These are the citadels at Lastours, in the mountains of southern France. The 13th century was a time when inaccessible might be a feature and not a bug.They were built by the Cathars. The Pope declared a crusade against them, and the sect was essentially hunted out of southern France. As you can see, the fortresses are incredibly defensible, impossible to besiege. When I took this picture I was standing on the edge of a hundred foot drop onto rock. A stiff climb up the steep path you see in the photo gets you to this:
Inside, the castles are ruinous, unsurprising since Simon de Montfort is no longer honing to drag the residents out and burn them at the stake for a heretic. But the authorities have a juggling act here. They want these citadels to look ruinous, because we all agree they’re very cool that way. But on the other hand some maintenance and restoration is necessary so that the tourists don’t kill themselves falling off the scarp. And that effort gets you this:
This is the other side of the Tour Regine, the middle castle. You can clearly see how they restored it — the whitish new stone laid to make a nice sharp angle, the rain gutters sticking out left and right at the top to drain the new roof. Was the tower originally this height? Did it have that jazzy groined ceiling on the inside, visible above the tourists’ heads? Very probably not. Major work has been done on this tower to make it safe enough to climb up inside. Why didn’t they carry on and close up that big central gap, restoring the tower to the way it looked when it was new? Because you have to stop somewhere. Over at Aigues-Mortes on the coast they decided differently, tidying the ruins up until they look new. And the furthest you can go in this direction is Carcassonne, the biggest and best medieval castle of them all. Next time we’ll go there!