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La Forteresse de Salses

The Forteresse de Salses (also called Fort de Salses) is a Catalan fortress illustrating and combining the military architectural aspects of a medieval castle and a modern bastion. It is located 15km from Peripegnan, it is situated in the French Department of Pyrénées-Orientales. The name of the castle – Salses, comes from salinas fons; ‘salty sources’, and it was given after the two sources of the salt water discovered during its construction.

History of La Forteresse de Salses

Changing techniques of war in the late Middle Ages explain the architecture of Salses.

Built by the Spaniards at the end of the 15th century, the fortress guarded the former frontier between Spain and France. The fortress occupies a strategic site on the main road linking France to Spain, over a narrow strip of land between the Corbières heights and the Leucate lake. It was built by the Spanish architect Francisco Ramiro Lopez for the King Ferdinand of Aragon, King of Spain during the discovery of the New World, on the site of an earlier castle. Like a Medieval castle, it retains a keep and towers at each corner of the long curtain wall, yet has a modern geometrical shape. It owes its main innovative features to the necessity of adapting to the development of artillery that used metal cannonballs.

Besieged it could house a garrison of 1,500 men and 300 horses for months. During the Spanish Civil War, the fort was used as refuge. It was captured by the French in 1642, and later rebuilt by the famous French military architect Vauban.

The Treaty of the Pyrenees, in 1659, ratified the region’s status as French Property. The frontier was then pushed back to the highest point of the Pyrenees and the fortress lost all strategic importance. It became an observation post, then a State prison. Throughout the 19th century it was used as a gunpowder store, before being classified as an historic monument in 1886.


Today the fort is officially a French National Monument, housing a museum and a collection of modern sculpture, receiving around 100,000 visitors a year.

The outer walls are 6 to 10 metres thick and are buried half their heights in a huge moat. Above The ground, the building rises to between three and seven floors served by a maze of internal passages. The site is a huge rectangle which looks as if it consists of a single particular sturdy block. The defensive system, in reality, is considerably more complex than it seems, as it is split into three independent sections running from east to west; the offices and service rooms arranged around a paved courtyard, the inner keep containing all the vital components of the fortress, with the keep housing the governor’s lodging.

Opening hours

June – September – 9.30 – 19.00
October – May – 10.00 – 12.15 and after lunch 14.00 – 17.00
Closed: January 1, May 1, November 1 and 11
Text: Melisande Aquilina