Further up the Vicdessos valley from the ice age paintings of Niaux ( https://mountainsrivers.com/2014/02/23/the-ice-age-paintings-of-the-grotte-de-niaux/) is one of the less well known Cathar castles, known as Montréal de Sos. It sits on a rocky outcrop, the Vic de Sos, from which the valley gets its name. Occupied since the Bronze age, this was the site of an Iron Age oppidum, a Carolingian fortress, and during the Cathar period one of the most powerful castles of the Foix region, Montréal-de-Sos. Under the castle remains is a cave with two exits – or an entrance and a different exit. Such caves were used for initiation rituals in Cathar times.
One of my deep maternal ancestors, Una, probably lived in the Basque region or perhaps a little further north around 12,000 years ago, which would make her my great*780th grandmother (give or take a few generations). She may well have been part of the Magdalenian culture in the foothills of the Pyrenees who produced the stunning cave paintings at sites such as Roc-de Sers, Lascaux, and Niaux. I have visited the Grotte de Niaux twice, once in 1992 and again in 2011. It is one of the few caves with Paleolithic paintings that can still be visited.
The Cathar castle of Montsegur sits on top of a limestone peak (or pog in Occitan) at around 3000 feet. Here several hundred Cathars held out for 10 months against the besieging French army of over 6,000 men in 1243-44.
One of the southernmost Cathar castles, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Puilaurens sits on a 700 m high rocky outcrop.. Perhaps the best-preserved of Languedoc’s many cathar castles of the area, it offers breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys. Very atmospheric! Puilaurens was originally built by the Visigoths
The Cathar country in the foothills of the French Pyrenees is one of my favourite places. I first went there in 1992 while living in Montpellier, then again in 1996, 2002 and most recently in 2011 with my family. I have pulled together a few photos from these trips and this first post features Château de Peyrepertuse and the nearby Château de Quéribus. Continue reading