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The Tower of Crest

The Tower of Crest

The Tower of Crest


HISTORIC towers come in all shapes and sizes and have served many purposes. Some were built to guard strategic locations, and others were used as prisons; however, most are now tourist spots. The tower that dominates the little town of Crest on the banks of the River Drôme in southeast France has filled all three roles.

The imposing size of the Tower of Crest makes it visible from afar. With its northeast face measuring 170 feet [52 m], it is one of France’s tallest. From the top, the panoramic view of the foothills of the Vercors, the mountains of the Ardèche, and the Rhone valley is truly splendid.

The origins of the tower are not known exactly, but initially it served as a fortress. During the Albigensian Crusade in the 13th century, the Catholic troops of Simon de Montfort, aided by Catholic bishops, took that castle. It was then used as a base for fighting the Albigenses.

During the Wars of Religion (1562-98), the castle came under attack by Protestants on several occasions but was never taken. The tower narrowly escaped destruction in 1633 when all but its strongest and securest part was demolished by order of King Louis XIII. From then on, it was used as a prison for common criminals and opponents of the monarchy as well as for Huguenots. The imprisonment of these French Protestants coincided with the period when the Edict of Nantes, which had brought about a degree of religious tolerance in France, was gradually cast aside. The prison walls still bear the graffiti of some of these religious prisoners.

Today the Tower of Crest is a historical monument that receives, on average, 30,000 visitors per year. In 1998 it was included in events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Edict of Nantes. Its walls are a grim reminder of what can occur when a climate of religious intolerance is allowed to develop.