The castle of Les Cars

Vestiges du château des Cars
Vestiges du château des Cars (photo Office de tourisme des Monts de Châlus)

The ruins of the castle of Les Cars are not linked directly to the history of Richard the Lionheart or his era. However, it is among the richest and most interesting heritage sites of the Monts de Châlus. The castle of Les Cars was in fact the residence of the Pérusses of Les Cars, a very important aristocratic family whose members occupied very high positions from the 14th century onwards. Their castle matched their wealth and reputation: a jewel of Renaissance architecture in Limousin.

A small castle or a fortified house certainly already occupied the place from the 12th century. Eventually, in the 14th century, the castle passed from the Barrys of Aixe to the Pérusses, a family of knights originally from Ségur-le-Château in Correze. They had already acquired wealth and renown and they strengthened their position further in the centuries that followed. At the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th, Geoffrey Pérusse, close friend of the kings of France, including François I, and the Kings of Navarre, built a sumptuous aristocratic residence at Les Cars, which had become the location of the family’s principal residence.

This castle was built with residence rather than defence in mind. It is an expression of the beginning of the Renaissance in Limousin. Archaeological excavations in the 1990s and in the 2000s have revealed some very rich household goods. Precious tableware, objects of glass and metal as well as numerous sculptures and bas reliefs have been found. They are on show in an exhibition on site which can be seen when visiting the castle.

Tour elliptique de l’angle Sud Ouest, ou « tour d’artillerie »
Tour elliptique de l’angle Sud Ouest, ou « tour d’artillerie » (photo Office de tourisme des Monts de Châlus)

Before its destruction, the castle was in the form of a square with sides of more than 30 metres, consisting of a tall main tower, the principal living accommodation, and angle towers, all of which have disappeared. These buildings were arranged around an inner courtyard that was richly decorated. The main tower, the south-east corner of which is still partly standing, consisted of large rooms lit by tall bays. This was probably the heart of the castle.

François Pérusse of Les Cars, grandson of Geoffrey, reinforced the defences of the castle during the Wars of Religion. The artillery tower, still in existence in the south-west angle, and the digging of the ditch are the most visible elements of this restoration of the castle’s defences. The appearance of firearms in the 15th and more particularly the 16th centuries had made necessary the provision of particular defensive openings in the walls. One can thus see the presence of numerous gun ports, circular openings allowing the use of firearms, in the parts of the castle which still stand. The elliptical tower in the south-west corner was added to reinforce the defences of the entrance to the castle. The gatehouse, situated beside the modern Town Hall, consisted of two slender towers flanking a drawbridge which crossed the main ditch.

Elément des fresques des écuries du château des Cars représentant un cavalier
Elément des fresques des écuries du château des Cars représentant un cavalier (photo Office de tourisme des Monts de Châlus)

A second surrounding wall with a broad walkway for artillery was built with a double function: to keep possible enemy artillery at a distance from the principal building and to allow easier movement of the defenders’ artillery. Five small towers were arranged along its circuit, having both a defensive and decorative role. Two of them still exist in the north-east and south-west corners. On the western side of the castle was the lower courtyard, beyond the artillery wall. It contained a number of outbuildings, including the stables, which still exist as a large 16th century building lit by decorative dormer windows. The ground floor has a vaulted ceiling and large frescos illustrating horses and other equestrian themes.

The castle was once surrounded by large gardens. To the south, the former gardens were in the French 16th century style. Other terraced gardens were added in the 18th century to the west side of the castle. They were bordered by the canal that is still visible below the castle. In the town of Les Cars, the church, medieval in origin but largely restored, contains a reliquary cross of the 13th century. On the keystones of the vault of the nave can be seen the arms of the Pérusse family. Some houses belonging to the manorial officers still exist on the main street.

At the time of the Revolution, the Pérusses emigrated to England in protest. The castle was pillaged and eventually sold to quarrymen who demolished it in order to re-sell the material, sparing only the artillery tower in the south-west angle and part of the main tower. Today, the castle is the property of the commune, which is trying, with the help of an archaeological society, to display the remains effectively.

To this end, guided visits are offered, which reveal the rich history of this castle by means of two exhibition rooms and a tour, with commentary, of the castle remains and the stables.

Visites

Le château des Cars se visite.

Visites guidées organisées durant la période estivale : du 1er Juillet au 20 Septembre, les mardis, jeudis et vendredis à 15h et les mardi et jeudi à 10h 30. La visite comprend les vestiges du château, les deux salles d’exposition et les écuries.

Tarifs : 3 euros par personnes, 2 euros pour les 10-16 ans, gratuit pour les moins de 10 ans.

Renseignements au 09.60.07.30.07.