It is November 2019. After having spent two weeks in the appartment of our friends in L’Hospitalet de l’Infant, we now return to Switzerland. Our first overnight stop will be in Narbonne and we take the route along the river Ter to the Coll d’Ares. It is our third time here; we have crossed the Coll d’Ares in November before, in 2016 (fog on the pass) and in 2017 (Ripoll and Prats-de-Molló, view of the Pyrenees). In 2019 we see St. Joan de les Abadesses. And we know, there will be more to explore along this route.
Coll d’Ares – now our third time – we were here in the fog in 2016, in sunshine in 2017 and now, 2019, again
In November 2016 there was fog on the Coll d’Ares.
This viewpoint is recommended to photographers. In 2016, there was not much to see, let alone to take a picture of – except the sign in the fog.
End November 2017 we give the Coll d’Ares a second try. The viewpoint is no longer in the fog and we can see the pass height behind the hint to photographers.
From the hint for photographers, there is a great view of the Spanish-Catalan Pyrenees…
… with the great late autumn/early winter atmosphere.
Also on the French side, the trees shined yellow…
… and we could see THE mountain of the Catalans, the Canigou.
Now, end November 2019, on our third tour to the Coll d’Ares, we again have a good view of the Spanish Pyrenees south of us,…
… while clouds are coming in from the north, from the French-Catalan side.
Let me now tell you about Ripoll and St. Joan de les Abadesses south of the Coll d’Ares, in Spanish-Catalonia and then let us turn to the north, to the French side of Catalonia with Prats-de-Molló.
South of the Coll d’Ares: Ripoll with its gorgeous portal of the monastery church, explored in 2017
In 879 Duke William the Hairy (Guifré el Pelos) founded the Benedictine monastery Santa Maria de Ripoll, after having conquered the area from the Moors. William was then buried here. Soon a town emerged around the monastery. Around 1000 AD, it was an important intellectual centre of Catalonia, with the support of the famous abbot Oliba who took new ideas about the architecture of churches from Rome back to Catalonia. He had the church of Ripoll built by the model of early Christian Saint Peter of Rome. An earthquake in 1428 (terratrèmol de la candelera) destroyed the church and the monastery. In 1835 revolting people looted and burnt it.
Around 1895 the church was reconstructed in historicized style. I like the sober atmosphere of the Neo-romanesque nave.
Fortunately the magnificent Romanesque west portal from the 12th century has been preserved. It is now protected by a narthex. Bongässer (p.44) says that this bible in stone is unprecedented. Not only the portal, but also the flanks are covered with sculptures referring to the Old and the New Testament, with Christ as Pantokrator above the arch of the portal. As it was in the 12th century that the south of Catalonia had been reconquered, Bongösser thinks that this portal expresses the triumph of Christianity.
From the series of monthly pictures showing the cycle of the year I like the harvesting of corn…
… and from the bible scenes this striking Jonas being spat out by the whale.
In the cloister with the ground level dating from the 12th century, many of the capitals are well preserved and…
… from the animals found here, this dog is my favorite.
Also south of the Coll d’Ares: St. Joan de les Abadesses, Romanesque church and welcoming mountain village (2019)
In November 2019, we have a short break in the mountain village St. Joan de les Abadesses. We find the Romanesque church with the same name.
Some capitals around the choir are preserved. The Dumont says that they take up islamic patterns from southern Moorish Spain.
The Benedictine nun monastery Sant Joan de les Abadesses thrived from the 9th to the 11th century. Like Ripoll it was founded by William the Hairy. His daughter was the first abbot. In the 12th century the Augustins took over the monastery. With them, the monastery thrived again and the church that we see today was constructed. The earthquake of 1428 also damaged this church (like Ripoll). Around 1900, Josej Puigi Cadalfach restored the place (Cadalfach is an important Modernista architect of Catalonia; he documented and restored some of Catalonia’s cultural inheritance). Our art books praise the church because of the ambulatory around the choir, unusual for Catalonia, and because of the amazing deposition of the cross from the 12th/13th century. But everything is closed now, we will have to return to see the deposition.
We slender through the narrow streets and have a coffee.
It is about one o’clock, time to have the aperitif outside on this sunny and warm autumn Sunday.
The trees have kept some golden leaves around the old corn mill of the village.
We continue our way – Sant Joan de les Abadesses was a nice mountain village and its cultural treasures will make it worth to return.
North of the Coll d’Ares: Prats-de-Molló, pedestrian-friendly and well fortified French-Catalan town
When descending north from the Coll d’Ares to France, the Vauban fortification of Prats-de-Molló appears behind the trees.
Yes, Vauban carefully assured the frontiers here, as Louis XIV had gained the Roussillon (or French Catalonia) in the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1659.
In November 2017, we stopped at Prats-de-Molló and entered the medieval small town through the main gate. Inside the wall only pedestrians are allowed.
The church Sainte-Juste-et-Sainte-Ruffine with a Romanesque tower marks the highest point above the roofs of the small town.
The river Tech is nascent. The town has about 1200 inhabitants.
The town wall surrounds the city and the gates are well-fortified.
We stop in a bookshop that has a nice selection of books for children and about cooking. We ask the owner, whether he is Catalan or French. “French”, he says immediately, “yes, primarily French, but then in addition Catalan”. We want to know, how he pronounces “Prats-de-Molló”, the French or the Catalan way. He says, “of course I say it the French way, I say “Prats-de-Molló””… and he pronounces each letter clearly and the “ll” not like l-l (as the French would say it), but softly as “ly” (or “lj”), as the Catalans (and the Spaniards) say it. We smile, because we like his French AND Catalan, attitude.
In 2019 we continue our way along the canyons of the river Tech to the Mediterranean coast and to Narbonne which I will talk about in my next blog.
Sources: Fritz René Allemann und Xenia v. Bahder, “Katalonien und Andorra”, DuMont Kunst-Reiseführer, Köln 1980; Thomas Schröder, “Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag – individuell reisen, Erlangen 2015; Barbara Bongässer, “Katalonien, Kunst, Landschaft, Architektur”, Könemann, Köln 2000; Ralf Nestmeyer, “Südfrankreich”, Michael Müller Verlag – individuell reisen, Erlangen 2015.