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Richard Wagner has celebrated it in Parsifal:"In a remote country, far from your steps//A castle exists that is called Montsalvat" and according to the legend the cathar Grail - a stone that fell from the sky and illuminates the whole world - is still hidden in the bowels of the mountain the castle sits on the top of.
This legend was taken to its face value - and it is maybe true! - by the German writer Otto Rahn, who spend several years in the '30s in the search of the Grail. He did not find it but his travels and actions seem to be, according to some, the inspiration for the "Indiana Jones" movies by George Lucas!
Montsegur Castle is one of the most representative of the cathare castles and seen from the foot of the hill looks like suspended from the sky, on top of a rocky peak, called in local language "pog", in the beautiful Valley of Elms on the northern part of the Saint Bartholomew range. The castle that initially belonged to a noble family called de Pereille and later, in the 13th century, housed a cathar community of more then 500, was one of the last cathar strongholds to be defeated by the Albigesian crusaders after a siege that lasted 10 month and ended on the 16th of March 1244, a day when 220 Cathars who did not renounce their faith were burned at stake.
The place where the 220 souls perished is marked by a "stèle" a round cross located at the foot of the hill in a place called "Camp dels Cremats" or "The field of the burned" - but this is a recent monument.
The 700 square meters castle is situate at 1200 meters above the sea level and is accessible after a "moderate" hike of about half an hour.
The little village of Montsegur situated in the valley below the castle has an interesting - free! - historical museum that exposes many of the objects found during excavations and that were used by the Cathars in the 13th century.
Maybe because of their romantic surroundings, or the heroic resistance of the Cathars and the real stories relating events that took place during the 10 month siege, Montsegur ruins are still seen as a mysterious setting, a place where legend and reality are difficult to separate.
There are few certain things about Montsegur, but one definite event that brings here hoards of curious, takes place each summer solstice at dawn when the sun's rays that pass through the castle and the four archers of its towers are aligned with millimeter precision.
Other things are less obvious. Is there a treasure or the Cathar Grail still hidden in one of the calcareous caves deep inside the mountain? There are many stories linked especially with the so called the Cathar treasure whose existence is mentioned in documents belonging to the Inquisition. The treasure composed of gold coins - some advance the sum of 100,000 gold pounds or the equivalent of 827 kg of gold - was never found. It might still lie somewhere buried near the castle or was transferred - as some historians say - to Italy by two Cathars, Matheus and Pierre Bonnet, who managed to escape with horses the siege on the Christmas day of 1243.
- February: Daily 11 am to 4 pm (closed in case of very bad weather)
- March: Daily 10 am to 5 pm
- April: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm
- May, June: Daily 10 am to 6 pm
- July, August: Daily from 9 am to 7 pm
- September: Daily from 10 am to 18 pm
- October: Daily 10 am to 5pm.
- November: Daily from 11 am to 4pm pm. - December: Daily from 11 am to 4 pm (closed in case of very bad weather)