Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Land of the Cathars: Being There

I've wanted to go to the Pyrenees for a very long time. I had read a lot about it, about the so called "Cathar Castles" which is a bit of a misnomer, about how beautiful the place is. But as usual, words and even pictures don't do a place justice.

We stayed near Carcassonne, a place that I found most Americans have never even heard of. People we met would ask us where we were going or where we'd been on the trip, and when I'd get to Carcassonne, they'd go "Where? Is that in Italy?" They've not even heard of one of the most important places of the Medieval period. Or maybe I'm just biased.

We climbed to Montségur, Peyrepertuse and Quéribus. They call these "Cathar Castles" even though they're not really. The fortresses whose ruins we see now, were build after Catharism had been surpressed in the Languedoc. On that semantic note, while I was perusing a book store on my trip, I came across a book on the Albigensian Crusade, whose author was trying to say that the Cathars never existed because they didn't call themselves Cathars and that they weren't a religion. I was a bit bemused by this. Yes, they did not call themselves Cathars, which was a name applied to them after, along with Albigenses, another term for them. They simply were referred to, at least in Inquisition records, as "Good Men" or "Good Women". However, I think from a historical point of view calling them by what they called themselves is a bit cumbersome, and also might be a bit vague if your audience isn't aware of the subject matter. And they were a religion, as they had doctrines that they followed, and doctrines of the Catholic Church that they repudiated. They even elected bishops forgodsake. How crap like that gets published, I'll never know.

At any rate, climbing up to these fortresses is not easy. I had read it was quite a hike, but that's a bit of an understatement. Only the most fit person could climb up with no problem. Most people were stopping every so often, I probably more so than most. I had been working out and walking a lot before the trip, and that didn't prepare me for the trek up to Montségur. And to think that they dragged siege engines up to the top! I could barely walk up carrying my camera!

Montségur: It's a long way up

There are many other fortresses that we didn't have time to visit. So, I gotta go back! It'll be a while though, unless I win the lottery.

Now, Montségur was the hardest hike, but it had the best views. Everything was green, very green and beautiful, with still snow-capped mountains in the distance. However, there's not much left of Montségur, and so the most impressive fortress we went to was Peyrepertuse. There was quite a lot of it left, and I felt it was the most interesting. Quéribus had an interior space left with an impressive column and vaulted ceiling, but the fortress itself was kinda small compared to Peyrepertuse. Again, both of them were quite a hike to get to, not as much as Montségur, but still I don't have any idea how it would have been possible to beseige any of these places. It boggles the mind.


Quéribus: Vaulted Ceiling