Fort de Bellegarde

The peak of Bellegarde, at 423m, dominates the two peaks of le Perthus (271m) and le Panissars (335m) at this lower end of the chain of the Pyrenees. Bellegarde sits in the depression created by these two peaks and, situated thus, played a major strategic role through the centuries.

It is most likely that the first military construction at the peak of Bellegarde was some kind of signalling tower. The Catalan word ‘guarda’ itself evokes those same towers, whose means of communication comprised sending coded signals using smoke by day and fire by night.

This would then alert other watchtowers such as the Palais des Rois de Majorque at Perpignan which would in turn send communications to the towers at Madeloc, Massana and Saint Christophe.

It was undoubtedly the King of Majorca who conceived of the idea of a fortress at the start of his reign, as a primary strategic move in consideration of the vulnerability of his kingdom during that period.

The first mention of a medieval fort at Bellegarde was in 1324.

Col de Panissars et Trophée de Pompée

According to the Greek historian and geographer Strabon (63 BC – 19 AD), the Temple of Aphrodite (Venus) and the Trophée de Pompée marked the frontier between Iberica and the Celts. If the Temple of Aphrodite remains a mystery, the story of the Tromphée de Pompée has at least been resolved in part.

Nine years of archaeological research led by Georges Castellvi for France J M Nolla and I Roda for Spain, confirmed that the ruins located on the Col du Panissars on the site of a Medieval priory corresponds with a monument erected in 71 BC by Roman General Pompée, on his victorious return from Spain.

It was constructed from a huge slab of sandstone fitted in dovetail fashion onto a number of stone uprights. Some of these remain, those that escaped being pillaged or taken for use elsewhere, and these give us an indication as to the size of the original monument.

The foundations, in the shape of two symmetric rectangles of 15.8m by 30.8m, were constructed from slabs of rock approximately 5 metres in width, originating from the area close to the Roman road known as the Via Domitia. Within each quadrilateral, a second U-shaped layer provided the base for the construction that would sit on the foundations.

Today, all that remains of the construction are some stones engraved with the names of the 876 towns conquered in the campaign. Many theories exist on the exact form of the ‘Trophée de Pompée’. What we do know is that it was a turreted construction, approximately 40m in height, straddling the route and thus creating a tunnel-like form.

According to Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD), the whole construction would have been topped with a statue of General Pompée.

At Fort Bellegarde there are four exhibition rooms devoted to documents relating to Panissars.