Human occupation of the Cathar Pyrenees dates back 90,000 years: Neanderthal man (and woman) had already grasped that the place deserved much more than a brief visit. How could we predict that it would later be remembered for a religious tragedy.
In the 13th century, the Albigensian Crusade was launched by the papacy to combat the Cathar heresy, which had taken refuge in Montségur. On March 16, 1244, after a 10-month siege by the crusading army of the Pope and the King of France, the defenders of Montségur surrendered. The stake awaits them: at the foot of the mountain, they will be 225, dead for refusing to recant their faith.
The new French lords, the Lévis-Mirepoix, then set about building new towns, bastides. Fortresses were built with the help or by royal authority: the châteaux of Roquefixade and Montségur would defend the border and the territory coveted by Aragon. The castles of Lagarde and Terride (Mirepoix), built in the 14th century, were more of a seigneurial residence than a military structure. Everywhere, fortifications such as the ramparts of Camon and the Protestant fortress of Castel d’Amont on the heights of Bélesta bear witness to times of war.
But religion has also left its mark on Romanesque, Renaissance and Gothic art. It’s hard not to be moved by the little Church of Vals, adorned with 12th-century frescoes, or by Mirepoix Cathedral and Camon Priory.
In the 19th century, industrialization took over! The economy brought local communities closer together. Catalan-style forges, sawmills and mills were set up along the Touyre and Hers valleys, to take advantage of the driving force of water. From the 19th to the end of the 20th century, the Cathar Pyrenees were home to a veritable textile industry in the Lavelanet basin, as well as the manufacture of horn combs. To find out all about this amazing past, take time out to visit the Textile and Horn Comb Museum. When we say there’s everything to make you happy!!!