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Rennes-le-Chateautourist information guide
Address: Couiza, 11190
Tel: +33 (0)4 68 74 72 68
Opening Times: Daily | Admission Charge
For British and American tourists alike, Rennes-le-Chateau is as well known a location as Carcassonne. This is largely due to the numerous theories and secret conspiracies that surround Rennes-le-Chateau - a hilltop village situated on a plateau above the Aude Valley.
Rennes-le-Chateau's most famous legend tells of a secret treasure discovered here in the late 19th-century by a local priest, Berenger Sauniere. From 1891, Sauniere undertook lavish restoration of the church. In addition, he created an opulent Villa Bethania and neo-gothic Magdala tower which suited an increasingly lavish lifestyle enjoyed by both himself and his housekeeper Marie Denarnaud.
One theory is that Sauniere discovered the hidden treasure that was originally kept at Chateau de Montsegur. Another theory is that Jesus came to Europe with his wife Mary Magdalene and that they were buried at Rennes. Sauniere may have discovered Jesus' tomb and made his fortune by blackmailing the Pope in order to keep the story a secret.
Alternatively, Sauniere may have discovered the Holy Grail, the treasure of the Visigoths, the Merovingians or the Templars. Perhaps the most common theory is that Sauniere discovered the extensive treasure of the Jews which was once held under the watchful eye of Visigoth, Prince Amairic.
Sauniere dedicated Rennes-le-Chateau to Mary Magdalene. It was decorated with neo-Gothic murals and bizarre polychrome statues. There is even a rather demonic figure that holds up the front door which is said to represent Asmodeus, the guardian of the treasure of Soloman. There is also a statue of the Virgin which stands alone outside the church.
The Espace Berenger Sauniere includes a museum housed in the presbytery dedicated to local history and the numerous theories attached to Rennes-le-Chateau. You can also visit the Domaine du L'Abbe Sauniere (Sauniere's villa and gardens) and the Tour Magdala, which hints at yet more theories. Sauniere died in 1917 leaving everything to his housekeeper who later died along with the secret in 1953.
There are great views to be had from the belvedere, namely towers and fortresses including Chateau de Blanchefort. The chateau which gives Rennes-le-Chateau its name is found on the site of the castle destroyed by Simon de Montfort in his crusade against the Cathars in 1210. It was largely reconstructed in the 16th-century. There are an increasing number of visitors to Rennes-le-Chateau due to its parallels with Dan Brown's the Da Vinci code which has a central character called Sauniere and a mystery that surrounds the Holy Grail. Come and see which theory you think best suits!