tour Régine as it would have looked around 1300
(by Peter Dennis from Marcus Cowper, Cathar Castles, Osprey 2010)

 

Tour Régine

1Curtain Wall / Courtine
2 Tower / Tour
3 Staircase / Escalier

 

the domed vault of the round tower

 

 

Village and Other.

 

Church. On the way up you pass the remains of a medieval church thought to be the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It dates from the 11th century and was altered in the 13th century.

Medival Village. Today you can also visit the vestiges of the original village of Lastours on 8 terraces - archaeologists have uncovered the substantial walls of many medieval houses, along with graves dating from the VI Century. The walls, often over 1 metre wide, are constructed of dressed limestone and schist. It is difficult to tell if there was one village or two, one to the north and one to the south.

Caves. There are some 40 caves (grottes) at Lastours. Including:

  • La Trou de la Cité, which takes its name from an implausible legend that the citizens of Carcassonne escaped in 1209 by using a 10 mile long underground passage to it. La Trou de la Cité was occupied in the Bronze Age. There is evidence that it used in medieval times as a sort of lower annex to Quertinheux.
  • A cavity off the Trou de la Cité is where The Princess of Lastours was found along with amber beads and other jewels in 1961.
  • The Grotte de Salimonde near the Grésilhou. According to legend Salimonde was a creature with a goat's body and a woman's head. When she cried, it rained; when she played the flute she announced the coming of spring
 

 

Location of the Village Castral (Medieval village) of Lastours

 

La Trou de la Cité

 

Window - interior

 

Vestiges of a spiral staircase

 
 
 

Lastours from a distance

Tour Régine

Cabaret - keep

Quertinheux

Tour Régine

 

Lastours from a distance

Tour Régine from Cabaret

Tour Régine from Cabaret

Cabaret - keep

Tour Régine

Cabaret - courtyard, blind arcades

The modern village of Lastours

Location of the Village Castral (Medieval village) of Lastours

Location of the Village Castral (Medieval village) of Lastours

Location of the Village Castral (Medieval village) of Lastours

Location of the Village Castral (Medieval village) of Lastours

Cabaret

 


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Cabaret - courtyard

 

Quertinheux

Tour Régine

Tour Régine

Tour Régine

Natural Defenses

Medieval Doorway - interior

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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