Surviving the Apocalypse

We all know that the world will end in a few weeks, once the Mayan calendar winds down. However, there is one place in the world where you can be safe from impending doom—Bugarach, France.

Unfortunately, I have only heard about the security of Bugarach now, and I cannot afford the $1,600 a day required to rent a house in the village. Even knowing that cash will be useless on the 22nd doesn’t expand my bank account enough. I can’t even afford the $650 to sleep in a field. Why Bugarach? No one seems to really know the answer to that.

So why would the inhabitants of this tiny French village be spared? Nicolas D’Estienne d’Orves, who recently released a book on Bugarach titled The Village of the End of the World, explained in a documentary on the life of the villagers that it has been “impossible” to get to the bottom of the Mayan Bugarach rumor. Why this town? Why in Europe? “It was grabbed on to because this is a place where there’s nothing, so you can easily project your fantasies on to it. It’s like filling a balloon with air,” says the French novelist.

Pic de Bugarach

Bugarach is located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. This sleepy hamlet of 176 residents has always attracted people with more “esoteric beliefs,” Delord recently told the Guardian. For years this area of southern France has been known for folklore and magic as well as plenty of conspiracy theories. “It’s all about the mountain,” says Delord.

Bugarach has a history of attracting believers in esoteric theories.

Further, rumours persist that the country’s late president François Mitterrand was transported by helicopter on to the peak, while the Nazis, and, later, Israel’s Mossad, performed mysterious digs there. Now the nearby village is awash with New Agers, who have boosted the local economy, though their naked group climbs up to the peak have raised concerns as well as eyebrows. Among other oddities, some hikers have been spotted scaling the mountain carrying a ball with a golden ring, strung together by a single thread.

Strange sounds from underground and odd light effects at the top have for decades seen the mountain likened not only to a UFO landing pad, but a “UFO underground car park”, with regular spaceship vrooming and revving allegedly heard from within. UFO believers often travel here, looking for bits of spaceship amid the mountain rock.

If you climb up the mountain after sunset, you will hear strange noises and see strange lights (some brave souls have done it) and the legends of strange lights and flying saucers are tumbling over each other for recognition. Your ears start buzzing – well, so would mine after that climb! Then you’ve got to get back down in the dark. Most of the reports of UFOs are sightings of clouds, and it is rare day when no cloud hovers over Bugarach and its crater. Underneath the mountain, legend says, is a huge lake, on which space-ships can sail, until such time as they need to return to their native planets.

Apparently, one of the reasons the area is special is its location on the route followed by Mary Magdalene and Jesus when they crossed these Corbières mountains from the French Mediterranean coast in 33AD.

The region has a long history in traditional fiction as well, referenced in the work of Jules Verne, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and others. One of the strangest, and apparently true, tales is that of Daniel Bettex, who died in 1988 while attempting to uncover the secrets of the mountain.

Bettex, was a Swiss security officer at Geneva airport during his professional life. In his free time he researched the Medieval Cathar tragedy. Bettex was in close contact with the Societé du Souvenir et des Etudes Cathares, the French Society of Cathar Research. His correspondence with Déodat Roché, the founder of the society, in whose former house in Arques it now has a museum, led him to a number of locations in and near mount Bugarach. Roché (who was related to the Dr. Roché that supplied Saunière with fake medical statements so he wouldn’t have to show up in court), stated that few had yet researched the mountain and felt it was time someone took up the glove. Bettex started his research aided by Lucienne Julien secretary of the society.

Starting point was the document mémoire sur la mythologie appliquée au Pech de Thauze (memory of the mythology of the Pech the Thauze, the old name for Bugarach). This document, beheld an overview of the legends and mythical writings about Bugarach from original 15th century sources. Many of the legends, like the story of , dealt with an underground entrance or cave system of some sort. Bettex decided to start looking for an entrance to the underground mythical world. In his notes he speaks of the tradition of a hidden opening, leading to a waterway with a quay. From this quay you would be able to travel deeper into the mountain.

Bettex never disclosed where exactly he did his research. Allegedly as a pretense to gather the necessary equipment he excavated the old castle of Bugarach. After his death, the floors of the castle in Bugarach were filled with rumble and sealed with concrete. He appears to have found cavities in the mountain in which he found graffiti of what he claimed was the Ark of the Covenant on a sled. Bettex made lifesize reproductions of these. The photographs and notes he made have survived. It was actually whispered that Bettex had located he Ark and had been called by the Israelian general Moshe Dayan who warned him for its powers. In his correspondence with Julien he claimed he would soon make a fabulous discovery. The only thing we know for fact is that he indicated to Julien that he thought that there was a connection between the inexplicable graffiti, the remains of a hearth and the beginning of a mining installation whose collapse had appeared to be done intentionally.

In 1988 Bettex, who was normally a calm and composed man, was all excited and told Lucienne he was almost at the end of his search. At most, four or five days separated him from the final goal. He told he’d be back within a week, carrying part of a treasure. He told her “You will be immensely rich!”.

Three days later he was found dead inside or close to the mountain. It is unknow where exactly he was found or what the cause was. Some say he died in a collapsed gallery in the mountain, others say he managed to crawl back to the village where he died of a heart attack. There is one story that says someone found his dehydrated body near the mountain. Another one claims he returned to Switzerland where he died peacefully a few years later.

One of the more bizarre claims about the mountain is that during a volcanic eruption, the mountain exploded and landed upside down. This is the mythical explanation for the situation where the rocks on the bottom of the mountain are younger than those above. In contrast, geologists recognize the phenomenon as a classic indicator of a thrust fault – a place where horizontal compression of the crust, during mountain building, thrust a sheet of rock up and over younger strata.

Bugarach is an interesting place both geologically and historically, and  a place to escape from the modern world. Just don’t expect to find peace and quiet there over the next few months.

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