Lounging in France 7: Citadels

Lastours1These 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:

Lastours2

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:

LastoursRestore

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!

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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Lounging in France 7: Citadels — 5 Comments

  1. This is Cathar country, it’s proclaimed on all the billboards. More amusingly, down at the shore, I saw a sign that said “Les plages des Cathars,” which is to say the beaches of the Cathars. A sudden vision of the mail-clad knight wading tentatively into the surf comes to mind.

  2. Forgot to add, that the other reason the authorities fix these things up is that the town is just below. The city fathers object to large medieval boulders falling down on their heads, quite reasonable.

  3. Great photos! At least I got to see the top. On my first trip to the area, I passed a billboard that said, “Ski le pays Cathar; les Cathars sont sympa!”

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