A few kilometres from the pretty town of Mirepoix, on the border of Ariège and Aude, is the village of Lagarde with the ruins of Château Lagarde perched atop the hill. Most of what you will see when you visit is from the 14 century, though it is thought there has been a castle here since the 11th century.
At one time during the Albigensian Crusade the armies of Guy de Levis, lieutenant to the leader of the crusade Simon de Monfort, occupied the castle. The Levis family later took possession of the original castle of which there is no trace left. At the beginning of the 14 century, the youngest son of Guy III de Levis, François de Levis, inherited the castle and reconstructed it between 1320 and 1330. François was Lord of both Lagarde and Montségur. He chose Lagarde as his main residence due to its position in the valley which was far more hospitable and accessible than Monségur. Unfortunately the reconstruction was not completed in his lifetime and another branch of the family took over the Castle in 1363.
After the 100 Years War, Jean V de Levis built the other wall and completed the reconstruction work. The castle was transformed into a residence fit for a powerful Renaissance family and underwent many modifications including the stair turret, created by the Mirepoix architect Jean Moyen in 1526. By the end of the Ancien Régime, Lagarde was one of the most impressive castles of the south of France.
When the last Lord of Mirepoix fled during the Revolution, the castle was sold as a state possession. A member of the Levis family went to plead for the castle to be spared but was promptly decapitated in the wake of the Revolution during the period known as the la terreur. I learned this whilst watching the video presentation which was included in the price of the entrance to view the castle and grounds. I was preoccupied by the wonderful light outside which was changing rapidly and I can’t remember exactly who this relative was. Alas, the light did change and the rains came before I could get outside with my camera.
The castle was purchased by Sir Loup, from Limoux, who was charged with its destruction. He decided to demolish the residential buildings and resell the stone which was quite lucrative.
The demolition started in 1793, when they took to the Great Staircase with sledge hammers. Destruction was halted for a while and the castle used for grain and fodder storage as well us some parts of the castle being used to house local people. The principal use of the castle was the production of saltpeter, for the armies of Napoleon.
The castle was again abandoned and almost in ruins before being classed as an historic monument in 1889. Eventually a wealthy Toulousaine fell in love with the property and bought it. Personal tragedy befell her and she could no longer live happily in her castle. Having lost her only daughter she set out to find an appropriate buyer. The cost to restore the château was deemed too costly by the state.
In the end she let the castle go to a neighbour who appreciated the beauty of Château Lagarde and agreed to honour her wishes and keep it as an animal sanctuary. The neighbour along with a few others created the association which looks after the property to this day. The château was never restored though it remains impressive and beautiful in its ‘ruined’ state. A little gang of goats reside here now with some friendly lamas who keep them company in the gardens.
I hope that you have enjoyed this visit to the Château Lagarde. Follow me to keep up with me on my travels around beautiful Occitanie……..a bientôt Christina