The Châteaux de Lastours are four so-called Cathar castles on a rocky spur above the village of Lastours, isolated by the deep valleys of the Orbeil and Grésilhou rivers. These four castles constitute a single entity, even though they are not a single structure. The natural layout of the site permitted the economy of a fortress of great height. Plans were adapted to the rocks on which they were built. The construction of each is different reflecting the range of alterations made to the castles.
In the Middle Ages, the site belonged to the lords of Cabaret, mentioned for the first time in 1067. Probably only three castles were built in the 11th century and their sites evolved over the years following demolition and successive rebuilding.
The castles existed through the Albigensian crusade. The lords of Cabaret were closely linked to the followers of Catharism and the villages surrounding the castles welcomed many Cathars. The fortress at this time belonged to Pierre-Roger de Cabaret follower of Raymond Roger Trencavel, who fought at his side during the defence of Carcassonne. In 1209, the site resisted the attacks of Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester. But the crusader Bouchard de Marly, then lord of the Château de Saissac, was taken prisoner by Pierre-Roger. His freedom was negotiated against the surrender of Cabaret in 1211.
In 1223, the lords of Cabaret repossessed their lands and Cabaret became the seat of the Cathar bishop of Carcassès. Pierre-Roger resisted Simon de Montfort's attacks for many years, but in 1227, the castles were again besieged by Humbert de Beaujeu. In 1229, Cabaret capitulated.
The villages and the castles were plundered and then rebuilt to become royal fortresses. The Tour Régine was built by order of the king to affirm his supremacy. They became the administrative and military centre of six communities forming the châtellerie of Cabardès. In the 16th century, the castles were occupied by Protestants. They were dislodged by maréchal de Joyeuse in 1591.
Cabaret is the main citadel with a barbican defence system. It consists of a north tower, a polygonal keep in the south and a group of residential buildings in the centre. The whole is surrounded by ramparts with a round walk. The crenellated wall is built with irregular material, with large stones forming the corners and openings.
The Tour Régine, closest to Cabaret, is the most recent fortress and the smallest. It consists of a round tower, surrounded by a small curtain wall which has collapsed. Below ground, the tower contains the largest cistern of the four castles. The tower has three storeys and is flanked by a spiral staircase. The white limestone used is identical to that at Cabaret. It is thought that this tower was built after the Albigensian Crusade: the name (Régine = Royal) suggests as much and there is no written evidence of its existence prior to 1260.
Also called Fleur-Espine (Thornflower), this castle is the least preserved of the four. On the highest part of the site, it consists of a square tower, a house and a cistern. A rectangular curtain wall gives protection. It is noted for the rarity of its murder holes and its four semicircular arched windows.
The Quertinheux is furthest south along the crest on an isolated rocky outcrop. It consists of a circular tower and a polygonal curtain wall. A chicane defends the entrance. It overlooks the remains of a destroyed Romanesque church.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.