Between a rock and a hard place – Chateau de Peyrepertuse   8 comments

It was our last day of wandering before we reached our holiday home in the South of France. We had the whole day to kill and being the castle fan that I am, I suggested we visit one of the famous castles of the Pays de Cathars.


St Jordi

The site has been occupied since roman times but the first mention of a castle was in 1070. Interesting bunch the Cathars described in my guide-book as the “Fundamentalists of their day”. An extreme lot they believed that Gods kingdom was locked in a battle with Satan’s evil world and that humans were base at heart. A life of purity and reincarnation was the way the true salvation (Cathar comes from the Greek Katharos meaning “pure”). They gained a strong following in this region of Languedoc and they built many fortresses in the region in the 12th Century, most sited on dramatic rock perches like Peyrepertuse and Queribus nearby. They were wiped out by the Albigensian crusades in the 13th and 14th centuries, by all accounts a merciless and brutal period that saw most believers burnt at the stake or in mass funeral pyres. The last of the Cathar prefects was burned alive in 1321 and that was the end of them. It was as much a political crusade as a spiritual one with many northern rulers, barons and knights using it as an excuse to expand their lands. It was also the first crusade on christian soil.


Lower enceinte and buttress from the approach path

Still, their castles remain and mightily impressive they are too. After a pleasant drive through the countryside we drove up the steep mountain road above Duilhac to the car park at the foot of the cliffs. The first thing that strikes you is how hard it is to tell the castle from the rock edge that it’s built upon.


Castle from the car park below

It’s quite a feat of 12th century construction to have used the natural rock as a base for the castle and the man-made and the natural blend together seamlessly. As the paths wends it way upwards towards the walls the second and most obvious thing strikes you. How on earth did they manage to build such a mighty fortress on such a remote and inaccessible limestone outcrop without recourse to modern building techniques. It’s a massive and intricate castle on a grand scale with towering walls and complex layout of rooms tumbling along the narrow rock ridge.


St Marys Church


Lower enceinte from above

Both me and D were in our element exploring every nook and cranny and scrambling about on the walls. The drops over the edge were giddying and the views from this massive stone eyrie were magnificent. The whole place needs some care as the French don’t have quite the same attachment to health and safety as in the UK and you could easily come a cropper. In my view that’s how it should be, free to explore everywhere and make your own safety decisions.

The equally impressive Chateau de Queribus was visible across the valley.


Chateau de Queribus (left of centre)


St Mary’s Church from the middle enceinte

Alas TBF and in particular L were not quite as enthralled as they are not quite the castle addicts but more so because the temperature was well over 30 degrees C, much too hot to be scrambling around a castle in the full sun. My enthusiasm had got the better of me as I really wanted to see one of these and didn’t think I’d get another chance this holiday. TBF and L decided to wait in a shady spot while me and D scrambled up the steep stone steps to the upper castle of St Jordi.


St Jordi from below


The steps to St Jordi

The views up here across the mountains and down over the rest of the castle were simply stunning. You could really appreciate the scale and the sheer amazement of its cliiftop location and audacity of its construction.


The lower castle from St Jordi


View west to Pic de Bugarach

It was a shame that the heat made a longer exploration a non-starter so we had to bail out and head down before we all got sunstroke. One of the wonders of the region and a visit here in Spring or Autumn or in the evening to watch the sun set would be breathtaking.


St Jordi from the approach path

For now we needed somewhere to sit in the shade with a picnic and cool off. Some river swimming was in order…


8 responses to “Between a rock and a hard place – Chateau de Peyrepertuse

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  1. I have to say that those photos are absolutely stunning and the castle looks amazing.

    I thought ‘enceinte’ meant ‘pregnant’ though?


    • It’s an amazing place, there are half a dozen of these castles but this one is the best. Shame it was just too hot to really enjoy it to the full. That amazing blue sky always heightens the effect and I’m always looking longingly at the photos. It already feels a very long time ago 😦

      I took “enceinte” from the guidebook and I just google translated it. The noun means “enclosure, precinct, compound”. You learn something new every day!


  2. I once read a history of Gnosticism (no really, I did) which included a fairly length section on the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusades. I’ve always wanted to see these castles since. It seems you beat me to it. Great pictures and fascinating stuff.
    A dramatic castle and JJ Cale – it doesn’t get much better then that.


    • A fascinating culture and history and a stunning location. All of the Cathar castles are equally spectacular and evocative and they are a must-see if you are down this way. Just need to handle the heat.

      There are loads of other castles and several fortified towns in the region as well which are equally good. A post about the one near where we stayed will coming along soon.

      You can rarely go wrong with a bit of old JJ


  3. Cathar history is fascinating…as is this castle! It has a real presence, Makes Stirling castle look a bit…dumpy! 😆 Have a good hol! 😀


    • One of the things I love about France is that there are loads of castles and historical monuments everywhere. The kids don’t always appreciate them but I love ’em. I really wanted to see La Cite at Carcassone but it wasn’t really en-route. This castle is amazing with a real sense of history. Stirling castle is still pretty grand but the kid in me loves the ruined ones and all nooks and crannies to explore.

      Unfortunately the posts are not in real-time. I’ve been back for a month (just the usual slow pace of my posts :)) Writing the posts is cathartic and depressing in equal measure as winter is catching me like a rabbit in the headlights


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