Visiting Lourdes, France, with its Medieval castle: Pyreneean sentinel perched on a rock
Changing owners, changing roles
The castle or fort at Lourdes (château fort de Lourdes) is a prominent fortification atop a hill in the French Pyrenees.
While its origins go back to Roman times, the main keep of the castle dates from the 14th century.
Something of the history of France itself can be seen in the history of the castle. In the 8th century, a previously existing structure was besieged by Charlemagne. During the 14th century, before the emergence of the unified kingdom of France, the castle was held by the English kings.
The caslte became definitively French in the 15th century, after various episodes when it kept changing ownership.
A prison, then a museum
From the 17th century onwards, the castle became a prison. After the French Revolution, it continued as a place of incarceration at the state's, as opposed to the king's, displeasure. This role it continued to fulfill until 1921, after which it became a museum.
In popular perception, the castle at Lourdes, has, since the 19th century, been overshadowed by the town as a place of pilgrimage — the spired Rosary Basilica is prominent landmark. The castle remains as a museum, among other aspects, an important centre for the appraisal and presentation of local, Pyreneean traditions.
In the Gascon dialect, the town is known as 'Lorda'. An importance local feature is the fast-flowing river known as the Gave de Pau , which flows through the town. Lourdes is situated in the Hautes-Pyrénées department of France.
Also worth seeing
Pau (distance: 44 kilometres); the castle at Pau has historic associations with the kings of Navarre.
Toulouse (distance: 173 kilometres) is a large city with many historical and cultural treasures, which serves as a regional centre for the south-west of France. Visitor attractions include its Capitole square and some remarkable Medieval churches.
How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ) (Paris-Lourdes road distance: 830 kilometres), from where there are also air links to Toulouse. Car rental is available at Paris and Toulouse airports. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Lourdes and to Toulouse. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, Ryanair flies from London Stansted Airport to Carcassone (Aéroport de Carcassonne ), from where car rental is available. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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