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Châteaux de Lastours

The Chateaux de Lastours, being part of the commune of Lastours in the Department of Aude, is a group of four castles perched high above the village of Aude on a very rocky spur. Isolated by the deep valleys created by the Orbeil and Grésilhou rivers, the four Cathar castles: Cabaret, Surdespine, the Tour Régine, and Quertibhoeux, stand mightily upon a rocky cliff 300 metres high and 50 metres wide. Having different styles and dimensions, they follow the formation of the natural rock, creating an impressive and majestic fortress, guarding one of the main routes into the Cabardès and the Montagne Noire.

History

The word Lastours, comes from Lastors in Occitan, meaning ‘The Towers’.

The first known vestiges at Lastours date back to the Bronze Age. Ceremonial objects reminiscent of Mycean or Egyptian art were found here. These ornaments are indicative of the exchanges which took place between the peoples of the Cabardès and the Mediterranean

During the feudal period, the Castles were first mentioned in relation to the Cabaret family, in 1076. The Lords of Cabaret drew most of their wealth from the surrounding iron mines. The Castles of Cabaret, Surdespine, and Quertinheux, probably built in the middle of the 11th century, survived the tragic events of the Crusade against the Albigensians, ie the Cathars. At the time, the Lords of Cabaret seem to have been closely linked with the adepts of this offshoot sect of Christianity, in fact communal houses for Cathars prospered in the village. The Church declared the Cathars as heretics and a crusade against them began.  (more)

The four castles are on the top of a crest on a north-south axis, controlled the principal access routes into the Cabardès and the Montagne Noire regions.

Cabaret – Situated to the North, this is the main and biggest of the four castles, and the main defensive structure. The powerful keep surrounded by an irregular ring of stone walls with a squarish tower on the north side, gives rise to an unusual form, commonly known as ‘the ram’s head’. The entrance is protected by a barbican and around the top runs a look-out passage resting on pointed arches. When part of the main tower collapsed, a hole was opened through which the Gothic vault of the top floor is visible.

Surdespine – Of compact appearance, the castle is dominated by the remains of a square tower connected to a cistern. The buildings are enclosed by a trapezoid wall, the upper section of which has been restored. Two passageways in the northwest corner and on the southwest side were added at a later date. The castle stands out by the fact that there are very few arrow slits compared to other Cathar castles. It also boasts four rounded arch windows.

Tour Régine – Built in 1242, the Tour Régine is the smallest and most recent of the four Lastours castles. The group of buildings is similar in structure to the towers in the walls of Carcassonne castle, with a circular central tower of three storeys, originally with floors and spiral stairs internally and an external wooden staircase. It was enclosed by a polygonal wall of which only the south side remains. The wall has long narrow slits for firing bows and crossbows. Inside the tower was a large cistern for collecting rain water.

Quertineux – Of complex structure, the castle combines aspects of Cabaret and Tour Régine. It has a circular tower surrounded by a vast polygonal curtain wall. A zigzag system defends the main access. The original tower dates from 1110 but was greatly modified in the 13th century. It is situated on a rocky crag separate from the peak where the other castles stand and has two large cisterns. The remains of a Romanesque church are preserved beneath the buildings.

The Legend of the Witch’s Grotto:

In Quertinheux castle, there is an underground galley which, according to tradition, goes as far as Carcassone. It is called ‘Salimonde’s Grotto’ or ‘The Witch’s Grotto’, as according to legend, it was the final home of a young woman named Salimonde, who had hooves and very long hair. In winter, she used to weep by the banks of the Grésilhou Brook causing winter to be colder. However, when she played the flute, warmer weather would arrive.

Today

It takes approximately between two and two hours and a half to walk up the hilly trail up the mountain, around the four castles and back. The climb is quite steep, the steps can be narrow and slippery, and therefore it requires quite some physical effort. It is not recommended for old or infirm people, people with mobility problems, or small children. The visitor centre provides one with information as well as a clear map, however the trail is closed during storms or strong winds.

Nevertheless, the climb is very much worth it when one considers the magnificence and beauty of not just the castles, but the panorama and scenery themselves. One can also appreciate the extent of the labour required to build such fortifications in such difficult locations. This was needed due to the tactical importance of the castles to have a high vantage point.

Opening hours of the Chateaux de Lastours:

Closed in January
February, March, October, November and December (weekends and school days) – 10am – 5pm
April, May, June and September – 10am – 6pm
July and August – 9am – 8pm
Entrance Fee: €6 – Adults, €2 – Children (6-15 yrs), €5 - Groups (+10 persons)
 

Text: Melisande Aquilina