Religious Wars, Roman Towns and the Delicious Wines of Languedoc

Peyrepertuse: a cathar castle

Languedoc France is located along the Mediterranean Coast of southern France and extends to the Spanish borders.  It is a land of ancient history, political conflict, delicious wines and is also home to several UNESCO Heritage sites.

Cathar Castles of Languedoc

The Languedoc region is located in Southern France and shares a border with Spain.  The Pyrenees Mountains, a mountain range that is older than the Alps, forms a natural border between the two countries.  The remoteness of the Languedoc region, far removed from the politics of London, Paris or Madrid  allowed the growth of an independence in their politics and religious beliefs.  The people of this region were known as the Occitanians,  and they spoke a mixed dialect, which was a combination of French and Spanish.  The region was called as “les langues d’oc”,

The local nobility built fortresses and castles atop the Pyrenees mountains in strategic positions where they could protect their villages and towns from invasion.  During the 11th century, the Cathars, a unique Christian religion gained a foothold in Languedoc.  The Cathars found acceptance for their religion and a place to worship in a culture that promoted independence.  The religious group called themselves the “Cathars”.  A name that is associated  with the meaning for purity; ie catharsis.  Cathars are thought to be a precursor to the Protestant religions.

Eventually, the Pope heard about the Cathars and their independence and became incensed.  He declared a war on the Cathars for being heretics.  The war was known as the Albigensian Crusade and lasted from 1209–1229.   The crusaders massacred people indiscriminately with over half a million men, women and children that were slaughtered during the Pope’s attempt to destroy the Cathar’s independence.

As you drive along the Languedoc wine routes that follow along the Pyrenees Mountains, and if you happen to glance up towards the peaks of the mountains, you will see ghosts.  The ghosts of the Cathar castles, perched in the clouds on the rocky grey Pyrenees Mountains.

Cathar Castles in Languedoc

  • Château de Montségur, the last Cathar stronghold
  • Chateau de  Peyrepetuse surrendered to the Crusaders in May 1217
  • Carcassonne Fortress attacked by Crusaders in 1209 (UNESCO)
  • Other castles include Queribus, Termes, Aguilar and Saissac

Abbeys of Languedoc

  • Abbey of Fontfroide, a Cistercian Abbey that was built during the 11th century.  The abbey is currently owned by a private organization and is open to the public.
  • L’Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou  was built in 1009 near the town that today is known as “Vernet-les-Bains”.  Originally built as a Benedictine Abbey, it is perched precariously on the edge of a rock cliff.


Romans Conquer Languedoc

Pont du Gard in Languedoc (UNESCO heritage site)
The ancient Roman Aqueduct that provided water to Nimes from the Gardon River.

Even before the Cathar wars ravaged Languedoc, the ancient Romans were leaving their imprint on the region.  The Romans had expanded their sphere of influence and control into France and Spain via the ancient road, VIA Domitia, which  ran north from Rome over the Alps down through ancient Gaul along the Mediterranean coast of France finally crossing the Pyrenees Mountains into the eastern  section of Spain.  Via Domitia was built in 118 BC by the Romans and it provided the Romans a military advantage through France and Spain.

Many cities and villages of Languedoc owe their founding to the early Romans who left behind amazing monuments, temples and architecture that were the basic foundations for many of the towns in Languedoc.

  • Roman town of Nimes (UNESCO Tentative List)
    Located in the midst of the modern town of Nimes, you will find a Roman Amphitheater that was built in 70 AD and could seat up to 24,00 people.  Today the amphitheater has been restored and is encompassed  by the modern town of Nimes.  The Amphitheater is still functioning as a site for bullfights and other events.
  • Roman Aqueduct Pont du Gard (UNESCO)
    Down the road you will find the famous Roman Aqueduct “Pont du Gard” that was built in 20 BC to carry water from a spring near Uzes over 50 KM to Nimes.  In it’s day it was a major engineering feat.
  • Roman town of Arles (UNESCO Tentative List)
    Arles has a history that extends back to the Phoneticians during the 7th century BC, but it was the Romans that built many of the monuments in the city that still exist today.  The Arles Amphitheatre was built in 90  AD and had a capacity of 20,000 people.   The amphitheater provided a venue for chariot races and bloody hand to hand combat.  In total the Roman ruins include the Arena, the Theater, and the Cryptoporticus (a series of lower subterranean rooms and structures that date back to the 1st century BC )
  • Roman town of Narbonne
    Narbonne is probably one of the oldest towns in Languedoc.   The town was established in 118 BC at the point where two major Roman roads Via Domitia and Via Aquitania intersected.  The Roman ruins that can still be seen today is the Horreum which is a series of first century underground roman tunnels and storage rooms.

Spain extends their realm into Languedoc

Seaside resort town of Collioure France
The summer residence for the King of Mallorca in Collioure France

The border between Spain and France has always been fluid and a battleground with each country vying for more control.  Over the centuries, many of the historic towns and villages have changed political alliance between France and Spain.

Collioure Languedoc

Collioure is located on the Mediterranean Coast just a few miles from Spanish border.  Collioure became the summer residence for the King of Mallorca, whose main residence was the castle at Perpignan.  A castle has been located in the town since the 7th century, with major modifications occurring during the 13th and 17th centuries.

The Knights Templar built the Royal Castle of Collioure in the 12th century as a defensive fort, which later became a royal household for the Kings of Majorca, before it was transformed into a Spanish fortress that guarded the border at the end of the 1400s.

Perpignan Languedoc

Perpignan is located slightly inland and north from the border Spain shares with France. The city gained prestige over the centuries by being the home of the Counts of Roussillon and the Kings of Aragon.  Later it became the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca in 1276  and lasted through the 14th century.  Located within the city walls you will find the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca which was completed in 1309.

The Wines of Languedoc

Languedoc wine vineyards and the Pyrenees mountains
The Languedoc region is one of the largest producers of wine in France

Languedoc has more acreage dedicated to wine than any other region in France.  As you drive along the winding roads of the region, every hill and valley is covered with vineyards.  Each town has a cooperative where the locals can sell the current grape harvest for the production of the local village wine.  And many of the wine producers have small tasting rooms located along the road where you can stop and enjoy a taste of their wines,  to see which one suits your taste.

 Languedoc Vacation Rentals

Domaine de Monteils
Swimming pool and landscape surrounding renovated property in Sommiers Languedoc

If you are planning a vacation to Languedoc France, enjoy your adventure while staying in one of our listed properties.
Capestang, Carcassonne, Cascastel, Castelnaudary, La Boissiere, Montpellier, Perpignan, Pezenas, Quillan, Roullens, Saint Julien de Peyrolas, Sommieres, Uzes, Vacquieres, Vernet Les Bains,

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