Friday, August 13, 2010

A Day Trip to Lastours in the Montagne Noire

Yesterday we took a trip to see the four "Cathar" castles north of Carcassonne, in the Black Mountains. They were not built by the Cathars, but were occupied by them around 1227. The original reason for the existence of the castles seems to be an iron mine nearby. The earliest known evidence of occupation is from 1500 years ago. From the brochure: "The sepulchre of a young girl known as the 'Princess of Lastours' was discovered in 1961. Ceremonial objects reminiscent of Mycean or Egyptian art were found here."
From the present day village of Lastours, the four castles sit upon the crest of a hill and the iron mine is on the other side of that hill.

The Cathars were expelled from the castles sometime after 1227 and the buildings were totally destroyed by the conquering troops of Simon de Montfort or Humbert de Beaujeu, I couldn't figure out which. But in any case, Simon and Humbert sound like awful villains. The castles were then rebuilt on the crest of the hills, the brochure said, meaning the original castles were not on the hill crest. So what we toured were rebuilt in another place using the rubble from the earlier castles. Still, they were impressive.

We were allowed to take our little buddy, Fergus, along with us as long as he was on his leash. Here, Nancy tries to coax him to read the brochure.

Along the trail to the castles is this interesting bit of geology. The limestone rock is split by an igneous intrusion of quartz and inside that another species of rock. Are there any geologists out there who can tell us something about this by looking at a photograph? If so, please feel free to comment and enlighten us. What you are seeing in the photo, is but a small sample of the intrusion.

The cypress tress give the castles a very regal appearance and remind one of Tuscany.

As usual, the old Park Ranger in Nancy and I, leads us to make comparisons to how this venue would be handled in other locations. In the first place, in the U.S. you probably wouldn't be able to take your dog, and there would be guardrails everywhere, and signs saying "Keep Off". On the other side of the ledger, in the U.S. you would not find electrical wires running everywhere, in plain view of the visitors. And if for some reason there were a need for 220 volts of electricity to run here and there, it would be in conduit, buried, and not visible. In other words, safe from all likelihood of any kind of lawsuit. But tossing safety aside, I was hard pressed to imagine the past with all the cables running everywhere. But then we have to be aware that this is not a castle belonging to the French government, but to the department of l'Aude, and they have different standards and expectations and funds available than do the National Park Service.

But really, is this necessary? I know that in France they are lucky enough to not have lawyers crawling around everywhere looking for someone to sue, but if they must have lights on the castle at night, can't they at least route the wires in a safe manner?
This was about the fifth partially restored castle we've been to in the few years and quite impressive. But if I could only go to one it would be Peyrepertuse, with Montsegur a strong second because of it's location. And remember kids, click on 'em to enlarge 'em.


Anonymous said...

Those castles look as though very little light entered and I feel "mildew-y" just thinking about that!

Fergus seemed to enjoy himself!

Thanks for the history know I love them!

Take care, Luke

Peggy said...

If this were Yellowstone, there would be a zillion people there and then maybe they would fix the electrical wires. A chicken and egg conundrum. Is it just because they have so many ruins dotted here and there that they are cavalier about their upkeep? I think it is cool that there were ceremonial objects found "reminiscent of Mycean or Egyptian art".