Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Richard the Lionheart Slept Here

I was exploring a more interesting way to drive home from church and avoid downtown Villefranche-de-Rouergue when I came to to the D922. Turn right to head home; turn left to access Najac. Always up for more exploration, I turned left. I thought I'd at least have a peek at Najac to see if I wanted to return here with Edith next month. It was a brilliant decision! Najac is a beautiful medieval village dominated by the fortress castle you see in the photo. Village history is a bit hazy prior to 1100 when work on the original fortress was begun. There is some evidence that the Romans may have mined the mineral wealth of the area in gallo-roman times. The area was under the control of the Counts of Toulouse who built this fortress as a way to protect their interests in this wild, sparsely inhabited, but strategic area. Built along a long, finger-like promontory, the fortress and its village sit high above the Aveyron River. The massive fortification of the castle made it virtually invincible in the Middle Ages. In fact, it was considered so invincible that it never came under direct attack.
 I spent about 3 hours mostly wandering through the castle. The model you see here is located in the square tower on the left  It was here in 1185 that the future King of England, Richard the Lionheart signed a treaty of alliance with Alphonse of Aragon, strengthening his hold over all of Aquitaine. I hadn't realized until I began reading about the area that Richard spent most all his life here in France and actually couldn't speak English...he spoke the ancient langue d'oc and is reported to have disliked England as it was 'cold and rainy.'
This tall wooden chair sits in one corner of the room. Its back is carved with the lion of Richard's coat-of-arms. While nothing says this was his chair, I like to imagine that the royal derriere sat here!
This open area inside the thick walls was designed to hold up to 300 people in times of siege. Various partially restored rooms open into it. In one area the wall has been opened up to allow a view of a multiple story cylindrical room built inside the wall. At the bottom is the dungeon where prisoners including some Knights Templar were held.

The castle was sold as state property during the French Revolution and has been in private hands since that time. It has served as a prison, as well as a source of stone for building. In1906, it was bought by Alfred Cibiel and has remained in his family ever since. The family stopped the dismantling of the fortress and restored some of it before opening it to the public in the 1970's.

There's more to see, so come back!


  1. Najac is lovely,you reminded me of a visit there many years back.I remember someone was playing the organ in the church!

  2. I'm sure Edith will want to see it. I didn't know Richard the Lionheart was there - but I did know that he barely spent more than about a fortnight in England during the whole of his life. I read a fascinating book about his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine this year. What an amazing character she was.

  3. The quote I found (that I didn't put in the blog post for fear of offending my British friends!) was that he also said, if he could have found a buyer for it, he would have sold London! He really didn't like it!