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The Château de Quéribus

This castle is found at the furthest end of the Corbières mountain region, just a few kilometres away from the village of Cucugnan. It rises on a rocky spur 728 metres high in a position overlooking the Grau de Maury Pass, and dominating the Roussillon plain as far as the stronghold of Peyrepertuse to the north-west and the sea beyond Perpignan, to the south-east. Quèribus is the smallest of the Cathar castles and with a structure not unlike an eagle’s nest, it is one of the most fascinating. It is quite astonishing that such a complex structure could be built in such an inhospitable place. Its position between two valleys channels the wind so that it eddies around the main entrance and anyone entering has to grasp the rope supports provided quite firmly.

History of the Château de Quéribus

Quèribus, like some of the other Cathar fortresses, was re-built to provide defence against the Aragon kingdom and remained under the direct ownership of the French Crown with a permanent garrison until the end of the 18th century. It lost its strategic importance in 1659 following the Treaty of the Pyrenees, when the border between Spain and France was established.

Quèribus was actually first mentioned in the will of the Count of Besalù, dated 1020. A century later, following the marriage of the heiress of Aragon to count Raymond Berenger IV of Barcelona, the first castle was built. In 1162 this was part of the Kingdom of Aragon, but ten years later in 1172 it passed on to the earldom of Roussillon and at the end of the 12th century it became the property of the Count of Fenouillèdes.

Although the crusade against the Cathars had begun some time earlier, the castle only assumed a strategic role later on in the conflict. In 1241 Benoit de Termes, the Cathar deacon of Razès, sought refuge in the castle and eventually died there. In 1255 the seneschal of Carcassone supported by the bishop of Norbonne lay siege to Quèribus. The Lord of the castle, Chabert de Barbaira heroically defended it for three weeks, after which he was captured by the king’s forces and imprisoned in the Castle of Aguilar. He escaped and took flight. In 1255 under the command of Pierre de Ateuil, the king’s troops finally conquered Quèribus, when the supplies of food and water ran out, and the castle was forced to surrender.

Quèribus is sometimes regarded as the last Cathar stronghold.

Today

The Chateau de Quèribus has been listed as a historical monument by the French Ministry of Culture since 1907. The present-day fortifications are on three levels and date partly from the 13th century and partly from the 16th, when the castle was renovated. Little is known of the structure during the time of the Cathars. Starting at the lowest level, numerous embrasures can be seen in the first wall which provides access to the castle. The second wall provided defence for some buildings and the cisterns and is reached climbing a narrow path gouged out of the rock. The second wall also has a series of embrasures looking out across the valley to control the road along the pass below. On the third level is the polygonal donjon, probably 13th century, with walls 4 metres thick at the base. Inside the Chapel of St. Louis, a large room in the early Gothic style, with lofty vaults fanning out from a central column, light enters from a single window. The keep is enclosed by a wall around the courtyard where there is another cistern and some small buildings. A terrace surmounts the keep and offers a 360 degrees panorama over the Fenouillèdes, the countryside, across the Roussillon plan, as far as the sea. One can see miles around when the weather is clear.

The trail to the car park is pretty steep, as the roads are quite narrow. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. There is also an uphill climb on foot to the top of the hill as well, however the beautiful panorama, not to mention the enchanting castle itself, makes the climb more than worthwhile.

Opening hours of the Chateau de Quèribus:

Closed during the last 3 weeks of January
1st week of January, November and December – 10am – 5pm
February – 10am – 5.30pm
March – 10am – 6pm
April, May, June and September – 9.30am – 7pm July and August – 9am – 8pm
 
Text: Melisande Aquilina