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

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User Reviews

Natalia Corbillon (4 months ago)
The fortress is stunning but there were many parts closed, in fact I found no way to visit the tower which is usually the main part of the castle, but tge price was still the same. I found it unfair to pay full price for just half of the visit. Nice exhibition of fairytale inspired diaplays though.
Richard Platt (5 months ago)
An interesting Spanish fortress of the early 1500's built low to avoid cannon shot it is a fascinating place. It helps if your French is good
stijn vandenbussche (5 months ago)
the condition of the fort is perfect. Pitty that you can only visit/walk the top part with a guide. so walking around the fort is as good as going inside and the first one is free
Chris Hancox (5 months ago)
Good fortress. Worth a visit. Guided tour was good but all in french and lasted a long time. Kids got a bit bored at this point. Very glad we visited.
Diray Joules (5 months ago)
The exhibition comes with little booklets that translate everything into English, Spanish, Catalán and French. Many parts of the fort are accessible with the normal entrance ticket, however if you want to explore the forts walls, the dungeons and the main building you will have to pay extra for guided tours. Most of the freely accessible rooms are on the ground floor/in the cellar. There is currently an exhibition about fairy tales and forests in some of the rooms which consists of art installations complete with colorful lighting and sound that makes even the unguided visit of the fort worthwhile. If you are from the EU and aged between 18-25 you are granted free access for the unguided tour, just like anyone under 18. The staff is very friendly and always prepared to help you which instantly makes you feel welcome. If you are planning to go by bike, there are approximately 4-5 bike racks in the guard house in front of the main entrance. Additionally, there's a gift shop, accessible bathrooms, vending machines for food & drink and picnic tables as well as folding chairs in the courtyard.
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