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 The first historical references to the castle appeared in 806.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 Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.