Vassallaggi is a Sicilian prehistoric Bronze Age archaeological site which had a later flourishing after the 7th century BC as a phrourion (fortress). The site is located in the middle of the Salso river valley, at 704 m above sea level, in a strategic location for communication between the southern coast of Sicily and the northern part of the island.
The site first developed in the Bronze Age (18th-14th centuries BC), from which time some cave tombs of the Castelluccio culture survive and a circular hut with furniture. The most ancient inhabitants of Vassallaggi were presumably the Sicans.
No finds have come to light from the middle and late Bronze Age, so these hills may have been abandoned at that time; this might be a result of emigration towards the coast from the middle Bronze Age and then as a result of the preference for more defensible sites in face of the arrival of the Sicels (which might have taken the form of an invasion). Thus the site was unoccupied for about 700 years, before a Sican settlement developed here in the 8th century BC.
This new habitation during the Iron Age continued until Greek occupation of the site in the 5th century, when the village seems to have been fortified and to have developed within the sphere of Akragas.
After the foundation of that city by Gela (most powerful of the Dorian colonies founded in the 7th century BC), a period of expansion of Greek origin people began which led to the colonisation of central Sicily, using the natural route along the Himera river valley (the modern Salso). The expansion into inland Sicily may be explained by the demographic pressure on the Greek communities of the motherland and the other Greek colonies. The need to augment agricultural production and open new markets for manufactured goods may also have been a causal factor.
The site of Vassallaggi, however, based on archaeological evidence, was only conquered and colonised by Greeks from Akragas in the 6th century BC, unlike nearby sites, like Sabucina, Capodarso and Gibil Gabib which were colonised by Gela, as shown by the proto-Corinthian style pottery found there, which is never found at Vassallaggi.
The most important discoveries in the rich necropolis, both in terms of quantity and quality of items recovered, derive from this period. They include ceramic sarcophagi, one of which is perfectly preserved, locally-made vases, pottery from other Greek areas, bronze knives, spears and strigils, as well as coins. A temple for the worship of a female deity was built at this time.
The absence of concrete evidence makes it difficult to attribute any known ancient place name to the location. It has been suggested that the site is Motyon, the first fortified centre in the Acragantine area. The city was inexplicably abandoned around 320 BC. There are no traces of objects after this date.
From the Roman period, traces of small nucleated settlements are found in the valley and the surrounding territory, including especially important routes to Akragas. Christian tombs, dating to the 5th century AD have been found, near the prehistoric caves.
The Château de Foix dominates the town of Foix. An important tourist site, it is known as a centre of the Cathars. Built on an older 7th-century fortification, the castle is known from 987. In 1002, it was mentioned in the will of Roger I, Count of Carcassonne, who bequeathed the fortress to his youngest child, Bernard. In effect, the family ruling over the region were installed here which allowed them to control access to the upper Ariège valley and to keep surveillance from this strategic point over the lower land, protected behind impregnable walls.
In 1034, the castle became capital of the County of Foix and played a decisive role in medieval military history. During the two following centuries, the castle was home to Counts with shining personalities who became the soul of the Occitan resistance during the crusade against the Albigensians. The county became a privileged refuge for persecuted Cathars.
The castle, often besieged (notably by Simon de Montfort in 1211 and 1212), resisted assault and was only taken once, in 1486, thanks to treachery during the war between two branches of the Foix family.
From the 14th century, the Counts of Foix spent less and less time in the uncomfortable castle, preferring the Governors' Palace. From 1479, the Counts of Foix became Kings of Navarre and the last of them, made Henri IV of France, annexed his Pyrrenean lands to France.
As seat of the Governor of the Foix region from the 15th century, the castle continued to ensure the defence of the area, notably during the Wars of Religion. Alone of all the castles in the region, it was exempted from the destruction orders of Richelieu (1632-1638).
Until the Revolution, the fortress remained a garrison. Its life was brightened with grand receptions for its governors, including the Count of Tréville, captain of musketeers under Louis XIII and Marshal Philippe Henri de Ségur, one of Louis XVI's ministers. The Round Tower, built in the 15th century, is the most recent, the two square towers having been built before the 11th century. They served as a political and civil prison for four centuries until 1862.
Since 1930, the castle has housed the collections of the Ariège départemental museum. Sections on prehistory, Gallo-Roman and mediaeval archaeology tell the history of Ariège from ancient times. Currently, the museum is rearranging exhibits to concentrate on the history of the castle site so as to recreate the life of Foix at the time of the Counts.