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Things to See in the Languedoc:   Châteaux

There are basically three kinds of building covered by the term château.  First, there are the medieval Languedoc castles, most of which are branded as "Cathar Castles" in the Languedoc-Roussillon.  The second are post-medieval defensive buildings designed for the age of gunpowder.  They are typically squatter than ancient castles, and feature pointed bastions rather than circular or square towers.  Third are the later comfortable country houses, often dressed up with cosmetic towers and machicolations - the typical Loire valley type.

In English these three types are distinguished by the names "Castle", "Fortress" and "Country House". In French they are all châteaux but the defensive ones may be distinguished as "châteaux forts".

For Medieval Castles in the Languedoc-Roussillon click  here.

The present boundary between France and Spain was settled in 1659 by the Treaty of the Pyrenees.    This had two consequences for the area that we now know as the Languedoc-Roussillon.  The first was that the traditional border defences were no longer needed.  As a consequence the castle at Carcassonne and her "five sons" Aguilar, Queribus, Peyrepertuse, Termes and Puilaurens were abandoned and left to fall into ruins.  The second was that new defences were needed for the new border.  Consequently, a major programme of defensive building was undertaken. 

The man of the moment was Sébastion le Plestre de Vauban (1633-1707).  Vauban was a military engineer working through almost the entire reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV.  He revolutionised the art of castle building, building 33 new citadels and rebuilt or refurbished a hundred more.  They are typically squat, star shaped and moated.  Not the pretty of châteaux of popular imagination, but far more wonderful to anyone with interest in history rather than picture postcards.  His work dominated military building theory throughout the western world until the mid nineteenth century, and his influence is felt to this day. 

All of the following owe their present form to the Great Vauban.

Salses. This great border fortress was built by the Spanish in the late 15th century, to guard the coastal route across the frontier between Catalonia and France. The layout and design provide a good example of the transition between the medieval castle (château fort) and the military fortress of later times.

Collioure For more information click here Next..

Perpignan. For more information click here Next..

Villefranche-le-Conflet. For more information click here Next..

Mont Louis. A fortified town, built a by Vauban, on the orders of Louis XIV, to protect the new French-Spanish border. At a height of more than 1,000 metres, this is still a working military establishment. Things to see include:

  • the 17th century town walls
  • neo-classical church
  • the solar furnace (1953)
  • the Sun King (Roi Soleil) Museum nearby
  • an 11th century church at Planès
  • the natural hot springs of Saint Thomas les Bains (not far away at Fontpédrouse)

For further information, contact: 3, rue Lieutenant Pruneta, 66 210 Mont Louis, Tel: 33 (0)4 68 04 21 97

Click here for more about de Vauban Next.


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