Castles in Occitanie

Fort Libéria

Built by Vauban in 1681 and fortified by Napoleon III, the Libéria fortress dominates the city with its ramparts, counterscarp galleries, bastions, chapel, archaeology and caving museum and a 734 steps underground staircase.
Founded: 1681 | Location: Villefranche de Conflent, France

Château de Sommières

Château de Sommières was probably built in the 10th or 11th century by the Bermond noble family. The castle consisted of two towers: Bermonde and Montlaur, dating back to the 13th century. Only Bermonde tower is intact, Montlaur tower was partially destroyed during the siege of the city in 1573 and later demolished.
Founded: 11th century | Location: Sommières, France

Château de Najac

Château de Najac was built in 1253 by the villagers on the orders of Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of king Louis IX of France. It was erected on the site of an older castle (a square tower) built in 1100. The inner bailey of the castle forms a rough rectangle, with the longest side about 40 meters long. Towers project from the South and North walls, and there are towers at each corner, including an earlier square t ...
Founded: 1253 | Location: Najac, France

Tour Philippe-le-Bel

Tour Philippe-le-Bel is a medieval tower in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon which marked the French terminus of the Saint-Bénézet Bridge across the Rhone between the Kingdom of France and Papal territory of Avignon. It is named after the French king Philippe-le-Bel (Philip IV 'the Fair') who was responsible for its construction. A tower with only two storeys was completed in 1302. In spite of protes ...
Founded: 1302 | Location: Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, France

Château de Puilaurens

The Château de Puilaurens is one of the so-called Cathar castles. The castle stands on a spur of rock above the Boulzane Valley and the villages of Lapradelle and Puilaurens. There is a path from Axat to the castle. The castle here had belonged to the Abbey of Saint-Michel de Cuxa before it was acquired by the Queen of Aragon in 1162. As Aragonese property it was outside the territory ravaged by the Crusaders durin ...
Founded: 1229 | Location: Puilaurens, France

Château de Lussan

Château de Lussan is square castle with substantial towers at each corner and was built here in the 15th century for the Lords of Audibert. There is a large clock and iron campanile on one of the towers which was added in the 19th century. The castle was in private ownership until it was seized during the Revolution: since that time the castle has had several different owners and uses and is now used for local council of ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Lussan, France

Château d'Arques

The Château d"Arques is one of the so-called Cathar castles. In the 12th century, there was a conflict between the viscount of Carcassonne and several seigneurs, including Arques and Lagrasse. The estates at Arques became the property of the seigneurs of Termes. In 1231, after the defeat of the Château de Termes during the Albigensian Crusade, Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, attacked Arques. Af ...
Founded: 1284 | Location: Arques, France

Fort de Bellegarde

Le Perthus became French territory after the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659). The Spanish captured Bellegarde in 1674 and began work on new fortifications in 1675. These were not very far advanced when the place was recaptured by the French. In 1678 Vauban designed for Bellegarde a strong pentagonal fort with a detached hornwork extending southwards towards the frontier. The defences consist of a five bastioned trace, with ...
Founded: 1675 | Location: Le Perthus, France

Château de Villerouge-Termenès

The first historical data concerning the site of Château de Villerouge-Termenès dates from the 12th century. At that time and until the French Revolution, Narbonne"s powerful archbishops were the lords of the castle and village of Villerouge- Termenès. Even so, the castle was much coveted and occupied several times. Indeed, in 1107, Pope Pascal II had to confirm the Archbishop Richard as rightful ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Villerouge-Termenès, France

Château de Florac

The Château de Florac was originally built in the 13th century and then rebuilt in the 17th century. It originally belonged to the Barony of Anduze and passed through a number of feudal families. The castle was entirely rebuilt in 1652 after the Wars of Religion. During the French Revolution, the castle was turned into a 'salt loft' for storing salt. It was then used as a prison in the 19th century. Since ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Florac, France

Château de Quillan

Château de Quillan was first mentioned in 1125. There had been a fort built by Visigoths already in 781 AD. The castle was conquered by the Royal army of France in 1210 during the Albigensian Crusades. The castle got its current appearance in restorations of 1232 and 1341. Since then Quillan castle has been damaged in wars by Spanish Armies and Huguenots (1575).  Since the 18th century Château de Quillan was left to ...
Founded: 1232 | Location: Quillan, France

Château de Portes

The Château de Portes overlooks the Regordane, an ancient avenue used by the pilgrims of Saint-Giles and the Croisés on their way towards the Holy Land for a distance of ten miles. The Anduze, Randon and Polignac families paid homage to the abbot of Saint-Pierre-de-Sauve for this castle between the 11th and the 14th centuries.  Raymond Guillaume de Budos, the nephew of Pope Clement V, bought the seigniory in 1322, and ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Portes, France

Château de Flamarens

A castrum is mentioned on the site of Château de Flamarens in 1289, and is believed to have been remodelled in the 14th century. Additional building work and alterations were made some time between 1469 and about 1475 by Jean de Cazanove for Jean de Grosolles. The northern part was built before 1536 by Georges Dauzières for Arnaud de Grossolles. Alterations were made to the windows and interior decoration in the 18th ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Flamarens, France

Château d'Aumelas

Château d'Aumelas was mentioned first time in 1036. From to 1213 1350, Aumelas fell to the Kings of Majorca and finally to the possession of King of France. The castle was ruined in the 16th century after it was dismantled and damaged in the Wars of Religion.
Founded: 11th century | Location: Aumelas, France

Château de Saissac

The Château de Saissac is a ruined castle, one of the so-called Cathar castles. It was once the residence of the powerful vassal family of Trencavel. The castle dominates the rocky headland and the ravine of Vernassonne, at an important strategic position at the entry of the Montagne noire. Based on historical texts, it can be dated to at least 960. It was bequeathed by the bishop of Toulouse to the Count of Carcassonne ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Saissac, France

Château de Bonrepos

Château de Bonrepos was built by Pierre-Paul Riquet in 1651. The castle is surrounded by moat spanned by two bridges. The pleasure gardens of the castle of are registered as Remarkable Gardens of France.
Founded: 1651 | Location: Bonrepos-Riquet, France

Château de Montaigut

The first traces of the Château de Montaigut date from the 10th century. Built on a rocky outcrop dominating the valley of the Dourdou de Camarès river, it defended the town of Saint-Affrique against attacks from the south. Enlarged and transformed in the 15th century by the Blanc family, it was restored several times before falling into ruin. The castle was finally restored in 1989. The castle is built over a medie ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Gissac, France

Château de Saint-Alban

The first mention of the Château de Saint-Alban dates back to 1188. It was besieged several times during the Hundred Years" War. The three existing towers were added in the 15th century. Since 1824 the castle has been used as psychiatric center.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole, France

Château de Brousse

Château de Brousse is large medieval fortress. It belonged to the Arpajon noble family from 1204 until 1700. The first known owners were counts of Rouergue in the 10th century. Today the castle is open to visitors. Among the beautiful fortifications there is a landscaped rose garden and an prehistoric megalith dating from around 3rd millenium BC.
Founded: 10th century | Location: Brousse-le-Château, France

Château de Puivert

The Château de Puivert is a so-called Cathar castle on top of a hill overhanging the village and lake. The construction of the present chateau dates from the 13th century. The first mention is in 1170 when it belonged to the Congost family before the Albigensian Crusade. These lords practised Catharism and were accused as heretics. Then, in November 1210, the castle was subjected for three days to a siege by the army of ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Puivert, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.