Ariège is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It was created from the counties of Foix and Couserans.
Foix is the administrative capital of the Ariège. It is an ancient medieval town with a fortress Chateau de Foix perched on a hill overlooking it. The fortress has been attacked many times without capture, including an attempt by Simon de Montfort. It has also been used as a prison, and the names of English prisoners of war can still be seen on the cell walls. Another famous chateau in the Ariège is Montségur, located on a rocky outcrop at a height of 1200 metres (3,900 ft). During the Albigensian Crusade and siege of 1244 AD the chateau was largely destroyed, with more than two hundred Cathar priests burnt at the stake as heretics. The chateau was gradually rebuilt by Royalists over a period of the next three hundred years.
The start of the seventeenth century saw the area ravaged by wars between Protestants and Catholics. In 1621 Huguenot forces ruined the church at La Tour-du-Crieu. In 1629 Pamiers was sacked by Henry of Condé following uprisings that left several hundred dead in the city. This was also the period during which the abbeys at Foix, Tarascon-sur-Ariège, Saint-Girons, Saverdun and Le Mas-d'Azil were torched and destroyed.
The nineteenth century was a time of strong industrial growth, supported in Ariège by an abundant supply of water power. The department also benefitted from its significant reserves of iron ore. The growth of iron based industries were a feature of the period, with the establishment in 1817 of a steel manufacturing plant at Pamiers which has been a principal driver of the local economy ever since. Other representative examples of the iron based industry that developed in Ariège during the nineteenth century include the forges at Montgaillard and the blast furnaces at Tarascon-sur-Ariège.
Description of the department's industrial development during the nineteenth century should also include mention of the paper industry at Saint-Girons and the textile industry in the Pays d'Olmes.
Towns of particular historical interest in the département include Pamiers, host to a large commercial centre and three churches. Mirepoix is a medieval town, as is Saint-Lizier situated on a hilltop with winding streets, fine views and a church with cloisters that are noteworthy. Saint-Girons is an agricultural centre with a Saturday market.
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