Les Quatre Chateaux de Lastours

The Chateaux de Lastours (in Occitan Lastors) are four so-called Cathar castles in the French commune of Lastours in the Aude departement. The four castles are on a rocky spur above the village of Lastours, isolated by the deep valleys of the Orbeil and Gresilhou rivers. They were built at an altitude of 300 m along a rock wall just 1300 feet (400m) long by 165 feet (50m) wide. Cabaret, Surdespine and la Tour Regine stand in line, while Quertinheux is built on a separate pinnacle close by. The site has been classified monument historique (historic monument) by the French Ministry of Culture since 1905 and archaeological digs are still in progress.

These four castles constitute a single entity, even though they are not a single structure. The natural layout of the site permitted the economy of a fortress of great height. Plans were adapted to the rocks on which they were built. The construction of each is different reflecting the range of alterations made to the castles. In the Middle Ages, the site belonged to the lords of Cabaret, mentioned for the first time in 1067. Their wealth came mainly from the exploitation of iron mines. Probably only three castles were built in the 11th century and their sites evolved over the years following demolition and successive rebuilding. During this period, there were at least 22 lords of Cabaret.

The castles lived through the Albigensian crusade. Indeed, the lords of Cabaret were closely linked to the followers of Catharism. The villages surrounding the castles welcomed many Cathars. The fortress at this time belonged to Pierre-Roger de Cabaret follower of Raymond-Roger de Trencavel, who fought at his side during the defence of Carcassonne. In 1209, the site resisted the attacks of Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester. But the crusader Bouchard de Marly, then lord of the Chateau de Saissac, was taken prisoner by Pierre-Roger. His freedom was negotiated against the surrender of Cabaret in 1211. In 1223, the lords of Cabaret repossessed their lands and Cabaret became the seat of the Cathar bishop of Carcasses. Pierre-Roger resisted Simon de Montfort’s attacks for many years, but in 1227, the castles were again besieged by Humbert de Beaujeu. In 1229, Cabaret capitulated. The villages and the castles were plundered and then rebuilt to become a royal fortress. The Tour Regine was built by order of the king to affirm his supremacy. They became the administrative and military centre of six communities forming the chatellerie of Cabardes.

In the 16th century, the castles were occupied by Protestants. They were dislodged by the marechal de Joyeuse in 1591. Before the Crusade against the Albigensians, there were only three castles and they were not arranged on the crest. The surrounding villages were similar: houses, forges and cisterns around a high, narrow keep. Traces of the villages can be found on the west flank of the hill arranged in a semicircle following the contours around the manor house. In the 13th century, the king decided on the destruction of the three towers and their houses so as to eliminate all refuges for the Cathars. The castles, however, were rebuilt on the crest so as to make them less accessible to enemy fire.

The castles of Lastours were a centre of Cathar religious activity during the 13th century. The castle village sheltered numerous ‘Perfects’ homes and the Cathar bishops went to stay in Cabaret: Arnaud Hot, Pierre Isarn and Guiraud Abith. In 1229, the fortress launched the Cathar resistance in the Languedoc. This period was called the Guerre de Cabaret (War of Cabaret). The Lastours castles held out as a centre of opposition to the conquests of Simon de Montfort, who determined to wipe them out. In this, he was bound to fail, having to launch simultaneous attacks on three castles protected by sheer rockfaces and defended by a nobleman who, though not a Cathar, was aware of the importance of the campaign de Montfort was waging against his suzerain, the viscount of Carcassonne. De Montfort decided against attacking the castles and instead resorted to a cruel ploy that typifies the barbarity of this war. He brought prisoners from the village of Bram and had their eyes gouged out and their ears, noses and lips cut off. One prisoner, left with a single good eye, led them to Lastours as a warning. The ploy failed; the castles put up more resistance and held out until the supposedly impregnable fortress at Termes fell in November 1210. The lord of Cabaret then surrendered.

The four castles are on the top of a crest on a north-south axis: Cabaret, Tour Regine, Surdespine and Querthineux. They controlled the principal access routes into the Cabardes and the Montagne Noire regions. The burial of a young girl known as the “Princess of Lastours” discovered in 1961, is chronologically the first witness to this site. Allotted to the Bronze Age, she rested in “the shelter of the collar”, an additional cavity of the “hole of the city” cave. Her body was covered with objects among of which were amber pearls and jewels which evoked the Mycenian art or possibly Egyptian. These ornaments attest the exchanges carried out by the people of Cabardes with the Mediterranean world. Occupying an amphitheatre in the North-western side of the hill of the chateaux, the site just off from Cabaret is the subject of archaeological excavations, “The fifth” Castle, Probably between the middle of the XIth and first half of XIIth century, a village developed around the primitive chateaux of Cabaret.

In 1063, it was not located at the site of the building which bears this name today. In the center of the village castral, the excavations revealed a built unit comparable to the first castle: on a surface area of more than 500 m2, it was articulated around a rock which was to receive a donjon with a small perpendicular building, open on a paved yard. The unit was surrounded by a street and a first line of buildings. The Castral Village, In addition to this core castral, the site presented a suburb stretched on the Western slope, including/understanding eight to nine terrace houses, staged until the bed of Gresilhou. A second suburb installed on the Northern slope developed to the Orbiel river.

Lastly, a probable extension of the habitat was organized along the old way of Carcassonne, on Right Bank of Gresilhou, crossed by a bridge. These places were brutally abandoned without the inhabitants being able to carry their domestic objects: one finds the wood consumed in the fire, the remainders of the last meal, the culinary potteries still in place from rapid departure from there, This furniture very diversified and is former in the middle of XIIth century and coincides with the rendering of the fortress in 1229. Voluntary destruction by the royal administration must be about 1240.

2009

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