Chateau de Saissac in the Pays Cathares

The Chateau De Saissac is a historical ruined castle that once guarded the gateway to the 'Montagnes Noire', was prominent in the Albigensian Crusade and has been owned by vassals and lords, although it is now famous because of the treasure discovered there as recently as 1979. Money dating back to the 13th century. But there are some things money can't buy, just like the views you get across the Carcassonne plains from this gorgeous location in the Aude department of Languedoc Roussillon.

A LIttle of the History of Saissac Castle Plus the Part it Played in the Albigensian Crusade

The Chateau de Saissac is located in the Aude department of Languedoc Roussillon and the first written records of its existence go back firstly to 958 A.D. and then to 960 A.D when it was the centre of the 'Saissagues' district and was passed to the 'Count of Carcassonne' by the 'Bishop of Toulouse'.

It's loyalty at the time was with the local vassals. A 'vassal' is someone that has pledged their allegiance to a local leader i.e. a nobleman or a king,in return for land. Vassals provided services to their immediate superior by completing the chores asked of them, by providing trained soldiers to fight for their allegiance and by providing clothes and weapons for their soldiers. I suppose they could be likened to the leaders of a mercenary army in modern terms.

During the time of the Cathar Crusade, which started in 1209, the lords of Saissac were loyal to Trencavel, but they were stripped of their titles when Bouchard de Marly, a lieutenant of Simon de Montfort, ordered that the castle and its possessions should be seized. Later around 1234 the castle passed to Lambert de Thursey who had also been a companion of Simon de Montfort, the infamous leader of the Albigensian Crusade during the early years.

Following this period the castle changed hands many times through the centuries. During the 13th century it came into the possession of the Lords of Mirepoix, the Levis, but several more changes of ownership were to occur. Next was Lisle Jourdain, then the Caramans, Clermont Lodeve and the Luynes, a sort of French commune. Eventually the castle fell into ruins following the French Revolution when it was repeatedly looted during the 19th century. Finally it was bought by a writer and film maker M Dupuy-Mazuel.

Now the castle is owned by the municipality and restoration has been ongoing so that the public can visit and enjoy the history of Saissac Castle.

Visiting the Chateau de Saissac

The treasure of Saissac, discovered during construction work in 1979, was thought to date back to the 13th century. Around 2000 deniers dating from 1250 to 1270 were found in the ruins.

Work to restore the castle began in 1998 and it was opened to the public in 2001.It is the story of the treasure that forms the centre of interest for any visit to the castle in modern days. There is a museum dedicated to the discovery of the treasure and a video, 'Le Tresor de Saissac', plays on a large screen in the castle in three different languages, French, English and Spanish one after the other with 2 minute intervals in between.

The ruins themselves are now protected by historical monument laws and stand as testimony to days gone by with evidence of construction works across the centuries. It is an impressive structure, even in its ruined and partially restored state.

The position it holds as the gateway and protector of the 'Montagne Noire' in its lofty, elevated location means, if you visit, you will be able to enjoy magnificent views across the Carcassonne plains and the Pyrenees.

The Surrounding Area

When you have finished your visit to the castle you can perhaps head off to nearby Montolieu, the Aude's own version of a village of books. Or perhaps follow the River Lampy into the Black Mountains where you can find the Lac du Lampy and enjoy some time relaxing at the waterside on a lovely sandy beach. Courtesy of the Canal Du Midi development which needed reservoirs of this type to keep the canal full of water.

Another beautiful lake nearby is the Lac de St Ferreol. Both have very impressive dams that were built to hold back the water so that reserves could be called on at will to top up the Canal Du Midi.

At St Ferreol you can visit the museum dedicated to the construction of the Canal Du Midi and find out how Pierre Paul Riquet managed to take this magnificent project, a world heritage site, from conception to completion.

Finally the Abbey de St Papoul is just a short drive from Saissac and houses the sculptures of the 'Maitre-de-Cabestany a 12th century sculptor. It really is a beautiful abbey and well worth the visit even if you only decide to walk around the building to view it from the outside. But of course paying the modest entry fee means you will be able to enter the inner sanctum of this former Benedict Monks abbey and take full stock of all it has to offer, especially the architecture of its ancient cloister and the sculptures in the refectory.

See: The Abbey de St Papoul
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