900 years of history

Crest Tower

The two roles of the Tower


The construction of Crest Tower began in the 12th century. It was the main component of an imposing fortress fought over by the Counts of Valentinois and the Bishop-counts of Die. In 1217, it was unsuccessfully besieged by Simon De Montfort, leader of Albigensian crusade. In the 14th century, the Counts of Valentinois enlarged the Tower. With its fifteen rooms on five levels, it perfectly illustrates the structural defence system of the Middle Ages.

Its dimensions: 32 metres long, 20 metres wide, and 52 metres high, make it the tallest remaining keep in France. Portcullises, brattices and loopholes are examples of all the techniques used against the assailant!

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During the Hundred Years’ War, in 1419, the County of Valentinois and Crest Castle became the property of the kings of France. During the reign of Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu fought against the nobility of the kingdom who opposed the King. To further this aim, he had most of the fortresses that were not used to defend the borders destroyed, thus depriving rebels of strategic strongpoints in the event of a rebellion. Although Crest Castle was dismantled in 1633, the Tower was retained to serve as a prison.


Crest Tower then became a prison from which there was no escape. Men of good family were imprisoned there without trial, by simple lettre de cachet signed by the King. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, many Protestants attempting to flee the kingdom were also detained there. Prisoners of war, common-law prisoners, and political prisoners were also imprisoned in the Tower at various times. A symbol of power and its arbitrary use by royalty, the Tower was also known as the ‘Bastille du Sud’, meaning Bastille of the South. The Tower remained a prison after the French Revolution. In 1851, Republican opponents of Napoleon III’s coup d’état were the last prisoners to be held there.

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A spectacular escape attempt

At the age of 70, Philippe Rivoire who had been locked up in Crest for 12 years attempted to escape with two other prisoners. Together, they made a rope out of sheets and removed the bars of a window in the east face. The rope, however, was too short and Rivoire fell more than ten metres to his death. The two men following him found themselves hanging in mid-air and had to call for help. They were rescued by the guards and then returned to prison.