Forteresse de Salses was built between 1497 and 1504, at the order of Ferdinand II of Aragon. It was designed by engineer Francisco Ramiro Lopez, the king’s commander and artillery master, to block access to France from Roussillon. It was originally destined to replace a previous château, from which the town takes its name (Salses-le-Château). The earliest records of this château, situated on a neighbouring rocky outcrop, date back to 1007, and it was destroyed during a siege in 1496.

The Fortress of Salses is a masterpiece of military architecture, designed to protect against the recently developed metal cannonball. It is a prime example of the transition between the mediaeval château, with its keep and cylindrical towers with long curtain walls, and the modern fortress, with its rigorously geometric and part-buried structure. Its walls are around 10 metres thick, and the fortress is divided over seven levels served by a maze of corridors and multiple interior defensive chicanes. By virtue of the defensive plan, the fortress is divided into three entirely independent sections.

The entire system was strengthened by a vast dry moat and buffer zone and, to the east, south and north-west, by three separate, pointed towers that acted as additional, advance defensive posts.

The fortress’ location was selected because of the abundant local springs that would be useful during times of siege. It occupies a strategically important position on the main route between France and Spain, on a narrow strip of land between the Corbières mountains and the marshland bordering the lakes.

The fortress, which survived a fire in 1503 despite being unfinished, was the subject of multiple attacks by both the French and Spanish. It was besieged, changed hands in 1503, 1639 and 1640, and was finally conquered by the French in 1642 following a fourth siege. With the signature of the Treaty of the Pyrenees on November 16th, 1659, the fortress’ destiny was finally sealed, and it became the permanent property of France.

Given its distance from the border, the fortress subsequently lost its strategic importance and was threatened with demolition on several occasions because it was becoming too expensive to maintain. The fortress nevertheless survived and was repaired and transformed from 1691 onwards, under the supervision of Vauban.

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Founded: 1497-1504
Category: Castles and fortifications in France

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Ceekay Kaycee (18 months ago)
Large Fortress that is interesting to see around. Information notices in the fortress are in French, English and Spanish. Included in the 8€ entrance fee is the opportunity to wander around yourself on the ground floor and then have a guided tour inside on the upper levels. The price is extremely cheap for what is on offer but be warned, there are many quite steep steps to navigate inside if you take advantage of the guided tour, it is also in French only. I would say the guided part of the visit was unsuitable for anybody with mobility problems because of the number of steep stairs, few of which have handrails. This is an important heritage site and is worth visiting even if you are only looking around yourself. The sheer scale of this place has to be appreciated. The tour guide was particularly good, he was very patient with the group of people visiting as some were a little tentative on the stairs and struggling a little. Additionally, as I have already mentioned commentary was in French only, however he spoke slowly, clearly and distinctly and explained things using gestures in addition to describing things in simple language. This was useful for us as we were then translating his commentary to English for an elderly visiting relative. Some fun things for children or family groups as there was a room of giant wooden games where you could easily spend an hour if you played each giant game. Nice gift shop with vending machines for hot and cold drinks and snacks. Lots of books about the Fortress in various languages, also many other books about other historic monuments in the area. Wonderful view from the top levels during the guided tour. Parking outside.
Adrian Berkeley (18 months ago)
The fortress at Salses is an incredibly formidable fortification and a wonderful place to visit. Originally built by the Spanish in the 15th century to defend the historic border with France (at that time the Corbières hills), it lost its primary function when the border moved to its present day location. It has since been used for a variety of purposes, including a prison, but has been open to the public for more than 120 years. The thickness of the walls, strength of fortifications and the advanced design (for its era) are really remarkable. At €8 per person for the visit, which includes a guided tour of around 45 minutes, this is well worth a visit.
K Jackson (19 months ago)
Great history! Amazing place. Tour guide spoke fluent English, after the your began, she refused to explain anything in English. I'd understand if she didn't speak English, but since she did know it, it would be nice to participate too.
This Moment (19 months ago)
Surprising this magnificent fortress isn't better known
Dace Lisovska (20 months ago)
Fort was closed 1.01. but we walked around it. Quite impressive. Would love to visit inside and hear a story of the fort. Maybe next time.
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