The seal of Oliver de Termes, 1241 (Archives Nationales, Paris, D 3675)

Termes, cultural references in Termenès

[Historical account]  [Map of the castle]  [The castle]  [Village]  [Church of our Lady]  [Saint-Andrew chapel]  [Water mill]  [Passes]  [Pruned Box-trees]  [Association]  [Bibliography]  [Links]
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TERMES (Tèrme)
City of the Cathar Country


     The seigniorial family of Termes The seigniorial family of Termes first appears in the records in 1061. It ruled the Termenès which, in the early 11th Century, was a large feudal estate in the southern part of the county of Carcassonne. South of its borders was the count of Cerdagne later ruled by king of Catalunya. Throughout the 12th Century, the family was in periodic conflict with the neighbouring abbey of Lagrasse, mainly over the possession of the Palairac silver mines.

     During the Albigensiam Crusade, Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, captured Carcassonne and then invested the three main fortified towns of the county. He failed to subdue Lastours but after the fall of Minerve he turned his attention to Termes. By 1210, the date of the siege, the layout of the site was as follows : on the crest of the hill stood the castle, the home of the seigniorial family, consisting of an outer wall which incorporated various buildings including a chapel and with a rectangular keep at its centre. A second surrounding wall sheltered the knight's houses. The castral village lay on the southern slope protected by another wall which joined the castle walls. In the river valley to the east was another settlement (the present-day village) with a parish church built in 1163. On the northern edge of the hill lay a small fort, the Termenet, which controlled that approach.

general view of the Termenet passes and the castle from the rock of la Frau. Photo. : Franc Bardou, 1993

The site from the north. In the foreground the passes of Termenet or la Frau,
in the middle distance, the rock who supported the tower of Termenet,
in the background the castle.


     The Termes family appears to have adopted Catharism by the time of the siege. Raymond, seignior of Termes, had been accused of heresy and had not heard mass in the castle chapel for thirty years. The "parfait" (one of the Cathar elite) Benoît de Termes, probably Raymond's brother, was one of the group of heretics who debated with Saint Dominic at the Montréal colloquium in 1207 ; he was elected cathar bishop of Razès in 1226.

     The siege started at the beginning of august with a catapult duel between the attackers and the besieged. De Montfort, failing in his assault on the southern flank, switched his attack to the northern approach, investing Le Termenet and then bombarding the keep. Finally the siege was ended by water problems. The defenders contracted dysentery from stagnant water tanks and deserted the castle during the night of 22/23 November. Raymond de Termes stayed behind and was arrested. He eventually died in prison at Carcassonne. The fortress was confiscated and became the property of the crown in 1228.

     Sir Oliver de Termes, son of the defeated seignior, continued to resist the royal forces, along with the count of Toulouse and the viscount of Carcassonne, until 1240 when he entered the service of Louis IX (Saint Louis) in Languedoc and subsequently in the Holy Land where he died on the 12th August 1275 leading the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. A friend of Saint Louis, king James of Aragon and pope Clement IV, he was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most courageous soldiers of his time.

     Integrated into the chain of fortresses guarding the frontier with Aragon, then Spain, the castle of Termes was rebuilt in the middle of the 13th Century and manned by a royal garrison. In the 17th Century, as the border recede, the fortress lost its purpose and was destroyed by royal command. Throughout the years 1653 and 1654 a master mason from Limoux blew up the walls with gunpowder. After that the site sank into oblivion. It was not until the 20th Century that preservation measures were taken. Classified as a "site" in 1942, and as an historic monument in 1989, the ruins became property of the commune and were opened to the public.



Chapelle castraleEmplacement du donjon disparuLavaboEchauguette sud-estTour à bossageEchauguette nord-ouestRampe daccès à la première enceinteLatrinesRampe daccès à la deuxième enceintePorte de la deuxième enceinteEntrée de la première enceintePoterne nord-ouestTour sud-ouestTour nord-estSalle des gardesVers le TermenetPlan daprès Lucien Bayrou



     The castle, built on a platform surrounded on three sides by a deep ravine, was only accessible from the south. Below the summit it is possible to wake out the ruined wall of the medieval village later used for terracing. Above this is the castle wall ; the main entrance (13th Century) in the south-east corner is by means of a ramp leading to a ruined gateway. This entrance was guarded by a watch-turret and a bossage tower which could fire on the ramp. The pre-13th Century entrance was probably in the south-east corner. A postern (sally point) (10) protected by a watch-turret built on the buttresses remains on the north-west side. 

The ruined wall of the medieval village. Photo : G. Langlois, 12/28/1992

The ruined wall of the medieval village,
vestiges of a rectangular defence on the west side, later used for terracing.


     This postern gives access to the Termenet site : the only remains of this small fort, described by a chronicler of the Albigensian Crusade, consist of a fragment of masonry hidden in a crevice and some dug-out rocks. From this point, there are superb views of the castle, the gorges of Termenet and the La Buade mill.

     Amongst the ruins of the second wall are vestiges of an access ramp and traces of a water-tank and a washbasin. On the west side is the chapel with a collapsed vault ; it is lit by two Romanesque windows, one of which is cruciform. At the summit are enormous blocks of masonry, remains of the keep destroyed in 1654.

The chapel. Photo : G. Langlois, 27/08/1994

In 1994 the archaeological excavations confirmed that this room was the chapel : behind a later wall who divided the room in two parts, was found a pillar who supported the altar-stone.

     All together few of the remains pre-date the Crusade ; part of the southern face of the first wall, the second wall and some of the buildings it protected. The remainder is the work of a royal engineers in the second half of the 13th Century and the beginning of the 14th.



     Termes, at the foot of the castle hill on a south facing slope, is in a bend of the river Sou. In 1163 this was an outlying area where the seigniors planned to build a parish church. The main village was inside the wall, still visible hallway up the castle slope. This original village was destroyed in the siege of 1210 and the inhabitants re-built their homes in the valley. In the 13th Century Termes was the centre of the judicial area of Termenès and of a religious area under the supervision of an arch-priest. The village qualified for the title "ville" until the 17th Century when its importance was reduced by the transfer of the judicial seat to Félines-Termenès.

     At the top of the village old threshing floors are still visible in the form of a terrace. These primitive facilities are evidence of the traditional agricultural methods practised until the beginning of the 20th C.



     The church dates from 1163 according to the act which divide the castle between the brothers Raymond and Guillaume de Termes. Since then there have been no significant alterations apart from the raising of the north wall in 1890 in order to reduce the slope of the roof (on this side some of the original flat stones underneath the canalisation tiles can still be seen) ; the removal of the door from the south to west side (1880) ; the transformation of the windows (19th Century) and the reconstruction of the bell tower at an unknown date (part of the primitive wall belfry steel be seen in the present bell tower).

     The building has a single rectangular nave with a flat chevet. The pointed barrel-vaulted sanctuary has three bays. Pilasters support arches band, a moulded cornice runs along the walls and turns back in impost into the pilasters. A chamfered cornice rests on quarter-round corbels on the north and south walls. The doorway is built in the form of a round arch. The bell-tower holds a bell dating from 1541 dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Inside the sanctuary there is a holy water basin resting on corved stones bearing the coat of arms of Pierre de Montbrun, archbishop of Narbonne (1272-1286). Behind the altar there is a 17th Century painting of the Virgin and Child between Saint-Cecile and Saint-Catherine.



     To the south-east of the village, in valley of the Sou stands a small chapel named after Saint Andrew. The original medieval building was surrounded by a burial ground in 1673. The present edifice is of more recent date and was restored in 1890. It contained a wooden statue of Saint Andrew. In periods of drought the people of Termes would came in procession and plunge the statue into the river. Rain was expected to follow this ceremony which was undoubtedly of pre-Christian origin.



     There are two mills in Termes. One is now a village house, the other - the La Buade mill- is situated 2.6 kms downstream on the left bank of the Sou. The entire mechanism is in working order from the water channel to the millstones turned by an horizontal wheel. (Private property).



     Between the La Buade mill and the village, the road, constructed in 1903, passes through two tunnels in the gorge of Termenet cut by the Sou. The steep walls of the gorge consist of rocks of the middle and lower Devonian periods. In the centre a beautiful vein of red marble runs the height of the cliffs. The gorge is in a protected area.

     South of the village, upstream of the Saint Andrew chapel and still on the Sou, there is another protected natural site -the gorge of Coynepont. This also cuts through rock of the lower Devonian period. The middle section forms a bowl and in part of the river bed a jumble of travertine rocks indicates a collapsed natural bridge. (Coynepont means "the cave bridge" in Occitan).



     As in other villages of the western Corbières, the D 40 road into Termes is lined with box trees pruned into strange shaped. The Works Department maintains the local tradition and the trees are regularly pruned into spheres, cubes and other shapes. This practice seems to go back to the year 1900 when the road was built.



     This association has been working for the protection and improvement of the site since 1989. It organises excavations each summer. Address : Mairie, 11330 Termes. Phone number  +33 (0) 468 70 03 84.



ASTRUC (Abbé J.L.), Termes en Termenès, Grenoble, 1939.

BAYROU (L.), "Essai sur les techniques de construction des forteresses royales des Corbières, XIIIe et XIVe siècles", Études Roussillonnaises, VIII, 1988, pp. 7-170.

BAYROU (L.), Le château de Termes, Centre d’Archéologie Médiévale du Languedoc / C.D.P.C.A., 1989.

LANGLOIS (G.), "La formation de la seigneurie de Termes", Heresis, n° 17, 1991, pp. 51-72 et n° 18, 1992, p. 71.

LANGLOIS (G.), "Le siège du château de Termes par Simon de Montfort en 1210, problèmes topographiques et historiques", Heresis, n° 22, 1994, pp. 101-134 et n° 24, 1995, pp. 87-89.

LANGLOIS (G.), "Étymologie et orthographe de Termes (Aude), et des noms dérivés", Bulletin de la Société d'études Scientifiques de l'Aude, t. LXXXXIII, 1993, pp. 167-169.

LANGLOIS (G.), "Olivier de Termes et son entourage, de la croisade albigeoise aux croisades en Terre Sainte", Les voies de l'hérésie : le groupe aristocratique en Languedoc (XIe-XIIIe siècles). Actes du 8e colloque du Centre d'Études Cathares / René Nelli, Couiza, 28 août-1er septembre 1995. Carcassonne : Centre d’études cathares, 2001. (Collection Heresis, n° 8), vol. 2, Avant et après la croisade: seigneurs et seigneuries, pp. 207-258.

LANGLOIS (G.), Olivier de Termes, le cathare et le croisé, Toulouse : Éditions Privat, 2001, 288 p.

PEAL (A.), "Olivier de Termes and the Occitan Nobility in the Thirteenth Century", Reading Medieval Studies, XII, 1986, pp. 109-129.



File Sir Oliver de Termes. Find on this site some extracts of the book "Oliver de Termes, the Cathare and the Crusader" (abstract, summary, maps of the crusades, genealogy of the family of Termes, the first chapter etc.), a forum of discussion on the siege of Termes and Oliver de Termes. You can order the book also there.

"Travel on Occitania" The Cathar country Ce site propose notamment plusieurs photographies du château de Termes un forum consacré au siège de Termes et des informations pratiques pour la visite.

Written by Gauthier LANGLOIS for the Association Termes-en-Termenès, with the help of the Département de l'Aude, the municipality of Termes, and the Centre of Medieval Archaeology of Languedoc. Translated by Géraldine LABADIE, Peter and Sybil SCROGGS, Jun 1994. Map by Lucien Bayrou.

© Copyright Conseil Général de l’Aude and Gauthier Langlois for the text, Lucien Bayrou for the map. All rights reserved.





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Last modified : April 7, 2002