The Château d'Usson is one of the so-called Cathar castles located in the commune of Rouze. It is sited upstream from Axat, along the Aude River gorge, carved out of the foothills of the Pyrenees.
The castle dates from the 11th century (perhaps earlier) and during the Cathar period marked the eastern boundary of the territories of the Counts of Foix. In the 12th century, this was the capital of the Donézan region. Before the défilé was cut through the mountains to link Quillan to Axat, this was an inaccessible outpost providing succour for faidits and other persecuted Cathars. The Cathar bishop of Toulouse Guilhabert de Castres is known to have taken refuge here.
Towards the end of the wars against the Cathars this was one of their last sanctuaries, providing support for Montségur. The seigneurs of Usson, Bernard d'Alion, lord of the Château de Montaillou, and his brother Arnaud d'Usson sent arms and supplies to their besieged comrades there. On 15 March 1244, the day before 225 Cathar parfaits were burned alive at Montségur, four other parfaits left the castle there for Usson, where the Cathar treasure had been evacuated a few months earlier. This mystery has fed a number of theories about the equally mysterious treasure supposedly found at Rennes-le-Château in the 19th century.
Bernard d'Alion was burned alive at Perpignan in 1258. The castle was rebuilt as a French border fortress, and given by Louis XIV to the new Marquis d'Usson. Like other seigneural residences it was sold as communal property at the French Revolution, after which time it was used as a stone quarry.
On display at the castle are parts of the wreckage of a Second World War British Dakota transport aircraft which crashed on 5 December 1944 on a nearby mountain with the loss of seventeen lives.References:
Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.
Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.
The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.