The Vertigo Citadels

In 1229, the final chapter in the story of the Cathar resistance and the Occitan autonomy began. The King of France stepped into the conflict, rapidly pacifying the area, which was subsequently attached to the Royal Crown. The Corbières became the new, southernmost border of the Kingdom of France. Just like any other border, it had to be fortified and kept under surveillance. But the surveillance also operated towards the interior. Indeed, the King of France did not trust this sudden rendition of the Occitan lords. And quite rightly so. After an attempted uprising of the faidits (lords dispossessed of their land and title, TN) in 1240, the Corbières region was put under direct control of the King of France. In 1258, Aragon and France divided the area by signing the treaty of Corbeil. The era of the military fortresses, called “the sons of Carcassonne” was about to begin.

The Royal contractors dismantled and redesigned the ancient fortified villages, which formerly belonged to the Occitan seigneurs, by remodelling and modernizing the stonework, reinforcing the passive protective aspects of the constructions. When contemplating the magnitude of these fortified structures, one automatically thinks these were once occupied by hundreds of individuals. Just look at the Peyrepertuse castle. This “flagship” made of stone, cast onto the cliff at a height of 800 m, to this day is an enormous citadel, stretching out over close to 7 000 m². But in actual fact, these castles were nothing but military barracks, housing about a dozen soldiers. They did not play a defensive role, but were there to guard the borders, hence their geographical positions, very often high up on hilltops (Quéribus, Peyrepertuse) or guarding strategic access paths, like Aguilar and Termes. Their task was to give the alert. In the course of time, some of these castles were adapted to more modern battle techniques (for instance guns and cannons) as was the case for the Quéribus castle.