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Mysterious Minerve

October 28, 2014

Last March I made my first trip to the tiny village of Minerve, and it captivated me. The day was chilly and cloudy, there were virtually no other visitors, and knowing that 140 Cathars came to a fiery end here added to the atmosphere of mystery and tragedy. On this day, however, the late afternoon sun cast a warm golden glow over the pale stone buildings, shops and cafés were open, and the two dozen or so tourists brought more life to the town.

Street with people



Shop sign

In 1210, the notorious Simon de Montfort decided to capture the supposedly impregnable Minerve, which had offered refuge to a large group of Cathars. Perched on an impossibly rugged rock face overlooking the gorge created through millennia by the river Cesse, Minerve’s location made it a very powerful city.  His strategy was to destroy the town’s only source of water, and after a six-week siege the commander of the garrison negotiated a surrender that would save the city from destruction. However, it specified that the Cathars must renounce their faith, which they refused to do; and 140 were burned at the stake.

Today about 125 souls call Minerve home, and put up with busloads of tourists who descend during the summer.  Yet walking the cobbled streets, smoothed by centuries of feet, there is a sense of peace here on a quiet day. Shops have resisted the temptation to sell cheesy trinkets; there are ateliers, bookstores and cafés trading on Cathar themes, but it isn’t overdone.

Rustic doorway        Terrace with table              Archway to bridges


Walking the streets is treacherous, since most eventually lead steeply up- or downhill. (Thankfully, the only vehicles allowed are those belonging to residents.) But as I peered around corners I spotted some lovely tableaux: a table for two on a stone terrace overlooking the gorge;  ivy-covered archways framing a view over the ramparts; fat pots of flowers still blooming.

From the ramparts one can barely see the river far below. A stone bridge that must be 75 feet high leads from the main road to the town and spans the area where the Cesse runs underground. I could see why the city was considered an impregnable fortress. Outside the town, hikers can find plenty to challenge them in the wilds above the gorge.

Gorge                Bridge to town


The town also gave its name to what may be the most well-known wine of the Languedoc, Minervois. Vineyards stretch in all directions from this lovely spot.

A picture is a poem without words.  Horace

From → Solo travel

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