The Cathars were a religious sect whose influence grew to such an extent that in the early 13th century the Pope decided that they had to be stopped. Although Catharism existed throughout Europe, it flourished particularly strongly in the Languedoc and so it was to the Land of Oc that he sent his Crusade. Known as the Albigensian Crusade, its mission was to root out, persecute and finally execute any followers of the Cathar religion.
The followers of Catharism, who numbered some of the highest nobility of the region, had expected such an onslaught and had built accordingly. Most of what are now known as ‘The Cathar Castles’ are to be found in the most inaccessible and perilous locations, although the mighty Carcassonne relied more on its construction than its position for its defence. Peyrepetuse, for example, was built on top of a steep limestone escarpment that should have deterred most attackers. Sadly, however, the castles fell, one by one, usually with vicious and bloody aftermaths. The village of Minerve has a street named after the ‘Perfects’, which is what the Cathars became known as. The Perfects were marched naked down this lane to their deaths.
You probably won’t have time to visit all the castles but if you have a day out, then it’s worth tackling at least one of these sites. They are to be found all around the southern part of Languedoc-Roussillon and the Midi-Pyrenees. The kids will enjoy scrambling over the ruins and you will get a deeper sense of the history of the region. Montségur, Quéribus, Lastours and Puivert are the best known, not forgetting Carcassonne, of course.