Once upon a time, a very ancient time,
there was a big rock, carved by the ice. According to their
needs, men made it a count’s castle, a fortress, a hideout for
mercenaries, a prison, a barracks, and today, a Pyrenean
Museum…We present you with the keys to its story.
THE GEOLOGICAL TIMESCALE: The rocky peak
resists the ice
Around 65 million years ago, the African continent slides
northwards and collides with Europe. The shock throws up the
Earth into a range of mountains: the Pyrenees. Later, a cold
climate prevails for several hundred thousands years. The valley
of Lourdes and the river Gave of Pau are thus made by the
glaciers which, retreating, spare the rocky outcrop upon which
the fortress will eventually be built.
PREHISTORY: The first men of Lourdes
The climate softens. About 13000 years ago, man settles in
the caves on the lower slopes of the Pyrenees. He hunts wild
horse, reindeer and bison. He also lives on what he gathers and
later, makes weapons and tools from flint and reindeer antlers,
carving mammoth-tusk ivory. The appearance of a temperate
climate modifies the daily life of these men: they clear the
ground, cultivate, and raise animals. Masters of fire, the
Pyrenean shepherds use metal for their tools and weapons.
ANCIENT TIMES: The new settlement & the
The conquest of Gaul by the Romans does little to change the
social and economic life of these mountain-dwellers. The Romans
are the first to take advantage of the strategic qualities of
the rocky outcrop. The writings of Antonin, a 3rd
century tour guide, mention a fortified site on the Roman road
which connects Toulouse and Bordeaux: it is the new settlement
which will come to be known as Lourdes several centuries later.
THE MIDDLE AGES AND THE RENAISSANCE: The
castle stronghold—home to the Counts of Bigorre
The legend of the eagles and the trout: In 778, Charlemagne
lays siege to the fortress occupied by the Saracens. The legends
tells of an eagle dropping a trout at the feet of Mirat, chief
of Saracens, who offers it to Charlemagne to make him think that
the castle is still well-stocked with food. The bishop of
Puy-en-Velay, friend and companion of Charlemagne, proposes to
Mirat that, as he does not wish to surrender to the king, he
should surrender to the Blessed Virgin. Mirat accepts and is
baptized under the name of Lorus. The castle, called Mirambel,
now takes the name of Lorus, who gave his name to the town of
Lourdes. In the 11th and 12th centuries,
this site, virtually impregnable thanks to its system of
enclosures, is the principle residence of the Counts of Bigorre.
The fortress takes its definitive form in the 14th
century with the construction of the keep, which dominates three
THE 16TH CENTURY: The castle
during the wars of religion
During the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, Lourdes
is pillaged and burnt. The Lourdais, who benefit from the right
to protection since the Middle Age, fall back into the castle.
In 1590 peace returns with Henri IV who formally attaches
Lourdes and the Bigorre to France. Lourdes becomes an important
halt on the roads to St-Jacques de Compostelle.
THE 17TH AND 18TH
CENTURIES: The castle as a state prison
The castle is placed in the charge of a governor who exercises
his power in the King’s name. From the end of the 17th
century, the king uses it to imprison both dangerous criminals
and opposants alike. During this period, the medieval towers,
except for the keep, are demolished, and in 1685 development
plans are drawn up by the great royal architect Vauban. On the
eve of the French Revolution the fortress is saved from
demolition by a plea addressed to the king from the Lourdais.
From 1792, the castle is once again used as a prison for the
insurrectionist royalist chiefs.
THE 19TH CENTURY: The castle is transformed into a barracks
The castle, fortress and prison, is again rearranged by
Chausenque, commandant of the stronghold: the keep is given a
new roof. The military engineers build up and improve the entire
group of the stronghold’s buildings. The castle stronghold of
Lourdes is no more than a simple barracks. In 1894 the town of
Lourdes buys the redundant fortress.
- A new town: The Marian complex
In 1858 Bernarde-Marie Soubirous receives 18 visions of the
Blessed Virgin. This miracle, recognized by the church,
radically changes the history of Lourdes. Around the
sanctuaries a new town springs up, a centre of Christian
pilgrimage, with a worldwide reputation.
- The Pyreneistes and the conquest of the summits
The end of the 18th century is marked by the
Pyreneist movement, with its keen mountaineers conquering
peaks, discovering the romantic charms of the villages and spa
towns. The castle stronghold is made famous by Viollet le Duc,
Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, as a picturesque halt.
THE 20TH CENTURY: The Pyrenean museum in the castle
In 1921 a museum is born under the auspices
of Margalide and Louis Le Bondidier, its first curator. In 1960
they leave to the town collections worthy of a great regional
museum of the Pyrenees. Today, the museum welcomes almost
100,000 visitors per year. Various works is accomplished in the
course of this century: the fortifications of Lourdes are
destroyed, except for the Garnavie tower, the parish church of
Saint Pierre is demolished in 1904. A proportion of its
religious objects are currently held in the castle chapel.
THE 21ST CENTURY: The castle stronghold—historical monument at Lourdes
Classed as a historical monument in 1995,
the castle walls bear witness to the evolution of military
architecture from the Middle Age to the present day, and to the
long story of the town of Lourdes. At the same time the museum
tries to carve a niche in modern times, with a renovation plan
and a project to create a network of Pyrenean Museums.
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