Castles in France - Montsegur
Taking a day trip out searching for locations that could be considered great sightseeing places in France nearly always includes at least a glimpse of the Cathar fortresses. As soon as the Cathars are mentioned you will probably realise that it is the South of France and the Languedoc Roussillon region being discussed.
The specific topic in this case is going to be the very impressive fortress that resides just above the village of Montsegur and goes by the same name. If you look at a map for Montsegur you will see that it is actually in the Ariege department of Southern France in the Midi Pyrenees region, an immediate neighbour of Languedoc Roussillon region, which is more generally associated with the 'Pays Cathar'.
Montsegur Fortress in Ariege
Located very close to the Pyrenees in a pretty remote location and from the photograph you will see it teeters on the very top of one of the more significant peaks in the area. For me that is why Montsegur is so impressive, to create a structure such as this in such a remote location during a period that was certainly at least medieval if not older was a magnificent achievement.
But with regard to Montsegur this was not only done once but at least twice. This is because following its fall, towards the end of the Albigensian crusade, the original structure was completely dismantled. It was actually rebuilt over the following 3 centuries from a period beginning at the end of the 13th century going into the 16th century. It is the rebuilt structure that exists today and is considered by many to be the last bastion of the Cathars.
Montsegur is located amongst some of the most beautiful scenery the region has to offer. It also has a rich history highlighted by the part it played in the Albigensian crusade, which was, for a time, led by the notorious Simon De Monfort ; the scourge of the Cathars.
Montsegur is surrounded by some very interesting places, these include Mirepoix, a medieval city and favourite tourist destination of the British, Chalabre, Puivert, which has its own fortified chateau, the Fontestorbes fountain and the Mont D'Olme ski resort which is only a few minutes away by car.
A Good Route to Montsegur
It is recommended that you make your starting place for your trip to Montsegur the delightful little city of Mirepoix.
The centre square is the jewel of Mirepoix. It has overhanging medieval buildings, a covered square and a magnificent church. A great day to visit is a Monday when Mirepoix has its market day. It's a favourite amongst tourists and never fails to impress the first time you visit.
From Mirepoix you can head towards Lavelanet and Chalabre, turning left off the Lavelanet road to head towards Chalabre means you will be afforded some gorgeous views of the Pyrenees which at the right time of year can be a wonderful scene of snow capped mountains which you view via a lovely valley of open countryside. Chalabre itself is a quaint little town of tree lined avenues and a central square.
From Chalabre you can head up the hill to Puivert where you can get a quick view of the Chateau Puivert. As you head from there towards Montsegur, on route you will find the Fontestorbes fountain.
Fontestorbes fountain is a remarkable underground hydro-geological phenomena. Rain and snow from the 'Pays de Sault' plateau filters through a calcium rock formation to accumulate in a myriad of underground pockets before going on to feed the 'Hers' tributary in the Ariege. It was recorded on the 7th December 1966 that it delivered a flow rate of 15,200 litres a second .
There are 2 different flow modes depending on the time of year, it is either 'Continuous Flowing' through from autumn to spring or 'Intermittent Flowing' during the summer months. During the times of low water in the summer the water flows strongly for a period then dwindles to a small stream before building back up again to a strong flow. The cycle varies between 60 and 90 minutes in length.
The reason for the intermittent flow is due to a system of naturally occurring channels that creates a mixture of air and water which subsequently causes the changes in the rate of flow.
If you visit, you can get a full explanation of the phenomena with illustrations in several different languages displayed on the notice boards around the fountain.
The rock formations caused by the flow and the fountain itself are well worth a look and you can get into the cave along the stepping stones at low flow to see the interior of the cave.
Then of course the next stop is Montsegur itself, so if you want to make that climb up to the fortress make sure you leave yourself enough time.
Visiting Montsegur For A Little Trip Back in Time
Montsegur is at an altitude of 1207m to the south west of Carcassonne near the Pyrenees. You would think that, due to its location, it would be impossible to breach. But actually it is probably most famous for being regarded as the last significant fortification that was held by the Cathars and it was breached by the crusaders towards the end of the Albigensian crusade.
Monsegur was besieged by an army of around 10,000 men and the Cathars, who were considered to be heretics by the Roman Catholic church, surrendered to them in March 1244. after a crusade,which at that point, had lasted more than 30 years.
Two Hundred and twenty Cathars that refused to renounce their faith were burned to death at the base of the fortress. This brutal act had become the trademark of the crusade and many Cathars in many different locations had lost their lives this way.
It is rumoured that during the siege of the fortress some Cathars managed to slip away carrying some form of treasure considered to be of extreme importance to the Cathar religion; perhaps even the 'Holy Grail' itself. Although exactly what was removed has never actually been identified or discovered. It all sounds a bit 'Da Vinci Code' doesn't it and of course much of the story that makes up the Da Vinci Code is said to have been conceived from the history of this region.
The climb up to the fortress is quite steep and passes by the village of Montsegur which sits below the fortress. On arrival, there is ample car parking space, but the final climb to the fortress itself is on foot and a reasonably steep walk. So not for the faint hearted. The views from the peak are pretty impressive however and you can see for miles all around on a clear day. If you are going to walk up you probably need to allow yourself around half an hour each way, depending on fitness levels.