Queribus: Last Castle Standing

Along with Montsegur, Queribus (pronounced cay-ree-busse) is probably the best known of the Cathar castles in Languedoc, and a definite must-see stop on the Cathar Trail. It actually makes a pretty good starting point on the trail since it is the easternmost of Carcassonne's five "sons."

The castle is pretty easily accessible off the main artery of Cathar Country, the D117. You simply exit the D117 in the town of Maury and head in the direction of Cucugnan, a bucolic little village dotted with windmills that sits nestled in the valley between Queribus and Peyrepertuse. Then you start the vertiginous and serpentine drive up to the bleak peak where Queribus seems to rise straight out of the mountaintop rock. From the parking lot, it is a steep but short hike up to the castle itself. Just beware the main gate, which acts like a wind tunnel. Seriously, gust after gust blows through it, and can catch unprepared visitors unaware, leaving them scrambling to grab hold of the guard rail for safety.

The castle has a fascinating history that only emphasizes the dramatic architecture and setting. It was originally built in teh 900's by the kings of Barcelona before falling into the hands of the Languedocian aristocracy in the following centuries.

After Montsegur fell to the French in 1244, and all its defenders were burned alive, many remaining Cathars fled to this mountain redoubt for safety. And safe they were...for about a decade, before King Louis IX (also known as St. Louis) decided to set his sights on the south and wipe out the Cathars once and for all.

When the Cathars' protector, a local lord named Chabert de Barbaira, was captured by the French in 1255, he was forced to cede his possessions, including Queribus, to the crown. Luckily, the Cathars had plenty of warning this time, and were able to make a hasty escape. Alas, no one knows what became of them, but with the loss of their last fort, the Cathars went into hiding and eventually died out.

All that's left now are the empty, ruined castles that they somehow built on some of the most desolate peaks in France. Queribus seems tiny, especially as a garrison for a hundred people, but much of it is below the rock, dug in for protection and safety from both man and nature. The one outstanding architectural feature, other than the donjon tower with its spectacular views, is the famous Salle du Palmier, meaning the Palm Tree Room. It is called that because the single pillar that supports the vaulted arch resembles a palm tree trunk supporting the leaf structure. Its elegance and simplicity is a stark contrast to the defensive architecture of the surrounding castle, and it makes a nice place to pause and consider what life must have been like for the Cathar community here.

For a little more insight into Queribus, and a quick overview of the location and the hike up, take a look at the video I made while trying to avoid the gales and rain showers the day I visited.