Château de Peyrepertuse is a ruined fortress and one of the so-called Cathar castles located high in the French Pyrénées in the commune of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse. The view of the castle from Duilhac (to the south) is impressive thanks to the 30 to 40 meter cliff on which the Castle is perched. The main entrance is located on the north side, but in the time of the Cathars, a secret passage through a narrow path behind a rocky overhang allowed entrance by means of a detachable ladder. Today, the secret passage's postern is closed off, but the path is still there.
The castle is one of the 'Five Sons of Carcassonne' along with the castles Quéribus, Puilaurens, Termes, and Aguilar, all situated atop rocky peaks. Peyrepertuse is the biggest of the five castles and it is as vast as Carcassonne. The site was occupied during Roman times from the beginning of the 1st century B.C., as recent archaeological excavations have shown. The first historical references to the castle appeared in 806. It was then Catalan and was called Perapertusès. It belonged to the Count of Besalú, a small city situated in Catalonia between Figueres and Olot according to a text from 1020. It then passed into the earldom of Barcelona in 1111, and then into the viscountcy of Narbonne. From 1180, the Count of Barcelona (Alphonse II, who later became the king of Aragon) secured his independence from vassalage to the king of France.
At the time of the Albigensian Crusade, it was the fief of Guillaume de Peyrepertuse who, not wanting to submit, was excommunicated in 1224. He did finally submit after the failure of the siege of Carcassonne, and the castle became a French possession in 1240. IN 1242, Saint-Louis decided to reinforce it and add a second part, the Sant Jordi dungeon, located higher up on the ridge. The Sant Jordi dungeon was then constructed in 1250-51 and the Old Dungeon as well as the Sainte-Marie Church were re-purposed. The situation in the region was unclear until the signing of the Treaty of Corbeil in 1258 which liberated Catalonia and Languedoc. It also fixed the border as just south of Peyrepertuse Castle. Like its neighbors, the castles of Puilaurens and Queribus, Peyrepertuse was one of the royal fortresses which was reconstructed at the end of the 13th century to defend the border against the Crown of Aragon and then Spain until the 17th century.
In 1355, the castle was restored to its defensive state and Henri de Transtamare, pretender to the Castillian throne, routed at Navarette, was authorized by the king of France Charles V to take refuge there. In 1542, Jean de Graves, lord of Sérignan, seized the castle in the name of the Reformation, but was captured and executed.
The castle was decommissioned as a border point with the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 having lost its strategic interest. Although the citadel was a lot less valuable after the annexation of Roussillon in 1658, a small garrison commanded by a junior officer was maintained until the French Revolution, during which it was abandoned. Sold as a National Property in 1820, its ruins remain today. The first campaign for the preservation of the monument began in 1950.
Today, the ruins of Peyrepertuse Castle welcome close to 100,000 visitors per year.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).