Le Château du Castellas
Our first outing of the season (not officially spring, yet, but it sure feels like it) was to the Château du Castellas which is located in the hills above the town of Forcalquiert.
The chateau was built in the thirteenth century and was modified in the fifteenth century before being abandoned for good in the seventeenth century. Though it was one of the strongest medieval fortresses in the Var, little is known of the goings on at this château. The history seems to be short and not very much information was documented.
From the information I found it seems that it was originally built for the Viscount de Marseille and then the following three centuries remained in the Agoult family. After going through many architectural changes it became the property of Pontevès and then Lord Hubert de Vins du Garde who was said to have massacred hundreds of villagers during the religious wars that plagued the country towards the end sixteenth century.
It was altogether abandoned during the seventeenth century as more peaceful times came upon the region and the villagers began moving down into the valley below to farm and grow crops. This area is the current site of the city of Forcalquiert.
Since 1978 the château has belonged to the community and has been the site of numerous archeological excavations. Just outside the château walls was found the remains of buildings including what seems to be a chapel.
The hike to the château is not long at all. Parking is located at the base of the hill just next to the road. Follow the dirt path (which becomes paved) up the hill. Once to the top, go left and you will see a sign that says the ruins are dangerous and access is forbidden.
Even thought it states not to enter, you can go up and see the ruins. The sign is there to let people know that they visit the site at their own risk as there is a good chance of falling rock.
The views from the top are magnificent and it is very obvious that this place was one of the most beautifully built fortresses by the large amounts of gorgeous cut stone , which has a lovely pink tint to it. There is a court yard in the middle of the ruins and several different doorways in which you can go inside to see some of the different rooms.
One area appears to be either a church or a large kitchen. There is a huge steel beam running across the top in order to reinforce the structure and the remains of what was once an enormous fireplace sits at the head of the room.
In another area there is a small alcove with a fire place and two stone cut seats near a window.
The third doorway seems to be a room with a reservoir for holding water. You have to crawl a little ways into a hole in the wall to see the room, which is full of water, and to see the hole in the roof for the rain to fall through. There is a large window in the room and a staircase that leads out and down around the outside of the château.
Traveling back through the doorway you can make your way to the left where there is a small doorway and a ledge. From up on the ledge you get a beautiful view of the town of Forcalquiert. Turn around and look up and you will definitely marvel at how the stone wall is still standing. The enormous wall has rocks that are just loosely seated and look as if a small breeze could topple them. This area is very dangerous to be in due to the falling rock so make sure you pay attention at all times and it might be wise to take a quick peak but not linger long.
Once back in the court yard, cross to the other side and make your way up an old staircase that is now in total ruins. There are two alcoves with windows that give you a terrific view of the valley below. Just above these alcoves are the remains of a second and third story that is still standing, but just barely. This is another area that is very dangerous due to falling rock. I found it unbelievable at that height that what was left of the walls were actually still there. Due to the high winds in this area, it’s amazing that anything is left of the top stories.
Upon exiting, go straight and you will descend into an area that is flat and grassy. This could have possibly been a garden, but nothing remains there now except some of the rampart walls. Again you have a tremendous view from this point.
When leaving the château, travel back down the dirt path that you arrived on. Before descending all the way you can take a short path to the left that will bring you around the side of the château so you are able to see the ramparts and walls from a different perspective. From below looking up, you really get the sense of how grand this place must have been. It surely must have given the villagers a sense of awe when looking up at the hill on which it sits. When completely intact it must have been monumental and most likely an oppressive sign to the villagers.
It is a shame that not more of the château remains today. Over time with the towns people looting the fortress to make homes for themselves out of the rock, the weather and the wind have all taken their toll. What remains today is still very impressive and the beauty and color of the cut stone reminds you of how once an opulent place it truly was.
If you want to see more photos of the Château du Castellas they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.