Friday, June 7, 2019

Visiting Najac, a fortress in Aveyron

Last weekend, I had the pleasure to visit author friend Vanessa Couchman at her home in the Tarn et Garonne area, a mere 2 1/2 hour drive from us. She had an author talk organised by a local library on the Friday, so apart from seeing her, I took the chance to explore the area a little. It's well worth it, and I'm hoping to go back again one year.
Château de Najac
Pretty historic villages dot the hillsides covered in forests and fields. It is an agricultural area – as different as could be from our own dry wine-growing region. You fall in love from one place to the next. I'll be writing about these beautiful places next time.

The village of Najac from the tower
Today, the focus is on a medieval fortress: the castle at Najac. Not a fancy 'chateau' as the young French guide told us, but a 'forteresse'. Situated on top of a hill, you have sweeping views over the countryside. An old lane leads directly down the steep slope and up again into the village of the same name located on an opposite hill.

Najac had a varied history, often changing hands. When a square keep was originally built in 1100, the counts of Toulouse held power over the lands, which retained their independence from the kingdom of France, which was confined to the north. But as the dreams of expansion southwards grew, French kings began to take, rebuild and garrison castles in strategic places like Najac.

There was a square tower keep on the site prior to the current castle, however, it was incorporated into the 'new' fortress in 1253. Built by the locals on order of Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of the saintly King Louis IX, it oozed Royal power.

The site played a role during the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars; and the Templars, charged with heresy, were also held here. Both 'crusades' were part of the conquest of the south by French kings. Soon, the region's cherished independence had been subdued.

The castle changed hands during the Hundred Years' War, when the English occupied it for many years. Later, the Wars of Religion brought the (Protestant) garrison into trouble with the predominantly Catholic villagers, who besieged the castle.

Again and again, Najac was used as a defensive place, but it could also turn into a trap. Starvation and illness often became rife, and those within would be forced to surrender – usually to a horrible fate.

Nowadays, Najac is a pretty (and) impressive ruin that's well worth a visit. The young French lady who gave us an hour-long tour told us much about the history, and showed us beautiful carvings, incredible views and the most amazing defensive archery slits of 6.80 metres in height! Three archers could loosen their arrows comfortable through those gaps. Just imagine...

Blanche de Castile?
Of course, I had to buy two history books in their small shop on the way out. You can never have enough history books... ;-)

Najac castle from the village

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