Mont-Louis, Port Liberia, Villefranche de Conflent

First thing in the morning we drive to the beautiful Villefranche de Conflent. This medieval fortified town is one of the three (the other ones being the Canigou mountain and the Canigou St. Martins abbey) main tourist attractions in French East Pyrenees. We arrive at nine in the morning to find out that the Port Liberia stronghold above the town is open for tourists only from 10am. Instead of waiting we decide to go for another stronghold – Mont-Louis. While on the way to the car a magpie (obviously the favorite of the tourists) vigorously asked our attention. It managed even to land on the top of my backpack. A moment later we witness the fight between our magpie and a pigeon.

Mont-Louis is some 40km away on the road to Andorra. A tourist favored Train Jaune (a yellow train) route goes next to the road. The train route is closed temporally and should be opened any day. We have it in our plans.

Mont-Louis is an impressive stronghold with a thick walls. There is a French army base at the further end of the fortress. The walls are used to exercise the soldier in climbing. We stroll round the walls (this takes a time) and then drive back to Villefranche de Conflent.

There we cross the bridge over the stream, then the route of the Traine Jaune and then ascend the path to the Port Liberia.

It is hot and we reach the stronghold exhausted and dripping with sweet. We purchase the ticket and go to look inside the fortress. The fortress is on the mountain slope and is designed to protect the defenders against the attack from above. To protect the walls from the canons that might be positioned high on the mountain slope, the fortress is shaped like a ship with it’s sharp bow towards the mountain. Vauban (the builder of this and a number of other fortresses in Pyrenees) suggested that the canon balls should thus do less damage to the walls. The walls as well were designed with the attack from the above in mind. There are 3 stories of galleries in the walls. All three have rows of loop holes and ventilation holes above them (to clear the gallery from the toxic powder. All three stories are covered by the thick stone ceiling.

Inside the stronghold there is a number of buildings. This includes the tank to collect the water and the prison. Te king of France have imprisoned here a couple of noble women. Two of the prisoners have spent here more than 30 years until their death. We descend to the Villefranche by the 700 marble stairs of the subterranean staircase. The tunnel is carved in the rocks to help the citizens of Villefranche escape to the fortress in case if the enemy invades the town.

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