At least a dozen years have elapsed since I visited the interior of the ruined château de Najac in Aveyron. This imposing 13th-century castle is a landmark for miles around, best seen from the opposite slope on a misty autumn morning. Although I have written about it before, I had no interior shots to post. Now, thanks to taking visitors there last week, I can show you how it looks inside. This demonstrates clearly what a feat of construction it was.
Built on a ridge, the plus beau village of Najac stretches down the side of a hill and up another towards the castle. The place was almost empty last week. In July and August it will be heaving. Originally, the town grew up around the château, of which there was an earlier 11th-century version, replaced by the current structure.
You can only wonder at the effort involved to haul all the stone up to the top of this rocky pinnacle, without the aid of modern machinery. It’s an even bigger wonder that the château has stood for almost 800 years, despite being pillaged for stone during the 19th century.
Once you have paid your €5.50 entrance fee, you are either free to wander around on your own or to take the guided tour. We chose the former. I find guided tours, which are often compulsory in France, a bit too formulaic.
Before entering the château itself, we looked around outside. A building like this, constructed for defensive purposes, had to be able to withstand a protracted siege. This cistern holds 50,000 litres of water and is fed by a stone conduit from the roof of the keep.
Once inside the castle, the first stop was a scale model showing how it would have looked in its heyday. Unfortunately, the light wasn’t good enough to take a shot of it, but the model enables you to get an impression of just how important a building it was. It also shows the vineyards which once surrounded the town.
From there, we looked down into the dungeon, a deep and forbidding vault. Some of the Templars were imprisoned in it in September 1307 while awaiting trial for heresy, following a major operation against them instigated by King Philippe IV, known as le bel.
The keep is preserved in its entirety and consists of a series of circular chambers. A secret passage (not so secret nowadays) built into the walls leads off one of the rooms. I had never been to the top of the keep before. The narrow spiral staircase of 119 steps did nothing for my claustrophobia. However, I soldiered on and was rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view. You’d certainly see the enemy coming from all directions.
In past times, when Najac was a more important and populous place than it is now, you would have heard the sounds of busy medieval town life. Today, you hear birdsong, the rushing sound of the River Aveyron and the occasional train on the single-track railway far below.
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