Basler Fasnacht/Carnival: Impressions from the Ladärne Uustellig/Exhibition of lanterns, starting with some local topics.

Basler Fasnacht (the Basel Carnival) takes place pretty late this year (2019). It started on Monday, March 11th, at 4 am (Morgestraich). Monday and Wednesday afternoon, there was the Cortège (parade), when the Clique (carnival groups) show their Sujets (topics) and the Waggis (seem to be farmers from the Alsace) distribute gifts and Räppli (confetti). The costumes, lanterns and other requisites illustrate the topics selected by the groups.

On Tuesday the lanterns are displayed on the Münsterplatz. I love to visit the lantern exhibition early in the morning, when there are still few people. This is the the 1000 year old cathedral (reconstructed in the 14th/15th century after the earthquake) with the lantern that discusses selling weapons.

It is great to study the lanterns in detail and I am always overwhelmed by the creativity of the artists. These were some of the main Sujets (topics) in 2019: Local events (above all, the end of the trade fair Muba), censorship/shutting up/not engaging, environmental pollution, China invading economy and the world of beetles, emancipation and politics – e.g. with clowns as rulers.

Let me start with the local topics. It is fun to read the verses on the lanterns – I will select some of them and try to translate them to English, which is not always easy.

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Muba: Last spring Trade Fair show after 102 years

The Muba (Mustermesse Basel or Basel trade fair) opened their gates in spring 1917. When we needed a new refrigerator, a new piece of furniture or some wine, up to the late 80-ies we always did a research at the spring Muba fair and we benefited from the Muba discount. But since then the Muba has lost more and more visitors, perhaps also due to the internet. Now this year, in spring 2019, the last Muba took place and then closed its doors for ever. This was a major topic at this year’s carnival. The Blaggedde (carnival badge) shows the well-known clock of the Muba building alluding to the Muba closing down and the carnival lasting until closing down on Thursday at 4 am (“Ändstraich” or final stroke), when the road sweeper cleans the streets of Basel.

This is my Blaggedde – made out of silver and reflecting in the sun.

The lantern of the Breo and Glunggi, Alti Garde, shows our famous Muba clock that decorates building number 2.

The verses read: “S’isch d’Zyt abgloofe, s’ git nüt me z’hoffe” (“time has expired, there is no hope left”) and “kai Mäss me, alles blybt dehai, I by als Muba Uhr elai” (“no trade fair any more, everybody stays at home and me, the Muba clock, I stay alone”). The rat at the bottom asks: “Vo Basel lauft alles drvo. Jä, sölle mir jetzt au no goo?” (“Everybody runs away from Basel. Well, should we now also leave?”).

The Lälli Clique feels sad about the “Tempi Passati” (past times) and paint the melting Muba clock on one of the huge exhibition halls – like Dali’s soft watches. On the watch the verse says: “E grosse Bau, an dr Mäss kai Lüt – das Krüz trait au e Kirche hüt” (“A huge building, no people at the fair – this cross is also affecting the church”; “Mäss” means both trade fair and church mass and hence “Mäss” is reused for the mass in the church, where there are also less people now).

The Muggedätscher merge the words “Muba” and “bachab” (going down the river) to “mubachab”. One verse on their lantern says:”d’Muba macht dicht – e leidi Gschicht” (“the trade fair closes down – what a sad story”) and “Basel mit ihre Mässe, kasch en Globo vergässe” (“Basel with its trade fairs, you can forget that completely”) The lantern shows the federal council Doris Leuthard. She resigned this year and she shed some tears when giving her last speech in Bern.

The Ueli on the lantern of the Breo und Glunggi, alti Garde is also very sad – he is waving good-bye with his handkerchief. The Ueli symbolizes the medieval court jester and the jester is one of the traditional costumes at the Basler Fasnacht/carnival. One verse says: “Dr Ueli het Dräne uff dr Bagge…” (Ueli has got tears on his cheeks”).  The jester at the court could tell the truth to the king, and this is what the Basel carnival is about as well – show to our power holders, what the people feel and think.

The Rumpel-Clique discusses the wine fair that was also part of the Muba. I loved to compare wines from various Swiss producers and from all around the world by tasting the wine before ordering it. Well, you had to carefully select, what you wanted to taste… some people staggered through the Muba halls after their wine tastings.

Breo und Glunggi, alti Garde, sum up “Basel Mässe kasch glatt vergässe” (“Basel trade fairs – you can forget them totally”).

The signpost points to other trade fairs in Switzerland such as BEA or OLMA or to Internet trade markets such as Zalando.

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Do all citizens (Bebbi) think about leaving Basel?

This is the lantern of the Alti Garde of the AGB (Alti Glaibasler) and Spezi Clique. They think that not only the rats of the Muba, but all Bebbi (citizens of Basel) think about leaving their home town, but where to?  “Dr Bebbi dänggt, he nundefaane. Y wott jo furt vo Basel, aber wo könnt y ächt aane?” (“The citizen of Basel thinks, hm oh dear. I want to go away from Basel, but where on earth could I go to?”; Nundefaane is a softened curse imported from the Alsace. “Faane”=”banner”; “Bebbi” is a gentle name for the citizens of Basel).

A nice detail is the fountain with the Balisisk. There are about 25 of these Basilisk fountains in Basel set up in the late 19th century. They provide drinking water for men and for dogs (separate bowl at the bottom). Some time ago, I blogged about the Basilisks in Basel and their fountains.

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We want our Basilisks back at the Wettstein bridge – d’Basilisgge zrugg an d’Wettschtaibrugg!

Not everybody wants to leave Basel, the basilisks are faithful, and this is why the Höibärgler want to bring them back to the Wettstein bridge: “Mir hole d’Basilisgge zrugg and d’Wettschtaibrugg” (“We bring back the Basilisks to the Wettstein bridge”).

This is a very local topic. For the Wettsteinbrücke, an artist created four basilisks, now only one is left here, two are somewhere else in Basel and one is in Meggen near Lucerne. The Höibärgler want that the other three basilisks return to their original places at the Wettsteinbrücke. This is the one Basilisk that was allowed to stay at the entrance to the Wettsteinbrücke.

Well, I feel ashamed about the Wettstein bridge that has become an ungraceful bridge in the 1990-ies, after the city of Basel had rejected the proposal of Calatrava. Some more decoration for the bridge is not a bad idea, I believe. Yes, I agree with the Höibärgler: Bring back the Basilisks!

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Picasso in Beyeler

In 1967 Picasso’s “Harlequin” and “two Brothers” remained in Basel, though the donator who had financial problems intended to sell them. I was a teenager then and I remember the enthusiasm and the legendary decision of the inhabitants of Basel to keep those two paintings. Again this year Picasso is venerated in Basel: The Beyeler museum shows his early paintings of the blue and rose period. The Gellerettli pipers group created a lantern with the topic “himmelblau und rooseroot” (azure and pink): “Z’Basel dräumt me himmelblau und roosarot. Jetzt git’s niemets, wo an d’Muba goot” (“in Basel people are dreaming in azure and pink. Now there is no one visiting the Muba (trade fair) any more”; presumably because they all prefer to see their Picassos in the Beyeler museum).

By the way, the name “Gelleretli” comes from the French “quelle heure est-il?” which means “what time is it?”.

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TV series “Tatort” (“site of crime”) in Basel

Last summer, the TV criminal story series “Tatort” took place in Basel. The Spezi-Clique Stamm take this up with the lantern that shows the city center. In one of their verses, they play with words: In German you can understand “Tatort” as a “site of crime” or as a “site of action”: “Bim Roothuus froog ich mii, ka das iberhaupt e Tatort sy” (“about the townhall I ask myself, whether this can be a site of action at all” (translating “Tatort” primarily as “action” and not as “crime”, indicating that the town council may not be too active).

As related to the townhall: There are a lot of jokes about a baby participating in a townhall session with its mother. A baby is called a “Buschi” in Basel and the rhyme says: “The baby thinks that this is really not possible – me at the Grand Council. But it has to wait for another five years, until it can join kindergarden”.

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Goma in the Basel Zoo, called Zolli here

I remember the year 1959… I was eight years old then and Goma was the first gorilla baby born in a zoo. We were very proud of our “Zolli”. After having given birth to more gorilla babies, the old lady died last year. The Jungi Spale-Clique takes up the topic with their lantern. One side shows this photo album of Goma.

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Separate tracks and paths for bicycles.: A performance of the Alti Stainlemer

Already at the Morgestraich, after 4 am on Monday, I noticed the rolling wheel of the Alti Stainlemer moving forward in the dark. It is their “rolling stone”. This may be a punch, as the name of the Clique (carnival group) “Alti Stainlemer” contains the word “Stein” or “stone”.

In the Cortège (parade), one guy sat on top of this rolling stone and the whole group was on wheels. Some painted signs for “bicycles only” on to the pavement.

Hence, I conclude, the “rolling stone” is another bicycle, a huge bicycle. I do not know, whether I would like to stand up high on that rolling stone, as one member of the group did. In Basel there have been a series of votings about separate paths for bicycles that the Alti Stainlemer are alluding to.

The verses on the rolling stone lantern are: “Dr Baschi – sträng und ganz bestimmt: “Ass jo ekain my Tesla nimmt”  (“Baschi says severely and clearly: Nobody to steal my Tesla”; the head of the police department, called “Baschi”, acquired Tesla cars for the police of Basel). More verses: “Wär in dr Schwyz en Auti faart, ghört bald scho zuenere gschützten Art” (“those who still drive a car in Switzerland, will soon belong to a protected species”). And:

“Ein uff em Velo schreit “Du Schlampe”
und znacht faart är denn oony Lampe.
Am Schtopp halte macht er nyt.
Worschynts isch das sy letschte Ritt.”

“Someone on a bicycle shouts: “You sloven”
and at night he drives without light.
He does not stop at the stop sign.
Could well be that this is his last ride.”

Yes, macabre… But some cyclists are really brave and audacious, when moving in the city traffic.

With the rolling Alti Stainlemer I end the review of local topics at the Tuesday Ladärneuustellig or lantern exhibition on the Münsterplatz.

 

 

Again in Kraków, enjoying Polish humour and reading “the wedding”

Again, as every year, I spend a few days in Kraków in winter 2018/2019 meeting friends and sharing a Swiss cheese fondue with them. In my luggage I carry the cheese and this teddy. It is a Steiff teddy, to be more precise, and it is for the new born baby of one of my friends.

In Kraków, I enjoy some early spring days – sunny and warm. I discover some Polish humour and the Polish classic play „the wedding“ by Stanislaw Wyspiański.

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Polish humour – slippery ice rinks and remedy against both hunger and pain

Watch out – uwaga ślisko 😉 – this ice rink is slippery. The word “ślisko” already sounds “slippery”. Well, this is what is to be expected from ice rinks (smiley).

Are you hungry or do you feel pain? To the left you can eat shrimps (krewetki) and, to the right you find remedy against pain (ból), evil (zło) or any other suffering (cierpienie).

 

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Books for children with a touch of humour

I love the bookshop „De Revolutionibus“ in Bracka. It has a wonderful corner with books for children. For the children of my friends, I buy two books about Pan Brumm and his friends. One book tells about Brumm celebrating Christmas and the other about him travelling to Hawaii. My favourite picture: Brumm sits in front of a computer branded „pear“ (gruszka) that says hello to the world via a telephone modem. And look at the mouse caught in the trap…

Source: Daniel Napp: “Pan Brumm na Hula Hula”, Bona Wydawnictwo 2017, the original has been published German (Dr. Brumm).

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Reading the Polish classic play„the wedding“ in Magia

Most of the time in Kraków I spend in my favorite coffee bar, the Magia, where the black-white cat sits on ITS own sofa between the guests.

I listen to the soft and sizzling Polish language, while reading the classic play “the wedding” or “Wesele” by Stanislaw Wyspiański. He completed writing “the wedding” in 1900, when he was just 31 years old. Let me summarize the book. “The wedding” is a classic piece of literature. All my Polish friends had read it at school analyzing it in detail.

Background: In 1900 Poland was still divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. The country had disappeared from the world map in 1792, but the Polish spirit stayed alive materializing in several uprisings – unsuccessful though. Wyspianski’s „the wedding“ talks about the reconciliation of peasants and bourgeois intellectuals from town, shows the shame that the Poles felt, when being reminded of their once grand history and tells how another uprising initiated during that wedding failed. It is sad that Wyspiański died at the age of 38 and could not see Poland resurrect in 1918.

In the first act, the play starts as a „normal“ wedding. A bourgeois intellectual from Kraków, GROOM, marries a country girl, BRIDE. The ceremony and dinner have already taken place. The stage is the room with the dinner table in disorder and with some symbolic paintings on the wall. In the background the sound of musicians and the steps of dancers can be heard. Wedding guests meet in the dinner room. They talk about the wedding, about life in Poland and about politics. One well-known phrase is: “So – what’s new in politics, sir? Haven’t the Chinese answered yet?” GROOM  and BRIDE are in love and happy to have found one another.

A rose bush stands in the garden, wrapped up in straw to be protected against frost and winter – perhaps like these bushes on the Wawel castle hill.

At the end of the first act, GROOM and BRIDE invite the rose bush to come in and join the celebration.

At midnight, the second act starts. The rose bush, now called STRAWMAN, joins the ball, and so do various ghosts from the past. I understand their roles like this:

  • Some ghosts represent the former grandeur of Poland: STANCZYK, the jester, stands for the wise king Zygmunt (1506-1548) and the hero BLACK NIGHT stands for the brave Polish army of the past vanquishing the Teutonic Knights of the Cross in the Battle of Grunwald (1410).
  • Other ghosts represent the will to fight for Poland: JAKUB SZELA was the leader of the brave farmers that fought against manorial property in 1846. VERNYHORA is the legendary 18th century Galician bard that foresaw the destruction AND resurrection of Poland.
  • One ghost is a traitor: The nobleman KSAVERY BRANICKI led a conspiracy of nobles that cooperated with the Russian Zar. This was one of the factors that led to the destruction of Poland in 1792.
  • One ghost, just called GHOST, is the dead fiancé of one of the wedding guests.

The ghosts talk to the wedding guests, one after the other. The situation escalates at the time, when VERNYHORA issues the order to the father of BRIDE, called HOST, to launch another uprising to free Poland. The uprising is to start, when the cock crows in the morning. VERNYHORA gives a golden horn to HOST. HOST hands the golden horn over to JASIEK, the best man (he is a young farmer), and asks him to convoke the army. JASIEK obeys and rides off on horseback, with the golden horn.

In the third act, morning dawns. HOST sleeps. He wakes up slowly and at last remembers the order that VERNYHORA has given to him. Farmers have come with scythes and weapons – they had been convoked by JASIEK. They fall asleep. JASIEK returns. He has lost the golden horn. He is in despair. STRAWMAN (the rose bush) enters following JASIEK and scolds him for having lost the golden horn. STRAWMAN tells JASIEK to take the arms away from the people. Then STRAWMAN starts to play soft, melodious wedding music, and the farmers dance in pairs around JASIEK that has sunk to the ground. The cock crows and the dancers continue to dance. STRAWMAN says the last sentence of the drama to JASIEK: “You oaf! You had the golden horn….” Obviously, at this “wedding”, the Polish people missed another opportunity to make their country resurrect.

I am impressed. Wyspiański wrote all this at the age of 31 years! And he was not only a poet, but an all-round Art Nouveau artist. Always when in Kraków I have to see his window showing the Creation of the World in the Franciscan church.

VERNYHORA was right about the fact that Poland was to resurrect, though he did not foresee the time. It was in 1918 that Poland reappeared on the world map. It was wiped out once more during the Second World War, resurged again after the War and even more so in 1989, when it became the fastest growing country of Eastern Europe. Will Poland continue to move forward in that spirit? Will Poland be able to “marry” the people from the country with those from the towns once more? Will Poland keep the ease of their humour?

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Saying good-bye to Kraków

Perhaps the Krakówian dragons symbolize the Polish fighting spirit? The city is full of them, particularly massing up near Bronislaw Chromy’s fire-spitting dragon in front of “its” Wawel cave.

I return to the Rynek with the cloth hall (Sukiennice) and listen to the brave trumpeter that warns the citizens of the attack from the Mongolians, exactly as he has done in the 13th century. Another example of the fighting spirit: The fierce Cracowians vanquished the Mongolians, warned by their trumpeter who was killed by a Mongolian arrow (this is the legend).

Good-bye Kraków, farewell!

 

 

Via Portbou in Catalonia to Valence, another ancient Roman city in France

In November 2018 we spent three weeks near Tarragona. Now I tell you about the last stage on our way north and home, starting from Cadaqués to Valence in France, with a commemoration stop in Portbou (Catalonia).

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Portbo, the small city next to the border with France, reminds of the drama of Walter Benjamin

Portbou was the scene of the dramatic death of the German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin in autumn 1940. We stopped in Portbou to commerate him. Walter Benjamin succeeded in crossing the border from France to Franconian Spain. He and a group of Jews intended to travel on to Lissabon and then to the US. But Franconian Spain had just changed the law and would not let the group continue to Lissabon without a valid confirmation that they were allowed to leave France. Which, of course, they did not have. Benjamin committed suicide, and the rest of the group could then travel on to Lissabon. This monument called Passatges reminds us of that drama: Stairs lead into the sea.

At the bottom there is this thought of Benjamin: “Schwerer ist es, das Gedächtnis des Namenlosen zu ehren als das der Berühmten. Dem Gedächtnis der Namenlosen ist die historische Konstruktion geweiht.”  This has been taken from Benjamin’s thoughts about the term “history”. This is the translation: “It is more difficult to honor the memory of the anonymous persons than that of the famous. To the memory of the anonymous the historical construction has been dedicated.” For me, these thoughts are difficult to understand. Yes, the flow of history is told to us as the series of deeds by famous actors, but in addition it is the result of many more actors that remained anonymous. Is it that, what Benjamin had in mind?

What touched me was to be again confronted with the sadest part of German history. I hope that nothing like that will happen again. The monument was erected with support of Germany in 1994.

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Growing wine on steep slopes above the Mediterranean Sea

We cross the border to France and drive through the steep vineyards of Banyuls. It must be tough to grow wine here. Along the road, we come across a small wine shop, where I buy a bottle of Mourvèdre from Collioure.

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Valence – an ancient city with some charming corners

After a quiet night in the sober, but practical IBIS hotel of Valencia, we park our car under the Champs de Mars or Mars Field.

Emerging from under the ground we find this heart of Valence.

It carries the hashtag #moncoeurvalence. Sorry, we are not selfie addicts (the hashtag suggests to make selfies here). We enter the old city center, as seen through the heart.

We slender through streets and enjoy the busy market – everything looks tempting here. Then we walk over to the cathedral behind the market.

The Romansque cathedral St. Apollinaire collapsed in the 17th century, but has been reconstructed true to the original. Inside are three naves of almost the same height…

… and the colours of the windows are reflecting mysteriously on the wall.

It was here that in the 12th century, Barbarossa married Beatrix, the heir of Burgundy.

The only construction left from the cloister behind the cathedral is the so-called “Le Pendentif”, erected in renaissance style in 1548. It is the tomb of a capitular.

We stroll through the narrow streets.

The House of Heads or La Maison de Têtes has been built by a university professor in 1530, as a plate explains. Its style is characteristic for the transition from late gotic to renaissance.

French style squares or plazas are always inviting with their trees and restaurants. It is just a bit cold now.

Valence strives to be clean, but how did we say forty years ago at university: “French planning is more French than planning”. I really could not find, where I could take the sack, in case I had  a dog, be it small or tall… but I love the humor that guided the author of this plate.

Never have I seen this street sign before – surfboards are forbidden here, only that! Bicycles, rollerblades, everything else is allowed – or am I mistaken?

We leave Valence and head north following the vineyards of the Côte du Rhone. In the Saint Joseph area, I take a foto of the vineyard of one of my favourite wine growers, Chapoutier.

In Serrières, we park our car to eat a a sandwich. When we come back, some Gilets Jaunes with their motor cycles have filled up the parking. They tell us that they like the Swiss and show to me, how to get out of my parking lot amidst their motor cycles without damaging one of them. Some four hours later we are back in Monthey in Switzerland to share a night with our friends that allowed us once more to stay in their apartment in Catalonia. We look back at another wonderful trip.

 

Sources:

  • Thomas Schröder: “Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag, Erlangen 2015
  • Thorsten Droste: “Romanische Kunst in Frankreich”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer, Köln 1992
  • Thorsten Droste: “Provence”, Dumont Kunst-Reiseführer, Köln 2011

Catalonia: White Cadaques and Sant Pere de Rodes on the rocks

In November 2018 we spent three weeks near Tarragona. Now I tell you about our way north, where we stop in Cadaqués and go for an excursion to the monastery Sant Pere de Rodes and to the nature reserve Cap de Creus. For a map see my former blog Catalonia: Besalú and Peralada.

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Cadaques – the white resort in a secluded bay of the Costa Brava

Cadaqués is a small resort that shares one bay on the Mediterranean with Port Lligat. Only one curvy road crosses the mountains that separate this bay from the rest of Catalonia. The father of Salvador Dalí originated from Cadaqués and Salvador Dalí lived in Port Lligat. We stayed in the centrally located hotel La Residencia that is decorated with Dalí items – the owner suffers from horror vacui – hilarious. In summer the Plaça Frederic Rahola below the hotel may be busy, but in November everything is quiet. From our room, we enjoy the view of the bay and the sea in the morning.

In Port Lligat we eat at the restaurant Nord-Est. It serves Paella for one person – usually the minimum for paella is two persons. We have dinner with the view of the bay and Cadaqués at night.

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The Benedectine monastery Sant Pere de Rodes located high above the bay amidst rocks

Crossing the mountains from Cadaqués to the north, we reach El Port de Selva. From here our car climbs uphill on a narrow road. At about 500m above sea level, the Benedictine monastery Sant Pere de Rodes appears behind one of the turns in front of the rocks.

The belfry has been built in the 12th century. It is shaped in Lombardian style, though that was no longer fashionable then. The second tower has been erected to defend the monastery.

The church has been inaugurated in 1022. The nave is covered with a barrel vault. This was unique – at that time, the churches had naves with wooden ceilings. Never before have I seen such solid pedestals as a base for the columns.  The nave is large, 37m long and 15m high. Incredible that they built this huge church high in the mountains a 1000 years ago.

There are two Romanesque cloisters, the newer from the 13th century is on top of the older from the 11th century. This is the more recent cloister.

It has been reconstructed to give an impression of what it might have looked like.

The remains of the monastery reflect in the window above the entrance hall.

The monastery flourished until the 14th century. It was left around 1800 and decayed after that. Restoration started in 1935.

Above the monastery, there is a fortification, the Castell de Verdera.

A small zigzagging footpath takes me about 300 meters up to the fortification. The view of the bay El Port de la Selva is getting more and more extensive…

… and the monastery below me is shining in the sun…

Now I am at the very top. To me this fortification seems to be unconquerable.

Walking back to the car we come by the small hermitage Ermitá de Santa Creu de Rodes.

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The Cap de Creus – a windy nature reserve

We round up our tour today with a visit to the Cap de Creus.

It is a nature reserve with a barren landscape.

The sea gloes in the sun. A narrow hiking path winds along the coast line. It is very windy and chilly.

In the bar behind this terrace, we take a hot drink to warm up…

… and the return to our fancy hotel Residencia with its Dalí decoration in Cadaqués. Tomorrow we plan to continue our way along the coast to France.

 

Sources:

  • Thomas Schneider: Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag 2015.
  • Fritz René Allemann and Xenia v. Bahder: “Katalonien und Andorra”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer Köln 1980.

 

 

Catalonia: Besalú and Peralada – treasures at the foot of the Pyrenees

After having spent three weeks near Tarragona, we slowly drive back home. Now I will tell you about our visit to Besalú, to the Dolmen de Cabana and to Peralada on the way to Cadaqués.

Source: España Noreste, Michelin Cartes et Plans 1:400’000

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Besalú – an old earl city with an old bridge

Besalú was an early reconquest of the Christians from the Moors. In 812, it was named the capital of a Franconian county in the Spanish March. It was independent until the 12th century, when it became part of the county of Barcelona. Besalú has been classified as a historic national property of Spain, as it has kept its medieval appearance due to having lost importance in the 14th/15th century. Though counting only 2500 inhabitants now, Besalú has clearly the appearance of a city, preserved from medieval times.

The old bridge (Pont Vell)  crosses the Fluvià river. It uses rocks as the natural basis for the arches which is the reason for it bending across the river.

The small city crouches on a hill. To the left of the bridge, the remains of a Jewish site for ritual washing (Mikwah) have been found.

The medieval streets inside the city walls are narrow.

The Plaça Llibertat is bordered by arches.

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Besalú: The church San Vicenç with its remarkable western side port

According to our “Dumont”, the style of the church San Vicenç is late Romanesque – beginning Gothic. The choir seems Lombardian to me.

The western side port is beautifully decorated.

Fierce animals and a spiraled arch as well as plants are the elements of the decoration.

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Hospital de Sant Julià built to receive pilgrims

Besalú is a center on the pilgrimage route of Sant James and has therefore built the Hospital de Sant Julià. Constructed in the 12th century, it is now a museum. This gate is finely adorned.

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Sant Pere de Besalú

The Plaça de Sant Pere was once the Benedictine Sant Pere Monastery that has been destroyed around 1800 in the French Wars. Only the church from the 12th century is left.

Below the gable on the western façade is this beautiful window with the two furious lions.

The vaulted nave is sparsely illuminated by small windows. I took this foto from the ambulatory with its decorated columns.

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Refreshing ourselves  in the friendly Xocolateria

Before continuing our way, we have coffee in the friendly Xocolateria.

The kids corner has been installed with much care in this welcoming place – there is even rubber ice cream in the small kitchen.

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The Dolmen amidst the vineyards of the Empordà

Our Müller guidebook talks about the Dolmen of Cabana. I love dolmens as a relict from prehistoric times, about 4000 years ago. I saw some dolmens in Bretagne (France), in Ireland (Newgrange) and there is even one near my home in Basel (Aesch). Ursula agrees to visit the Dolmen of Cabana in the Empordà at the foot of the Pyrenees. We follow the bumpy small road to the very end and we find the remains of the covered tomb…

… with a gorgeous view of the Canigou…

… and amidst the DOC wine region of Empordà. I acquired a bottle of cava “méthode champenoise” from here (more famous in Catalonia for the Penedès, but also elaborated here).

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Peralada – another Romanesque gem – the cloister of the former monastery Sant Domènec

Peralada is a pretty small fortified town with narrow streets, located on a hill.

We visit the cloister of the ancient Augustinian monastery Sant Domènec from the 11th century. Only the cloister remains from the former monastery.

The capitals are decorated with wild animals…

… and with scenes from the bible such as Eva being born from the ribs of Adam…

…  and Adam and Eva in the paradise – well, they seem to have eaten the apple already.

We say good-bye to the small teckle barking at us from the balcony and we say good-bye to Peralada…

Now we continue our way through the hills to Cadaqués on the Mediterrenean Sea where we have booked two nights.

Sources:

  • Fritz Allemann and Xeniua v. Bahder: “Katalonien und Andorra”, DuMont Kunstreiseführer, Köln 1980
  • Thomas Schröder: “Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag, Ebermannstadt 2015

Girona with its charming old city centre

In November 2018 we spent three weeks near Tarragona. Now we head north again, to the Costa Brava, Girona and Cadaqués.

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The Costa Brava – wild rocks above the blue sea

From Torres del Mar we follow the coast line of the Costa Brava. On the map, the road looks very curvy… and yes, they ARE curvy. One bay after the next. Wild rocks. Some houses along the steep rocky slopes. And at the foot of the rocks, in the bay, a small sand beach with amenities for bathing in the Mediterranean Sea.

We enjoy the romantic views, as the sun plays with the clouds.

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Sant Feliu de Guíxols – large holiday resort with a 10th century monastery

After having curved along the scarcely populated rocky bays, we reach the resort Sant Feliu de Guíxols with ist Benedictine monastery from the 10th century.

All Museums, everything is closed now, end of November. We walk through the narrow streets of the old town, find a nice restaurant open in the otherwise quiet Rambla and yes, there is even a shop for pets. I am sure, this place will be very busy in summer.

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Welcoming Girona at night

A fast national road takes us to Girona (pronounced Jirona). We stay in the hotel Carlemany, and I learn, “Carlemany” is Catalan for “Charles the Great”, “Karl der Grosse” or “Charlemagne”. The people of Girona remember him. He conquered Girona from the muslims already at the end of the 8th century. It was then pingponged between Christians and Muslims until the 11th century. Then it remained with the Christians as part of Catalonia.

In the evening, we stroll through the narrow streets along the river Onyar with the view of the Cathedral Santa Maria…

… and we discover some Art Modern that is present all over in Catalonia.

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A full day in Girona – we start with the river and the medieval bath 

The next morning we return  back to the river Onyar and the medieval city…

… and visit the “Els Banys Arabs”. They have been built around 1200, after the Arabs had left, perhaps by mudejar masters (Dumont, p. 123). This is the tower above the entrance hall. It gives access to the remains of the cold, the warm and the hot room.

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Sant Pere de Calligants: The Romanesque Benedictine monastery is now a museum

Sant Pere de Calligants is the former monastery of the Benedictines from the 12th century. This is the entrance…

… an this is the charming belfry in Lombardian style reflecting in the pond of the garden.

Inside we find the harmonic barrel vault…

… with some treasures such as the Roman tomb that shows the elaboration of wine: The grapes are picked in the vineyard and then tramped in the trough.

I also like the baptismal font.

The Romanesque cloister has some nice capitals…

… such as this one where two fish seem to swallow a women.

In the museum we find a wonderful exihibition of Roman toys, amongst them bones. Interesting, in Mongolia we have played with such bones as well .

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Sant Nicolau: Modern art in the 12th century chapel

Next to Sant Pere de Calligans, we enter the 12th century chapel of Sant Nicolau with its Romanesque vaults. It is now an art gallery. We find a transparent plastic plane with a brush (I believe) and white spots as well as a long chipboard with some bales of straw.

Interesting pieces of art and for me somewhat difficult to understand.

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The Cathedral of Santa Maria with the old carpet of world creation 

It took a thousand years to complete the Cathedral of Santa Maria – the styles of several periods are mixed. Imposing reverence, the cathedral welcomes the visitors with the 18th century baroque facade above the long stariway completed in the 17th century – 3 times 30 steps.

The huge gothic nave covered with the ONE sequence of ribbed vaults is impressive. The nave is 34m high and 22.6m wide. This is the largest of all gothic vault constructions. The choir built in the 14th century has still been conceived with three naves. Later the idea came up to build the longhouse as one single nave. The risk was high. In 1417 the architect Guillem Bofill accepted the task and completed it (Dumont, p. 118).

Treasures inside include this tomb – the bishop lies on his comfortable cushion made out of stone and his feet are resting on his faithful dog.

The beautiful cloister from the 12th century covers primarily themes from the Old Testament. Below Noah’s ark is being loaded with his family and the animals in pairs.

In the marvellous museum attached to the Cathedral we find the carpet of world creation from around 1100. It is silk embroidery. The Pantocrator is surrounded by several episodes of the world creation such as Adam giving names to the animals and Eva being born from his ribs. The pictures are perhaps based on an early Christian mosaic from Roman times (Dumont, p. 122).

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Wrap up: Walk on the wall, with a view of the city and the Pyrenees

To wrap up our day, we climb the city walls near the Cathedral and walk on them up to Plaça Catalunya.  The views of the old town with the Cathedral and the Pyrenees are gorgeous.

To the right is the Cathedral and to the left San Feliu church – they are dominating the landscape of roofs.

In the backogrund, THE mountain of the Catalans, the Canigou, has already been covered with snow.

The sun is setting and we return to our hotel Carlemany to enjoy dinner.

Good-bye Girona, it was a wonderful visit.

Source: Fritz René Allemann und Xenia v. Bahder: “Katalonien und Andorra”, Dumont Kunst-Reiseführer, Köln 1980.

Escornalbou – the monastery and the castle on top of the “ox horn”

In November 2018, we are spending three weeks in Catalonia, near Tarragona and in-between we explore the surroundings.  

Today our target is Escornalbou. We have visited it a few years ago, and now we return.

Escornalbou is a rocky peak at about 650m above sea level located in the first line of the mountain ranges and above the plane of Tarragona (Camp de Tarragona). This rocky peak is the spectacular stage for a castle, a monastery and, on the very top, a small hermit.

This is the Castell Monastir with its small Hermit Santa Barbara above, taken from the viewpoint across.

From the small hermit Santa Bàrbara, we can see the unique location of the Castle Monastir overlooking the mountains of Prades, the Camp de Tarragona and the Mediterranean Sea.

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The exposed rock of Escornalbou has always been a fortification

Due to its strategic location, Escornalbou has been fortified since ancient times: The Romans had a castle here (3rd century), the Saracens (8th century) and the muslims until the middle of the 12th century. After the expulsion of the muslims, the rock continued to be a fortification. The monastery was added then to mark presence of Christianity. The complex suffered in the Carlist wars of the 19th century. Only ruins were left.

In 1910 Eduard Toda (1852-1941) bought the hill with the ruins. Toda had worked as a diplomat in China, Cairo, Helsinki, then as a merchant he made a fortune. In 1918 he returned to Spain, became professor in Barcelona and published various books about Egypt and his travelling.

Puig i Cadafalch advised him to rebuild the Escornalbou site based on all that was known about its history. But Toda built a comfortable mansion, based on romantic historism modern at that time. He even had a “medieval” tower added to the former cloister that he remodeled to become his garden with a marvellous view. I took this photo from one of the palace windows.

The mother of Toda managed much of the reconstruction. In 1924 the mansion-castle was completed.

This is one of the cosy rooms that you can heat with coal in the middle.

Toda loved to invite guests, mostly men, once even the Spanish king. The second floor of his palace had bedrooms for men and the third floor was reserved for ladies. In the dining hall, they would celebrate and eat. Ursula murmurs something about “Völlerei” or gluttony.

As a diplomat and merchant, he has seen much of the world. He collected books, and built up a huge library. 

He also acquired souvenirs such as the tiles that are decorating all walls of a small room. We would love to have these pretty tiles in our kitchens.

Escornalbou changed hands later. In 1979, the Bank Urquijo and the government bought the complex and renovated the palace to illustrate the life of notables in the early 20th century.

The palace can only be visited with a guide. We were the first group of the day, a German with his Spanish wife and the two of us. The guide must have been from Castile, because he spoke like a machine gun and he did not slow down, when being asked to do so. I needed some time to get used to him.

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The monastery Sant Miguel with the church – today the stage for a wedding

When the muslims had been exiled from the area, Alphonse I founded the monastery San Miguel. First the Augustinian Order lived here, then, in 1574, the Franciscans took over. They left the place in 1835, when the properties of the church in Spain were sold.

Today’s oldest parts of the monastery are from the 12th century: The Romanesque church and the chapter house. Toda had the belfry removed and the cloister remodeled to become his garden.

The Romanesque church has dressed up. A wedding is being prepared, as white flowers at the entry portal indicate.

Inside we find more flowers, white chairs and a blue carpet. Under the ribbed vault in front, the choir is practicing. The setting is very romantic for a wedding, but it is chilly here. 

The ribbed vaults – typical for gothic churches – are unique in a Romanesque church – it seems that the architect has been trained in France.

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Castle and monastery on the exposed ox horn give rise to legends: El jorobado (the forger)

The museum of Pratdip, attached to their Oficina de Turismo, tells the following charming legend on a panel: “Once upon a time the nights in the castle of Escornalbou were odd. Few people approached the castle, and those that did, heard a terrible noise and voices coming from underneath the earth. Worse even, they heard a metallic sound – alarming and frightening. Perhaps chains from the afterworld? “Are there ghosts in desolation?” the people asked, ”tormented souls roving around in the crypts of the monastery?” Those who could not sleep would pray the rosary. At night they often watched a crooked man descend the hill walking with difficulties. It always seemed to be the same man, tall and corpulent, and miraculously his hump was sometimes to the right, and sometimes to the left.

One day, the people from the village of Colldejou assembled and decided to send a delegation of courageous young men to the castle. The young men did, as they were told, and what a surprise… they discovered a counterfeit production. The forgers and their machines were the reason for the infernal noise and the crooked man was the one mandated to carry the counterfeit money down in a huge sack, and in one night he carried the sack to the right, and in the other night to the left.”

Today I learn from the guide that the legend remembered by the people living in Colldejou near Escornalbou is based on real facts: At the end of the 19th century, when the castle and the monastery were in ruins, a man called Macià Vila installed the counterfeit production here. He was a friend of General Prim who is much venerated in Reus.

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Wrapping up the visit by climbing to the Ermita Santa Bàrbara at the very top of the ox horn

At the end of the 19th century, the chapel Santa Bàrbara was added on top of the “ox horn”, made out of stones from the Romanesque tower.

I went up to wrap up my visit. From here the view is just marvellous, of the mountains in the west (with wind mills)…

… and of the Castell Monastir below, with the church to the left and the palace to the right.

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Good-bye Escornalabou

The parking is now brimful of Saturday tourists and wedding guests. The location for the marriage is extremely romantic.  But, a cold wind blows and I feel sorry for the wedding guests that come festively dressed, some ladies just with a light jacket and transparent (or even no) stockings. They must be shivering soon in the church. I wish that the sun having come out today, after a few rainy days, may be a good omen for the bridal couple.

We return to our cosy apartment to warm up.

Source: Website Castell d’Escornabou