Tour of the Spectacular Medieval Castles of France

Le Mont Saint Michel castle
Le Mont Saint Michel Castle / source
Medieval times are a fascinating part of history with castles, knights in shining armor and kings and queens and these castles are reminders of how life was in the medieval times. Medieval times started in about the year 800 or 9th century following the collapse of the Roman Empire in Europe and lasted until about the 16th century. If you take a vacation to France, you have to visit a few of these medieval castles.

Castles were built, destroyed and rebuilt in France with many of them defending the land during the Hundred Years’ War between 1337 and 1453, the Albigensian Crusade (Cathar Crusade), the French War of Religion and various other struggles. Many castles were also built as lavish residences. The following castles were for defensive purposes during the turbulent medieval times.

Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy

Mont Saint-Michel sits atop the rocky island just off the coast in Normandy, France. This incredible castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an architectural wonder. First built in the 8th century, Mont Saint-Michel has been an abbey, Christian pilgrimage destination and castle defending Normandy during the Hundred Years war.

Legend says that in 708 the archangel Michel visited St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches and told him to build an Abbey at the site which was dedicated to St. Michel in 709.

During the conquest of Normandy, King Philip II of France attacked and damaged the original abbey in 1204 (13th century), which was then rebuilt with more fortifications. During the Hundred Years War, the English attacked the castle numerous times in the 1400s but failed to take it, during Napoleon’s reign it was used as a prison.

Le Mont Saint Michel castle
Mont Saint Michel castle / source

Castle of Carcassonne Languedoc Region France

First started as a Roman outpost in the 2nd century BC, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is more of a fortified town than an actual castle and has seen Romans, Visigoths, Saracens, Franks and French Kings control it. It was continuously added onto many times throughout the years and refurbished in the 19th century when it was saved from demolition.

Legend says that in the 9th century when Charlemagne laid siege to the castle fortress, Madame Carcas threw the last of the town’s wheat over the walls to feed the pigs. When Charlemagne saw this he thought the fortress had an inexhaustible supply of food and did not attack.

The fortress was taken in 1209 during the Albigensian Crusade by Simon de Montfort who further fortified it. In 1247 Carcassonne came under control of King Louis IX and then Philip III, both adding additions to the fortress. So much so that during the Hundred Years War Edward the Black could not take it.

Carcassonne-Vignes castle
Carcassonne castle / source

Avignon Castle in Vaucluse, France

Also known as the Pope’s Palace or Palais des Papes is another UNESCO World Heritage site.  

Built in the early 1300s when Rome became to dangerous for the Pope to stay, Avignon became the temporary home for the popes during the 14th century. A very large and impressive castle overlooking the Rhone River is 49,000 square feet (15,000 square meters) was lavishly decorated by the Catholic Church.

Vincennes Castle in Vincennes, France

The castle was originally built as a lodge for Louis VII in 1150 was fortified into a castle in the 13th and 14th centuries by Philip Augustus and Louis IX. Three future 14th century kings were born at the Vincennes castle, Louis V, Philippe X and Charles IV.

The defense portion of the Vincennes castle is the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe rising 52 meters (172 feet).

Vincennes Castle
Vincennes Castle / source

Foix in Ariege, France

The Foix castle sits high above the Ariege River in the Pyrenees Mountain chain. The castle was first built around 1000 (11th century) and originally had the two square towers with the round tower added in the 15th century.

The castle was one of the most strategically placed and was never taken until King Philippe the Bold took it in 1272. The castle was important during the Albigensian Crusade when Simon de Montfort laid siege to the castle in 1211 and 1212 but never took it.

Foix Castle
Foix Castle / source

Tarascon Castle in Provence, France

Tarascon castle is quite a fortress with the towers the same height as the walls and small windows. Construction began in 1401 on the Rhone River to protect the Provence region and the trade routes of the Rhone. In the 15th century, the castle also played an important part during the French Wars of Religion.

Aigues Mortes

Built in 1240 by Louis IX and completed by Philip the Bold on the only French Mediterranean port of the time and is a great example of a medieval fortified city. The castle was built to be impregnable with walls 20 feet thick (6 meters) and five towers. During the Hundred Years War, the castle was captured by Burgundians but retaken when they were massacred in their sleep and their bodies thrown into what is called the Tower of Burgundian.

Castle of Montsegur

Built in 1204 by the Cathares in the French Pyrenees was the center of the Cathar religion. During the Albigensian Crusade in 1244 after a 10-month siege the castle fell to the Royal Army ending the Crusade and supposedly the secrets of the Holy Grail were lost at this time.

Castle of Puivert

Located in the Pyrenees and one of the best preserved castles was another Cathar stronghold that included a signal platform to communicate with Montsegur. The castle was taken by Simon de Montfort in 1210.

Beaucaire Castle

This castle in southern France overlooking the Rhone River has seen a lot of history and is one of the largest castles in France. In 1216 during the Albigensian Crusade, Raymond IV of Toulouse attacked the castle and the siege lasted 3 months when the city fell. During the siege, Simon de Montfort tried to save the city but failed. The castle was again attacked in 1385 by the English during the Hundred Years War. In the 1500s, during the French War of Religion, the castle was once again attacked and damaged.

Today most of these castles are museums which you can take tours.

Copyright © 2010-2014 Sam Montana

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