When we think of the 'Cathar castles', most people believe these were built at the time of the Cathars.
However, in spite of popular opinion, this idea is completely wrong.
Most of the castles now described as 'Cathar castles' had actually been built well before the 12th Century, and many of them share the same history. Built around the year 1000, they were feudal fortresses playing a military and economic role that increased considerably up until the 13th Century.
Their influence did not decline until after the Albigensian Crusade, but was then accelerated by the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which pushed the Spanish border south to its current position.
Gradually growing poorer and poorer, they were dealt their final deathblow by the French Revolution, which stripped them of their contents until their only use was as a source of stone for other buildings.
Though they stood for centuries, the 'Cathar castles' only sheltered the Cathar victims of the Inquisition for a fleeting moment, when they took refuge in the existing fortifications. Montségur castle is the exception, for it was built at the request of the Cathars for their protection.
The castles to see:
Château de Lastours
Château de Peyrpertuse
Château de Puilaurens
Château de Puivert
Château de Quéribus
Château de Saissac
Château de Termes
Château de Villerouge
The Cathar châteaux are a sequence of fortresses built by the King of France following the crusade against the people of Albi.© Pablo Boris Debat / 123RF
If castles are not really your cup of tea, fear not, as there are plenty of other things to do and tourist attractions to visit, including a dinosaur museum, a cave, and various boat trips.© Peter Neu / 123RF
The Château de Lastours, the Château de Saissac, and the Château de Villerouge-Termenès are all worth a visit but the Cathar region is also home to a number of abbeys and museums.© GRAPHICOBSESSION
The word 'Cathar' comes from the name of the Christian religion Catharism, which originated in the east and developed during the 12th century.© Santiago Rodriguez Fontoba / 123RF
The peaks of the Corbières range afford spectacular views over various châteaux, including Aguilar, Quéribus, and even Peyrepertuse.© Edouardo De Sousa / 123RF