montsegur pog, France, by SMair

Montségur fortress sits atop the mountain pog. It’s a steep climb up to see the remains.

When you greet people here in the deep south of France, they reply to your “Bonjour” with what sounds like “Bonjeu.” Good game. Not the Sorbonne-approved elocution Mme Abdel-Kadar required of me and my classmates those many years ago, but an appropriate greeting to a person on vacation.

We’ve been seeing a fair amount of bilingual signage lately: The regular French, and also the Occitan equivalent. For instance, in Belloc, a village near our country rental, the blue sign at the turn to the Mairie says rue de l’Occitane; the red sign right below says roux de l’Occitanie. The name Belloc is also Occitan; in French—and apparently 700 years ago after the French overran the region—it was Beaulieu. In fact, any village name you encounter in the south that ends in oc or ac or ec has Occitan origins. Including Lautrec or Salazac…

The word for peak—as in mountain peak—is the delightful sounding pog.

A few days ago, Gaston and I slogged up the pog at Montségur (translation: Mount Secure) to look at what’s left of the fortress. Not much: the lower bit of the original keep, some walls where the medieval village had clung to the slope, and the curtain walls (called pregnant walls in French: murs enceinte—which rerouted my translating neurons to “retaining walls” for a number of days, for the obvious symptom connection. Pregnant pause… okay, never mind.). Hard to believe 600 people lived there—even if there had been multiple floors on which to stack them all.

view from Montsegur, France

The Cathars would have seen French troops approach from miles away.

And a long way to go for fresh water.

But the view is spectacular: they would have seen those Catholic hordes coming from miles up the valleys around.

On the way down (“Bonjour,” “Bonjour;” “Bonjeu;” “Bonjeu”), we passed the tortured faces going uphill of all those French people who supposedly never formally exercise, doing their patrimoinic duty.

The site is close to the pilgrim way through the south to Santiago di Compostela, and is something of a pilgrim site in its own right. The last Cathar fortress to stand against the Catholic and French hordes, it withstood a months-long siege by some 10,000 troops. In March 1244, the Cathars surrendered. Approximately 220 were burned en masse in a bonfire at the foot of the peak when they refused to renounce their faith.

Approaching the fortress of Montsegur, France

The forbidding final approach to the fortress.

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