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Castles of France

Updated on May 7, 2012

French Castles and their history...

A castle that was captured by entry through it's toilets, the birthplace of St. Bernard, and a castle that claims a connection to the legendary King Arthur can be found on this page. Read about this and more as you discover the fascinating history of France's castles.

The castles covered on this page are: Beynac Castle, Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, Montsegur Castle, Castelnaud Castle, Crussol Castle, Menthon-Saint Bernard Castle, and Comper Castle.

Afterwards, please check out Castles of France: II, then Castles of France: III, and Castles of France: IV.

Beynac Castle

Beynac Castle
Beynac Castle

Located atop a large limestone cliff overlooking the Dordogne River in the the commune of Beynac-et-Cazenac, Dordogne, France, building began on Beynac Castle by the Barons of Beynac in 1115.

Beynac Castle was built into the imposing edifice it is today over a period of time. The keep and original royal residence are the oldest, another residence was added in the 14th century, and apartments were added in the 17th century along with improvements and expansion of the original 14th century residence.

Beynac Castle was the kind of castle that could not be taken by force, so a clever plan was hatched by Richard the Lionheart of England. In the late 12th century, he and his troops scaled the cliff beneath the fortress and entered through the toilet holes in the side of the castle. This surprising, if rather distasteful tactic worked, and Beynac Castle was seized.

Beynac Castle was again coveted by the English during the Hundred Years War, especially since it sat on the French side of the Dordogne River, which was the dividing line at the time. The castle was quite well defended with its double moat, double barbican with thick double castle walls on one side, and sheer cliff on the other. Just across the river was the English held Castelnaud Castle, and the French and English were constantly trying to take the well defended castle of their enemy. Beynac Castle exchanged hands several time between the French and English, through its history. Near the end of the Hundred Years War, Beynac Castle along with Castelnaud were in the hands of France, and has belonged to them ever since.

Beynac Castle began to slowly decay until 1961, when conservation efforts began and continue to this day. This impressive fortress is once again becoming the proud castle it was in its heyday, and is well worth a visit. For visitor's information, go to this Chateau de Beynac - Dordogne website.

The large photo of Beynac Castle above courtesy of Luc Viatour.

View From Beynac Castle

Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle

Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle
Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle

Located in the Vosges mountains of Orschwiller, Alsace, France, Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle was believed to have been built sometime in the 12th century. in the 12th century, the castle belonged to the Hohenstaufen family, which was a dynasty of Germanic Kings, and in the 13th century was entrusted to the Ratsamhausen family until the 15th century.

In 1462, Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle was attacked and set aflame, which ruined much of the castle. It passed into the hands of the Counts of Thiersteins who rebuilt and defensively strengthened the castle. In 1517, the castle became the property of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.

In the Thirty Year's War, Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle was again set on fire, this time by the Swedes. The castle sat in ruins for a hundred years while the trees and vines grew all around her. In 1899, the castle was given to Emperor Wilhelm II who wanted a medieval style castle. He hired Bobo Ebhardt to restore the castle, and he spent 8 years painstakingly rebuilding Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle according to historical records, embellishing at times at the whim of the emperor.

After WWI, Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle became a property of France, and is today has been declared a National Historic Site by the French Ministry of Culture. Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle is one of the most visited castles in the Alsace region and is host to various events. For visitor's information visit Tourisme Alsace.

The large photo of Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle courtesy of htpp2007.

Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle

Montségur Castle

Montségur Castle
Montségur Castle

Located high atop a rock formation near the Pyrenees Mountain in Ariege, France, the second Montségur Castle was completely destroyed by the French Royal forces in 1244. The castle was rebuilt over time and the ruins seen today are of this rebuilt castle.

The previous castle that stood here was the home of the Cathars, a gnostic religious sect that flourished in France during the 12th and 13th centuries. The Cathars were deemed heretical by the Catholic Church, and it was at the foot of the hill upon which Montségur Castle stood that 220 Cathars were burned to death.

In 1245, the heavily damaged castle was given to Guy I des Levis, who set about rebuilding the fortress. Montségur Castle was enlarged and renovated over the next few centuries until 1745, when the castle was abandoned and fell into ruin.

In 1947, conservation began on Montségur Castle, and archaeological digs have uncovered artifacts which are displayed in the village museum.

The large photo of Montségur Castle courtesy of laurent.94.

Montségur Castle

Castelnaud Castle

Castelnaud Castle
Castelnaud Castle

Located overlooking the Dordogne River in Perigord, Aquataine, France, some believe Castelnaud Castle may have been have been built late in the 12th century, although there is no direct evidence of a castle from this period. There is evidence of the castle near the beginning of the 13th century, however, but the exact building date is unknown. The castle that exists today is the rebuilt late 13th century castle.

In 1214, Bernard de Casnac, a Cathar supporter and Christian persecutor, controlled Castelnaud Castle. He was attacked and defeated by Simon de Montfort during the Albigensian Crusade. Bernard de Casnac retaliated by taking Beynac Castle across the river. The very next year, de Casnac retook Castelnaud Castle and hanged all of Simon de Montfort's forces garrisoned there. Later that year, the Archbishop of Bordeaux stormed the castle and burned it to the ground.

In 1273, Castelnaud Castle was returned to the Castelnaud family line and it has at this time that the castle was rebuilt. The large keep, curtain wall, and barbican were reconstructed and date from this time, with many improvements and additions to the castle built over the next few centuries.

Castelnaud Castle was in the thick of the Hundred Years War, and was taken many times over by the French and English. At the time, the Caumont family were the legitimate owners of the castle and fought on the side of the English. In 1453, the Hundred Years War came to an end, the castle was returned to the Caumont family who began repairs in 1463. The castle remained the home of the Caumont family until they abandoned the castle for the Château de la Force near Bergerac.

By the 19th century, Castelnaud Castle had become a neglected and crumbling old fortress, parts of the castle was quarried for a slipway (man-made sloping surface) to the river, which does not exist today. In the 20th century, the Rossillon family began to repair and rebuild this proud fortress, and an amazing Middle Ages warfare museum is located within its walls. This majestic castle is now listed as a historical monument by the French Ministry of Culture and is a very popular attraction. For visitor's information, go to the Chateau de Castelnaud website.

Beynac, Castelnaud and LaRoque

Crussol Castle

Crussol Castle
Crussol Castle

Located atop a rocky outcrop in Saint-Péray, Ardèche, France, Crussol Castle is a limestone ruin that dates to the 12th century. There is evidence that the hill has been occupied since Roman times, and the original fort was a 10th century wooden structure that was destroyed by fire. A lovely village once existed on the side of the large hill surrounded by the castle wall, parts of which can be seen today.

In the 15th century, the Crussol and Uzès families were linked by marriage, and Crussol Castle belonged to the Duc d'Uzès. Antoine, first Duc d'Uzès in 1565 tried to mend the relations between the Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots), but was unsuccessful. It was this large rift between these two religions that was the downfall of Crussol Castle.

During the Religious Wars of France in the mid to late 16th century, Crussol Castle was attacked time and again, as well as set ablaze several times. Finally, in the 17th century, the castle fell, and was abandoned to its fate.

In 1835, the stone in the hill beneath the already ruined castle was being quarried when an explosion shook the castle causing further damage. In 1927, the castle was listed as a historical monument and the communities of Soyons, Guilherand-Granges and Saint-Péray are working together to restore the castle. If you need visitor's information, visit Crussol Castle.


The large photo of Crussol Castle above courtesy of manufrakass.

Crussol Castle

Menthon-Saint Bernard Castle

Menthon-Saint Bernard Castle
Menthon-Saint Bernard Castle

Located high above the Roc de Chère nature reserve and Lake Annecy in Menthon-Saint Bernard, Haute-Savoie, France. Building began on the Menthon-Saint Bernard Castle seen today in the 13th century, although there was a fort here as early as the 10th century.

In 1008, the Saint Bernard of Menthon, Patron Saint of Skiers and the Patron Saint of the Alps, was born here and founded the Great Saint Bernard Pass. The Great Saint Bernard Hospice in Switzerland was founded in 1049, and was named after Saint Bernard, as well as the brave and beautiful Saint Bernard dogs which were created at the hospice by cross-breeding.

Menthon-Saint Bernard Castle was occupied by the Menthon family of Burgundy in 1180, and they still own the castle today. They enlarged the castle over the next few centuries and turned it into a large, comfortable home. In 1740, they family upgraded the castle, adding modern conveniences and a grand hall with a glorious view of the lake.

In the 19th century, Count René de Menthon made this already beautiful castle even more majestic with turrets and a lovely inner courtyard gallery. The castle has 105 rooms today and is open to the public. The furnishings and artwork in the castle are truly dazzling and the library is a true gem, with ancient manuscripts written on parchment and animal skin as well as painted illuminations from monks of the Middle Ages. For visitor's information, go to Menthon-Saint Bernard and surroundings.

Large photo of Menthon-Saint-Bernard Castle above courtesy of CMIvisavoy.

Menthon-Saint Bernard Castle

Comper Castle

Comper Castle
Comper Castle

Located in Paimpont forest (Brocéliande) near Concoret in Morbihan, Bretagne, France. Comper Castle may date as far back as the 9th century, but the exact date is unknown. The castle was home to Baron Raoul de Gaël-Monfort in the 11th century, but is believed to have also been the 9th century home of Salomon, King of Brittany.

By the 13th century, Comper Castle was one of the strongest castles in Brittany, and in the Hundred Years War the Monfort family paid allegiance to the King of England. This put them at odds with France, and in 1370, Knight Bertrand du Guesclin, called the Eagle of Brittany, heavily damaged the castle in the name of France.

From the 15th to 18th centuries, Comper Castle was changed hands many times, given to one family and then another. It was repeatedly attacked during the Wars of Religion and King Henry IV had the castle dismantled in 1598. Comper Castle was set ablaze during the French Revolution, destroying much of the castle. It wasn't until the 19th century when Armand de Charette rebuilt the main part of the castle and left his initials on the castle's mantelpieces. Originally a square castle with center courtyard, much of the castle and towers are still in ruin, but the main living quarters are well maintained.

Comper Castle is linked to the legend of King Arthur. The large Pond of Comper beside the castle is said to be the home of Viviane, the Lady of the Lake. Comper Castle today houses the Centre de l'imaginaire arthurien Museum. For visitor's information visit The Paimpont Forest website.

The large photo of Comper Castle courtesy of Loutron Glouton.

Travel in France

Rick Steves' France 2012
Rick Steves' France 2012

Make the most of your trip to France with an acclaimed travel guide by Rick Stevens.

 

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    • DonD LM profile image

      DonD LM 5 years ago

      You have a great lense, it's worth reading and I enjoyed reading your lense as well. I've learned a lot of castles today in France. :)

    • oxfordian profile image

      oxfordian 5 years ago

      Your lenses are so beautiful. I hope to get around to all of them. Here's another angel blessing for you.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Amazing structures aren't they? I would love to spend a couple week living in castle, it would be so cool. This is just lovely, thank you for sharing. Blessings!

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      hamshi5433 6 years ago

      Looks like France has lots of more wonderful places to visit other than Disney land! haha :D Thank you for the beautiful virtual tour of France :)