This twelfth/thirteenth century castle has a truly spectacular location, being set on a high rocky spur within a loop of the river Aveyron (Fig. 18).38 As a cyclist, Lawrence was very conscious of the ‘huge hills’ in this region of the Massif Central. Beyond the fortress, on the same ridge, rises the village of Najac. Lawrence referred to its picturesqueness, a term still applicable today, and wrote ‘the streets were not paved, but cut in the solid rock; houses often likewise’. The original keep of the castle, square in form, dates from 1110. Richard the Lionheart probably stayed in it when he came to Najac in 1185. Over ten years, from 1253 to 1263, the whole fortress was modernized at great expense by Alphonse, Count of Toulouse, brother of King Louis IX (Saint Louis) of France. This work included a new forty metres-high cylindrical donjon with very long loopholes, each nearly 7 metres tall (Fig. 19): this innovation, which is quite unique, enabled three crossbowmen to be posted one above the other. A narrow helical staircase with 120 steps provides access to the various levels of the donjon and has the customary clockwise or left-handed design that favoured sword-wielding defenders. There was no well: rainwater from the uppermost reaches of the castle was channelled down to a water tank of 50 cubic metres capacity. The garrison numbered up to 200 men: each man was allotted 1 kg of bread and 3 litres of wine per day, often supplemented, of course, by fish and game. In its heyday this fortress was considered impregnable and was never taken by assault. In 1271, with the ending of the line of the Counts of Toulouse, Najac became a possession of the Kings of France.

Fig. 18 – Castle and XIIIth. century church of St. Jean, Najac, Aveyron.

Fig. 19 – Castle of Najac, Aveyron

  1. Association des Défenseurs de la Forteresse de Najac, The Fortress of Najac and its History (Graphi Imprimeur: May 2007) []