The term Cathars (from the Greek: Katharos – pure) refers to the largest Christian faith movement of the late Middle Ages, with its origin in Occitania, what is now the south of France. They called themselves veri christiani (true Christians) or boni homines (good people). Their doctrine was characterized by the dualism of the wicked world and the good that could only be found in God. While the Roman Catholic Church held Latin masses, they were preaching in local languages, which earned them great popularity. As the movement grew, the Roman Catholic Church reacted to the unwanted competition with inquisition and persecution. As a result the Cathars retreated to the secluded area on the edge of the Pyrenees. During the so-called Albigensian Crusade, which was lead out of the fortress of Carcassonne, the Cathars were finally destroyed completely. What remains is only their name which has entered the German language: the word “Ketzer” (heretic) still refers to someone who has deviated from the pure doctrine.
Europe's most important medieval fortress
The fortified city of Carcassonne lies at the crossing of two major traffic routes in use since Antiquity: the north-south gap between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, and the east-west route from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Carcassonne was founded by the Romans, and each successive conqueror – Visigoths, Arabs, Franconians, Cathars – added to the immense fortification. Boasting a double ring of ramparts and 53 towers, Europe's greatest fortress was completed by Philip the Bold in 1280. We commend visiting the site in the early morning or in the evening in order to avoid the large numbers of tourists drawn there every day.