I first learned of Cathars from my friend Jacques, who wrote to me that his hiking group was planning a tour of these great monuments. Curious, I looked up what a Cathar was and where they were located. As it turns out, they are scattered throughout the Languedoc region very near to Carcassonne.
A web search revealed the history behind the Cathars, the name of the tall hilltop, castle-like structures as well as the name of the people who inhabited them. The Cathars were a group of austere believers who formed their own interpretation of Christianity around the 9th century. Wikipedia states the word “Cathar” comes from the Greek word katharos, meaning unpolluted or “the pure ones.”
Preferring not to acknowledge the Old Testament, they lived very basic lives, were vegetarians and pacifists. By the 12th century, the religion had quite a following mostly in southern France and northern Italy. At this time, the Pope, believing the Cathars were heretics, ordered a crusade against the Cathars in an attempt to wipe them out, which eventually occurred often in tortuous manners. What remains are magnificent outcroppings springing forth far away from villages on lonely country back roads.
La Grasse is a small delightful village we stumbled across along the Cathar trail. Here we enjoyed a fresh salad of local vegetables and anchovies, which do not taste anything like the canned version in the U.S.
The light is high in the sky until 9:30p.m. when dusk finally sinks in so our Peugeot just kept taking us further and further into the green landscape. Some of the Cathars I photographed are unnamed because they were in the distance and unmarked. If you are fascinated by history like I am, viewing the Cathars is well worth the effort it takes to reach them in the countryside of southern France. You will also be surprised by the quaint villages you happen chance upon.