During the middle ages, the castle was called "Mirambel". The year 406 saw the invasion by the Vandals who proceeded to massacre the aged, women and children, razing to the ground everything they found in their path. In the VIIIth century the castle was occupied by the Saracens after their defeat in Poitiers. In 778, Charlemagne laid siege to it, capturing it after Mirat, leader of the Moors, had taken refuge there. There was the legend of Mirat the Saracen chief who held the castle against the assaults of Charlemagne. The coat of arms of Lourdes still bears witness to this legend of how Mirat sent Charlemagne a trout from a mountain stream as a sign that he could hold the castle indefinitely against any siege. Here the story goes:
In 841, the castle was attacked by the Normans, who were however unable to conquer the castle in which the inhabitants of Lourdes had taken up their final stand. It was subsequently occupied by the Albigenses, by the French and by the English.
In about 1195, the castle became the property of the viscount of Tartas, after which, no longer used as a feudal residence, it was passed from hand to hand as alliances were successfully forged and broken off. In 1314, Charles the Handsome had the castle restructured and fortified to improve the region's defence. In 1322, he became the King of France (Charles IV).
In 1361, during the Hundred Years' War, Bigorre was ceded to the Prince of Wales, the famous black prince. He entrusted the command of the castle to Peter-Arnold and John of Bearn, who, with a gang of Gascon merceneries, set about looting the area. In 1369, an attempt by the French under Du Guesclin to recapture the castle met with failure, and it was not until the year 1377 that Gaston Phoebus was able to win it back for the King of France. Even so, the English were not completely out until the year 1407.
In 1404, the Count of Clermont seized it during the conquest of the "seven valleys" under English dominion. In 1406, he returned it to Charles IV, King of France. In 1425, the castle became the property of the house of Foix, when, during the Wars of Religion, it fell into the hands of the Huguenot leader, Montgomery, loyal lieutenant to Joan of Albret, although he occupied it for a little more than a fortnight. From 1569 to 1607, the castle figured prominently during the "religious wars" that raged throughout the country. During this period of time, the castle was taken and retaken by successive powers. As local Protestants from Bearn, led by Henry IV, warred with the Catholics of Bigorre in a conflict of mutual extermination, the poor town of Lourdes was captured and recaptured, sacked and pilllaged. In 1589, Henry of Bourbon (Henry IV) became King of France after which peace was gradually restored to the region.
Only in 1607, when the county of Bigorre became a part of France, did the castle become crown property. Henry IV of Navarre, King of France and heir to the counts of Foix, commissioned its restoration, entrusting the task to his governors. From then on, the walls of the old castle were to need little defending as few assaults, apart from an earthquake in 1660 which seriously damaged the chapel, were to assail them.
During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic dominion, the castle served as a state prison, where famous prisoners were kept, such as the Duke of Mazarin, the philosopher Maine de Biran and the general Bourbaki until it was finally converted into an army barrack. In 1893, the municipal administration of Lourdes bought it for 50000 gold francs. Following extensive restoration in 1921, it was restored. Today it houses the Pyrenean Museum and displays a selection of the popular crafts and traditions of the Pyrenees. It has become one of the most popular museums of traditional art in France. The museum holds annual exhibitions which revive the life and folklore of this marvellous land. Lifts can take visitors comfortably up to the main terrace. Alternatively, the visitors may climb the Saracens' Staircase and enter through the Charlemagne gate or the Assommoir gate. There are 156 steps.
From the castle terrace, there are stunning views of the sanctuaries, the Gave, Lourdes and the Pyrenees. The rectangular crenellated tower is 24 metres high. A curving staircase takes visitors 104 steps to the top. The "Our Lady of the Castle" chapel is also worth a visit. It contains some original and precious gilt-covered wooden statues from the original parish church of Lourdes which was destroyed by fire and subsequently demolished in 1905. These include: Madonna with child surrounded by angels, St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, St. James of Compostela and St. Lucy.
There are 46 exhibition pavilions. On the eastern wall of the castle there is a huge clock which chimes the hour. In the central courtyard of the castle there is a display of miniature reproductions of historic abbeys, castles and monuments of Bigorre and Bearn.