Beynac Castle, located in the village of Beynac-et-Cazenac, in the Dordogne department, is one of the many amazing medieval castles that can be found in the area.
Beynac is very special in many ways. First of all, its location is simply astounding as it is built on top of a limestone cliff, 150 m above the Dordogne river just down below and the view is simply unique.
While the area has been populated since time immemorial (the Lascaux caves are just a few , it’s around the year 1050 than the first permanent building was built there.
Because the place was of extremely important strategic value, it quickly gained in importance, especially as the area went back and forth between England and France during all of the Middle-Ages; starting with Eleanor of Aquitaine marrying Henry II of England (bringing all of Aquitaine along with her to England) in 1152 and culminating with the Hundred Years’ War, that ended in 1453. During most of it, the Dordogne river was the border between France and England and as such Beynac (on the French side) was of a capital location, especially because its main rival Castelnaud, just three kilometers away was an important English stronghold. Note that I’ll tell you about Castlenaud at some point in the future.
After the end of the war, peace was restored at Beynac but not for long as the Wars of Religion took place in the next Century. And Beynac’s sympathies for the Reform brought trouble back to the area, which rarely was at peace afterwards; the next two Centuries seeing several revolts from the local population (jacqueries des Croquants) against the aristocracy who was choking them, that until the Revolution.
Since then, the South West of France has been lucky enough to be relatively spared from subsequent wars and battlefields, especially since the industrialization of wars. Even during World War Two, not much fighting happened in the region despite it being an area where the Résistance was very important.
Thanks to that, the French South West retains most of its amazing medieval castles, and Beynac is one of the most well preserved ones (a lot of them were burned down during the Revolution). The fact that, to this day, it is privately owned (most castles are owned by the local town or by the state) helps, as it is regularly renovated, and while the historical accuracy suffers a little from that, I think it is a reasonable price to pay to have an amazing castle that is not a ruin.
The fact that the castle is regularly used as a shooting location for medieval movies (The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and Les Visiteurs being the two most internationally famous ones) helps with being able to keep it in pretty good shape for its age.
In any case, if you’re ever in the Dordogne area, it is a big mistake not to visit Beynac, it is definitely one of the most beautiful medieval castles in France.
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