The Cathars were a simple people. The framework for their belief is found in the Sermon on the Mount.
- They opposed gross materialism, especially as practiced by the church of the time.
- They doubted the divinity of Jesus.
- God ruled in heaven and the devil controlled the earth.
These beliefs, of course, got them in big trouble with the established church, who found themselves holding a powerful position in the highly material world. So, like many simple societies that expressed alternative beliefs, they became fodder for the dominant culture's bonfires. The inquisition tested itself with the Cathars. The Cathars lost--but not before they had inhabited some mighty fine castles to keep back the hordes after their necks.
Religious persecution is often some of the world's cruelest. And the remnants of the alternative sect's isolation can be seen in both Cathar castles and in the monasteries of Meteora (pictures) in Greece.
The Best of Cathar Country along the Aude South of Carcassonne
I. The Easiest Cathar Castles to get to
Chateau d'Arques--The parking lot is close to the Chateau, only a small elevation change gets you to the gate. This is one of the few Cathar structures to exist on flat land. A plane tree shaded drive takes you from the Chateau to the city of Arques, where you'll find a small museum which is free with your ticket to the chateau. You can buy local honey at the entrance.
Arques is first mentioned in a document written in 1011. Construction of the Castle's donjon (the main tower) was started in 1280. It has four floors, accessed through spiral staircases, with good views of the surrounding countryside. See pictures of Chateau d'Arques.
Chateau de Puivert--This chateau is on a hill, but you can drive most of the way up. It has a tower with four stories you can visit. But the interesting part of Puivert is in the stone carvings in the chapel revealing people playing medieval musical instruments. These eight instruments have been replicated and at the museum Quercorb-Puivert (French) you can see them and hear them being played through a multimedia display (there is a sample of the music on the page referenced above). In the village of Puivert there is also a shop on the river where you can buy hand-carved marionettes.
II. The Best Cathar Castles to Visit
Here are the best castles, but reaching them may be a challenge.
Chateau de Peyrepertuse a Duilhac--If you see only one Cathar castle, make it Peyrpertuse. You can drive most of the way up to its limestone outcrop, but the trail, on worn limestone footing, takes you around the back of the castle and undergoes several elevation changes. They won't let you use the path in a storm. It's treacherous when wet.
You can see Peyrepertuse easily in one day along with nearby Chateau de Queribus in Cucugnan and Chateau de Puilaurens in Lapradelle. The drive between them is quite nice. A lunch stop in Cucugnan is recommended. There are three restaurants. We had a very nice lunch at Auberge de Vigneron (A Logis de France Hotel Restaurant). They have a terrace overlooking the Chateau de Queribus but weren't serving outside that day for some reason, a fact that made people quite upset. Still, the 22 Euro menu featured some wonderful food presented well. (phone 68 45 03 00 within France).
Map of the Aude region
For a map of Cathar Country see our Aude Map and Travel Resources
History of the Cathars
Find out about Cathar history and the Albigensian Crusade by using our Cathar History and Resource Directory.
A word about the Inter-Site card
You may be offered an Inter-Site Card that gives you discounts to the museums and castles of Cathar country. I've found that at the time of our visit, the card did not live up to its promises. Twice we were told that there had been a change of contract and the places we were visiting were no longer offering a discount. Read the terms carefully. The card is less expensive now, and can offer a slight discount if you intend on visiting three or more castles or museums.