Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cathar country continues: The siege of Montségur

When I told one of my colleagues we were planning a trip to the Cathar châteaux, his response was, "you know it's all ruins, right?" I did know, but was also pretty much caught up in the romanticism surrounding the sites. They've definitely done a good job of playing up the Cathar connections, even if in many cases they were apparently substantially renovated in the centuries after the crusades, by the conquerors. In the case of Montségur, an archaeological inspection in the 20th century concluded that "no trace" remained of the castle that was besieged during the crusades. The ruins that are there are still old, but 17th-century old, a far cry from the 13th century of the crusades. This is not prominently referred to on the tourist websites... However, there do still remain the ruins of some of the Cathar houses clinging to the current fortress wall.

Despite this, Montségur is perhaps the most evocative of the Cathar sites, at least by reputation. Seen as the last (major) stand of the Cathars, it was beseiged for nine months by the crusaders, who were unable to cut off supplies to the castle due to its naturally-defended location (walking up there, the mind boggles that they were able to haul supplies and building materials and so on up there, but apparently they did). Finally, though, they found a spot where they could build a catapult in range of the castle's defensive barbican and subsequently the castle itself. Finally, the besieged fortress surrendered, and while those who agreed to give up the Cathar faith were allowed to leave, around 215 Cathars gave themselves up and were burned alive at the foot of the mountain.

Myths and legends swirl around the castle today, such as that some of the Cathars escaped with a secret treasure, rumoured to be the Holy Grail. It is even often said that the Nazis were obsessed with finding the Grail, and someone hunted for it at Montségur on Himmler's orders, although it appears that this is as historically dubious as the original Grail story.

So while the castle as it is today might not be as old or mysterious as legend would have it, it still boasts impressive views of the surrounding countryside from its 1,200 metre perch. From the carpark, it's a vertical ascent of 250 metres to get to the castle, but it's all worth it when you get up there.

Before starting our climb

On the way back down

Inside the ruins

I love the layered look of each chain of hills stretching to the horizon

We didn't have the place quite all to ourselves, but it was pretty quiet up there



Photo taken by a friendly Australian

8 comments:

  1. How dare you be friendly with an austraylian? You were not brought up to behave like that>

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I said she was friendly, not that I was. Of course I pushed her off the cliff as soon as she had taken the photo.

      Delete
    2. This was before NZ beat Oz in a certain game

      Delete
  2. Excellent - did you get a photo?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Still looks pretty old to me! Seems like you had a lot of space to yourselves, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, yay for travelling (slightly) out of season!

      Delete
  4. Looks breathtaking! And I always love your dresses!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, courtesy of the new Marks and Spencer in Brussels :)

      Delete

Feed the Comment Monster! Rawrrrr