The Foix castle
From atop its impressive rock, the castle dominates the town; in centuries past it controlled acces to the high Ariège river valley and watched over the countryside, protected by unbreachable walls.
The placement of the castle was strategically well chosen because, like the hundred or so fortress châteaux in Ariège (most in ruins today), it dates from an era of great insecurity, banditry and territorial rivalries. In addition it had to be a commanding presence in the passage through the Pyreneen chain in order to counter invasions.
In the Middle Ages, the castle was considered untakeable :
« El castels es tant fortz quel mezis se defent » (the castle is so strong it can defend itself) went the song.
The caves in the Rock of Foix at the confluence of the Ariège and Arget rivers, on which the castle was built, was already inhabited in prehistoric times; a fortress was erected in the Merovingian era but the castle we admire today was contructed around the year 1000.
It is the cradle of the celebrated family of counts that later would extend to the viscount of Béarn, then to the kingdom of Navarre and even to the French throne in the person of Henri IV.
It was in 1002 that the castle figured in the testament of Roger the first count of Carcassonne who bequeathed it to his eldest son Bernard. Bernard Roger is the first noble to carry the title Comte de Foix. The castle became the counts residence until 1290.
Despite the departure of the counts family for Béarn in 1290, the castle remained the symbol of the power of its lords : the great counts of Foix and Béarn (of which the most famous was Gaston Fébus, 1343-1391) stayed there when they came to visit their lands and in times of war, because it was from there that they directed the defense of the countryside.
During two centuries (1209 to 1429) several counts of Foix were the soul of the Occitan resistance to the crusade against the Albigensians and the comté de Foix became the primary refuge of persecuted Cathars.
The castle was never taken during the Albigensian crusade, even though Simon de Montfort laid siege to it in 1211 and 1212. It was, however, taken by force by French King Philippe the Bold in 1272.
In the 12th and 13th centuries the castle had only 2 square towers; the round tower was only added in the 15th century.
In the 17th and 18th century, the castle was the seat of the governor of Ariège and continued to shelter the symbols of power : the garrison, the prisons and the archives. It remained a prison until 1862 and since 1950 has been a departmental museum.
Texts excerpted from:
- Claudine Pailhes Directrice des Archives Départementales de lAriège
- Châteaux Médiévaux en pays dAriège de Pierre Cornede
- Le château de Foix de F. Pasquier et R.Roger