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History of the fortress of Salses

Vue aérienne de la forteresse Rémi Marion

Discover the fascinating history of the fortress, a masterpiece of military architecture.

In the beginning: a medieval castle

Do you know the history of this fortress?

The ancient castle (castrum), built on a rocky promontory, is mentioned as early as the 11th century. As the seat of the Counts of Roussillon, the castle did not belong to the kingdom of France, but to the Catalan-Aragonese rulers.

You can still see the remains of this fortification, just a few metres north of the fortress.

From this promontory, you have an unobstructed view of the Salses-Leucate lakes, Canigou (2785 m) and the Pyrenees mountain range.

Vue aérienne de la forteresse de Salses
Vue aérienne de la forteresse de Salses


A royal fortress to protect the border

Keeping an eye on the kingdom of France was the main concern of the Catholic kings, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. They decided to build a fortress to protect the strategic border crossing between the kingdoms of France and Spain. At the time, the boundary between the two kingdoms was the Corbières mountains, the boundary between the present-day departments of Aude (11) and Pyrénées-Orientales (66).

This fortress must have had a dual function: as a surveillance post and as a staging post against the enemy from the north!

Vue aérienne de la forteresse et les corbières
Vue aérienne de la forteresse et des Corbières

© Asphéries CMN

Ramiro Lopez, an architect of genius

Spain declared war on France in 1495. The project to build the fortress was entrusted to the architect Ramiro Lopez. But who was he? Appointed head of the royal artillery, he mastered the art of taking and defending a place: poliorcetics. The king appointed him general master builder of the new construction site. He became "Master Ramiro" commander.

It took six years to build the fortress, from 1497 to 1503. Adapted to new advances in artillery (the metal cannonball), it was virtually impregnable.

Mission order addressed to Master Ramiro by the Catholic Kings (October 30, 1495):

"The things that you, Commander Master Ramiro, God and his glorious mother aiding, were to do in regard to your mission are as follows. Firstly, with God's help, you must go to Perpignan and hand over your letter of credence, which you take to don Enrique de Guzman, and tell him that, by our order, you are going to examine all the fortresses on this frontier to see what work and repairs are necessary. Having done this, you are to ask for a horse, two expert people and a notary to accompany you to visit everything. With these people, you'll head straight for Salses. When you get to Salses, you'll need to examine whether the town can be fortified to keep it strong. And, if it has such a disposition (...), you must assess how quickly, at what cost, with how many people and what means it could be fortified. In the event that the city does not have such a disposition, you must evaluate what construction could be capable of sustaining any war for thirty or forty days before being rescued...". L. Bayrou et alii, La forteresse de Salses, Paris, Éditions du Patrimoine, CMN, p. 19.

Vue aérienne de la forteresse de Salses
Vue aérienne de la forteresse de Salses


A history of sieges in a few dates

As early as 1503, the fortress was facing its first siege.

On October 30th of the same year, the French failed to capture it. A century of peace followed for this part of the frontier.

1639, the second attempt by the French: they besieged and captured the fortress for the first time in June. But it was recaptured by the Spanish in 1640, and following internal conflicts, Perpignan fell in September 1642. Fifteen days later, it was the fortress' turn to be besieged and taken. From then on, it was occupied by French troops. In 1659, with the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, this part of the territory was ceded to the French crown. The frontier was retreated 60 km to the south.

Vignette BD haut de la tour d'artillerie
Haut de la tour d'artillerie


The future of this unique jewel, from the 17th century to the present day

The poisons affair of 1682 shook the kingdom of France. A scandal at the court of Louis XIV. The fortress became a prison by royal order. 19 convicts were transferred there and imprisoned. After a failed escape attempt, they were brought back and walled up to death.

Thirty years after the last battle,Vauban visited the fortress and observed that "it was useless" (in his words). He recommended destroying it, but the costs were too high. The project was abandoned.

The keep became a gunpowder magazine in 1817. The floors were redone, the walls whitewashed... just a few minor repairs to store the gunpowder safely!

It was listed as a historic monument in 1886 and decommissioned as a stronghold in 1889. In 1930, it was handed over to the Fine Arts Administration, then to the Heritage Department of the French Ministry of Culture.

Welcome to the fortress!

La prison de la forteresse de Salses
La prison de la forteresse de Salses