Very little remains of this château, except for a square tower in surprisingly good condition and parts of the original ramparts. And yet, in its heyday, le château de Caylus had dominion over a large swathe of the surrounding area. Set on a rocky mount, the castle controlled an important crossroads.
Caylus straddles the ancient provinces of Quercy and Rouergue. The River Bonnette flows through the lower part of the village and marks the boundary. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years, as prehistoric vestiges such as dolmens show. The Celts and Romans later established themselves in the area.
Origins of the château
The ruined château was built around 1150, but it’s very likely that there was some kind of fortification there before that, given its strategic position.
Caylus probably takes its name from the Latin word castrum, meaning a fortified position. It could also come from castellucium, a fortified village – hence the former spelling Caylux and now Caylus. There’s at least one other château de Caylus in the region, near Saint-Affrique in Aveyron, whose name no doubt has a similar origin.
The town grew up around the château, the outlying “suburbs” being of most recent date. By 1176, the town and the château belonged to the counts of Toulouse but were annexed to the crown in 1271. In the mid-13th century, the town governed some 56 Quercy parishes, all the way to the River Lot.
It’s hard to imagine the medieval upheavals now, but Caylus endured its share of war, pestilence and religious turmoil.
Simon de Montfort sacked and burnt the outskirts of the town in 1211, during the Albigensian Crusade, and it was besieged again the following year. The château has a well about 46 metres deep. You’d need that to withstand a long siege. The town was ceded to the English in 1362 during the Hundred Years War, but they left seven years later.
The town suffered several outbreaks of plague. It’s estimated that a third of the inhabitants were carried off by the first catastrophic outbreak in 1348.
Caylus was pillaged again in 1562 by Calvinists, who massacred 250 of the townsfolk. During the Wars of Religion, Caylus remained staunchly Catholic, unlike its Protestant neighbour Saint-Antonin: hence this gargoyle embedded in the ramparts, which is said to be poking out its tongue at its hated rivals down the River Bonnette. Louis XIII stayed at Caylus prior to besieging Saint-Antonin in 1622.
Caylus gradually lost its political influence and entered a period of slow decline, although it remained an important market town with a regular livestock fair.
As for the chateau, I have been unable to find out when it fell into disuse. However, it’s plainly a very long time since it was last used for any defensive purpose. Privately owned, it is not open to the public.
For those interested in board games (count me out, I’m afraid), there is even one called “Caylus”. It involves gaining points from King Philippe IV (le Bel) by constructing the medieval castle of Caylus. It’s not clear if the village of Caylus was indeed the inspiration, but it seems possible. Philippe IV apparently declared in letters that Caylus would always remain a possession of the crown.
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