The Castle of the Counts of Foix, with its high walls and three towers, stands at the confluence of the Arget and Ariège rivers, on an imposing rocky outcrop overlooking the medieval town of Foix, 450 meters above sea level.
From the top of its towers, more than 1000 years of history are available to visitors.
A STRATEGIC POSITION
The limestone rock on which the Château de Foix is built shelters prehistoric caves, some of which have revealed traces of human occupation. However, the rock was not really inhabited until the Gallic period (XNUMXth century BC - XNUMXth century AD). The presence of an agglomeration in Foix has been proven since the High Middle Ages (XNUMXth - XNUMXth century).
The first written mention of Château de Foix dates from around the year XNUMX. It then consists of a single tower and its enclosure. But it was not until the XNUMXth century that it became the center of power for the new county of Foix. This strategic position and the richness of its territory have been the object of much envy over the centuries. Although the building was besieged, it was never taken by force.
Indeed, the rocky peak of about sixty meters above the city allows effective surveillance and defense.
A PRESTIGIOUS PAST
Sometimes a stately home, barracks, prison or museum, the Château de Foix has remained.
Each of the twenty-two lords of Foix shaped a rich and vast territory which grew in size with matrimonial alliances, inheritances and victorious conflicts. First residing in the county of Foix, the lords left to live in Béarn at the beginning of the XNUMXth century.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Château de Foix was the command center of the powerful Count Lordship of Foix. When Roger le Vieux, count of Carcassonne, died around 1012, he bequeathed the lands of Foix to his son Bernard, who thus became the first count of Foix.
At that time, no royal authority applied over this region; the lords are then the most important figures in society, holders of public authority. During the 1331th and 1391th centuries, the Château de Foix became a strategic center from which the counts based their power on a territory between Comminges, Toulouse and Carcassonne. In the 1607th century, the crusade against the Albigensians radically changed regional geopolitics and allowed the French royalty to extend over Toulouse, then over the county of Foix. In the XNUMXth century, the counts of Foix brought together vast territories in their dependency, including Béarn (north-west of the Pyrenees). This is how, since Orthez, reigns the most famous of the Counts of Foix: Gaston Fébus (XNUMX-XNUMX). During the Hundred Years War, the various Counts of Foix endeavored to maintain a certain neutrality, a guarantee of independence vis-à-vis the English and French royalty. At the end of the Middle Ages, when the Counts of Foix became Kings of Navarre, their family and ideological links with the French court progressed. The last count of Foix, Henri III, king of Navarre, is thus crowned king of France in Chartres. He becomes the “beloved” Henri IV. In fact, the county was annexed to the crown in XNUMX.
SHELTER FROM CATHARISM
A Christian heresy that developed in the 1209th century on the fringes of Catholicism, the Cathar Church was organized in a hierarchy of its own which refused to recognize the Roman Church. In 1244, Pope Innocent III preached a crusade against heresy in Languedoc. Under the leadership of Simon de Montfort, the Crusaders attacked the towns, castles and lordships of the region. A new crusade crushes a large part of the Cathar hierarchy at the stake of Montségur (1210) following which begins a long period of clandestinity. At that time, there were many sympathizers and some Cathars in the county of Foix. At the beginning of the 1320th century, the counts of Foix, in particular, Raymond-Roger and Roger-Bernard, favored heretics by tolerating them. Their direct entourage (wives, sisters, daughters ...) as well as many administrators are recognized as heretics, the counts themselves are suspected. However, the Château de Foix is not identified as a Cathar castle. Having understood very quickly that this crusade was above all a pretext for the lords of the north to plunder those of the south, the counts of Foix knew how to show strategy by breaking away from their Cathar relatives and by not sheltering any heretics in the castle (in anyway, not officially). They were thus able to preserve their territorial and architectural heritage even if, in the XNUMXs, Simon de Montfort tried to take the Castle, without success. The last Cathars in the region were killed in the XNUMXs.
A SAFEGUARDED CASTLE
The information concerning the architectural development of the Château de Foix is rather imprecise. However, the seals of the Counts of Foix dating from the end of the 1950th century represent the castle and testify to its appearance at that time: in addition to the primitive tower (XNUMXth - XNUMXth century) a second square tower is added as well as a building. connecting one to the other (XNUMXth - XNUMXth century). It was not until the XNUMXth century that the round tower was built. While many castles were deserted, no longer useful and representing heavy burdens, that of Foix was not abandoned. From the XNUMXth century, it was transformed into a barracks and then into a prison in the XNUMXth century. In the middle of the XNUMXth century, the latter was transferred to the outskirts of the city. The castle is then classified as a “Historic Monument”. At the end of the XNUMXth century, the architect in charge of its restoration, Paul Boeswildwald, a pupil of Viollet Le Duc, tried to return to the medieval monument and destroyed the prison buildings built around the castle. In the XNUMXs, the site became the Departmental Museum of Ariège in which artefacts from all over the department were exhibited.