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.

 

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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