The Château de Montségur is situated in the Langquedoc region of southern France not far from Foix. It is one of the best known castles in France due to its position and the famous siege which took place there in 1244.
The castle was the 'seat and head' of the Cathars, a Christian dualist or Gnostic revival movement, which did not sit easily with contemporary orthodoxy. Regarded as heretical, a crusade was launched for its eradication.
Montségur was unassailable due to its 'eagle's nest' position but the Crusaders, over a period of 10 months, inched their way up the rock until the castle fell. Those captured were given the choice either to renounce their faith or be burned – some 200 stoical souls chose the latter. A monument marks the spot where they met their fate.
The castle we see today is not that of the Cathars but of a later date as Montségur was destroyed after the siege. Some parts of the donjon, however, are original but the remainder is largely a new build. When this occurred special attention was paid to the steep path by which the Crusaders had approached. Here, thick walls were extended to the very edge of the mountain, doubly protected by wooden hoarding.
The castle is open to the public and after a stiff climb one is rewarded by superb views. In the town below a little museum houses artefacts from the siege – crossbow bolts, stone shot, fragments of mail and most poignant of all, skeletons exhibiting signs of trauma.
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.