Discovering the Romanesque and early Gothic churches in the Val d’Aran

Discovering the Romanesque and early Gothic churches in the Val d’Aran

For end October/beginning November 2018 we had booked four nights in the Parador of Arties in the Val d’Aran. We found much to discover. Each mountain village has its own church and most of them are of Romanesque or early Gothic style.

Source: El valle de Aran

Besides Santa Maria in Arties, we have visited the churches of Vielha, Bossòst, Les, Escunhau, Salardú, Tredòs and Unha (main source: “Los caminos Pirenaicos del Arte Romanico”).

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Vielha – Iglesia de Sant Miquèu

Vielha is the main town of the Aran valley. The octagonal tower of the church Sant Miquèu can be seen from far (early Gothic).

The portal is decorated with the Saint of the church, Michael who defeats the dragon-devil (early Gothic, 14th century). The five arcs of the portal contain sculptures to discover.  

Inside the church we find the most precious treasure, the Christ of Mijaran. It is the only remaining part of a larger sculpture showing the deposition from the cross (12th century). It was crafted by master Erill from the Val de Boí. The Val de Boí is not far from here and last year we have visited their impressive Romanesque churches as well.

The Romanesque baptismal font is carefully decorated.

Inside the church are furthermore a gothic altar and gothic frescos.

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Bossòst – Iglesia de la Mair de Diu dera Purificacion

Bossòst is another village with narrow streets, neat houses with shingled roofs and a Romanesque church, the Iglesia de la Mair de Diu dera Puricifacion (12th century). The bell tower with its twin windows and the threefold apsis are typical of the Lombardian stlye.

I particularly like the northern portal with Christ surrounded by the sun, the moon and the symbols of the evangelists.

The weather is about to change – the clouds shaped by the south wind are hanging above the belfry.

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Les – Capilla de Sant Blas

In the next village, Les, we find the small Romanesque chapel called after Saint Blasius. It could well be that once upon a time this chapel was part of a larger church.

Strolling along the cobbled streets of Les, I find this shop that sells cider.

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Escunhau – Iglesia de Sant Pèir

Just neighbouring Vielha, Escunhau is another one of those pretty villages. The Iglesia de Sant Pèir is above it.

The main portal is decorated with this plain and elegant sculpture showing Christ crucified. Can it be that some architects of 20th century churches came here for inspiration? 

The cemetery has been decorated for 1st of November (All Saints).

 

Salardú: Iglesia de Sant Andrèu

The church of Salardú is named after Saint Andrew (13th century).

From the outside decoration, I above all like the “twinkling” face – it looks a bit like our “twinkle” emoticon.

Inside the church we find early gothic vaults.

The highlight is the wooden cross with Christ of Salardú. It is attributed to the same master Erill from the Val de Boí as the Christ in Vielha. Under the feet of Christ, Adam is about to revive from his grave.

On the back of the cross this beautiful angel looks at us.

I was so fascinated by the wooden cross that I did not notice, what Ursula noticed… this shrine…

… and the sculpture of Maria with her child.

The presbyterium is decorated with frescos showing biblical scenes; they are from the 17th century – Renaissance.

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Tredòs – Santa Maria de Cap d’Aran

Tredòs is located in the upper part of the Val d’Aran. Their Romanesque church Santa Maria de Cap d’Aran from the 11th century is closed.  The inhabitants are busy decorating the tombs in the cemetery.

The paintings that once were inside this church are now in the Cloisters Museum of New York (this may sound unbelievable, but it is true).

The small window fortunately has remained here.

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Unha – Iglesia de Santa Eulària

Our last church visited is Santa Eulària in Unha. The mountains make a wonderful background for the Lombardian apsis.

Under the roof, there are various small faces and figures. This figure seems to have a pain in his back.

We stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Unha and admire the shingled roofs.

Like all villages also Unha is still asleep waiting for the winter season to start and for the tourists to come. We find a bar open and we have an espresso on the balcony.

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What a rich and well-kept culture in the rough mountains!

The Romanesque and early gothic churches are a rich and well-kept culture. The Val d’Aran is not the only valley with such a rich heritage at the border between Spain and France. To me the churches look like solid fortifications in the rough mountain valleys. The few ornaments are solemn and precious. They make the churches a wonderful place for worship.

It fascinates me to find the same style elements from Lombardy in the Pyrenées, in the Alps and even in Germany.  In the 11th century, the masters from Lombardy had exported their way of building churches throughout central Europe. Networking was successful, though the infrastructure for travelling was very, very basic.

I could imagine going back to the Val d’Aran and neighbouring Valleys and combine hiking with visiting more Romanesque and early Gothic churches.

 

 

Sources:

Conselh Generau d’Aran (Elisa Ros Barbosa): Er Art Romanic dera Val d’Aran, 2007

Pauline Chaboussou et alii: « Los caminos Pirenaicos del Arte Romanico”, Synidcat mixed du Pays Couserans, Anfigraf 2008

 

Discovering the charming Val d’Aran: Arties and its nobleman Portola

For end October/beginning November 2018 we had booked four nights at the Parador of Arties in the Val d’Aran.

The Val d’Aran belongs to Catalonia. It is located south of Toulouse in the Pyrenees. While most Spanish valleys in the Pyrenees are oriented towards Spain, the Val d’Aran faces north. In 1659, France under Louis XIV and Spain under Philip IV agreed that the Val d’Aran is to remain with Spain. However, in winter, the snow prohibited to access the Val d’Aran from the south. For being somewhat isolated, the valley has kept its own character which is different from Catalonia. There is much to discover such as Romanesque churches, the Aranese language, hiking paths in a rough landscape, the favourite ski resort of the king of Spain and the source(s) of the Garonne.

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The former castle of the family Portolá – now the Parador – in snow and ice

The Parador of Arties is a former castle of the noble family Portolà. From our room we can see the Montardo -THE mountain of the area (2883m). It is cold. All is covered with snow and the roof is icicled.

The tower reminds us of the fact that the parador once was a castle. In the background we can see the skiing area of Baquiera and Beret where the king of Spain practices skiing.

The tower reflects in the swimming pool that now does not seem to be inviting me for a swim.

Arties is proud of their noble family Portolà with Gaspar de Portolà being their most famous representative (1723-1786). Starting from what is Baja California today, he discovered California, first San Francisco and then the Monterey Bay. An area in San Francisco, a valley and a city are called “Portola” in California.

Near the Tower of the Parador, there is a statue of Gaspar de Portola…

… and in the saloon of the Parador near the fireplace we found his portrait as well.

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Arties on the Garonne, first covered by snow, then green again

Walking through the village we discover neat stone houses covered with shingles, most of them with closed shutters. Many restaurants, now also closed, make us assume that this village will be busy, when the skiing season starts. The yellow autumn leaves reflect in the sun and contrast with the snow and the Montardo mountain.

The village Arties stretches along the Garonne that originates in the Val d’Aran to continue its way to France and to the Atlantic Ocean.

Every village in the Val d’Aran has its own small Romanesque or early Gothic church. In Arties it is the Església de Santa Maria from the 12th century. The threefold apsis is decorated with pilaster strips and arcades, as it is typical of the Lombardian style. The church is closed.

The second church of Arties in early gothic style is called “Sant Joan” (a day later the snow has disappeared). It is a museum now. 

The village of Arties is located where the rivers Garonne and Artigues join. 

Madeleine & Françoise Besson wrote two beautiful books about their home village Arties that starts, when the village, located between two rivers, was inundated in the 1960s after heavy rainfalls. The village was poor at that time, before tourism started. The Bessons also write about the impressions of the rough life and the brave mountain people that travellers from the 19th century reported.

I captured the overview foto of Arties from the small Ermita de Sant Jaime.

Let me keep more Romanesque churches of the Aran valley for my coming blog. 

 

Sources:

  • Conselh Generau d’Aran (Elisa Ros Barbosa): Er Art Romanic dera Val d’Aran, 2007
  • Madeleine & Françoise Besson : « Sur les chemins du Val d’Aran – Voyage autour d’Arties – Tome I », Lacour 2005
  • Madeleine & Françoise Besson : « Sur les chemins du Val d’Aran – ses habitants, ses mots, ses fleurs  Tome II», Lacour 2005
  • Pauline Chaboussou et alii: « Los caminos Pirenaicos del Arte Romanico”, Synidcat mixed du Pays Couserans, Anfigraf 2008

 

 

Pratdip (Catalonia) and Perucho’s natural history of the vampire Dip


goфAgain and again we traveled to Catalonia, south of Tarragona. Again and again we noticed the sign to the village Pratdip pointing to the mountains. One day, we followed them and we found Dip and Joan Perucho’s novel „natural history“ or in Spanish “las historias naturales”.

Let me tell you more about Pratdip and its vampire Dip.

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Pratdip is a small village and the inhabitants are proud of their Dip

Pratdip is located in the mountains of Llaberia, some 40km southwest of Tarragona.

Narrow steep streets are overseen by the ruins of their castle that sits on a steep rock.

In the village there are various portraits of the vampire Dip in his incarnation as a dog-vampire (vampires can change their appearances rapidly).

When we enter the tourist office, we find another dip.

The assistant laughs: „You are looking for the vampire Dip“, she asks and proudly shows us the book of Joan Perucho with the title „Las historias naturales“. She adds: „Perucho tells you everything about the Dip and what he has done to Pratdip.“ The original version of the novel is in Catalan. I buy the Spanish version.

Then we walk to the hermitage of Santa Maria, along orchards with hazelnut trees…

… and enjoy the hermitage Santa Marina in the mountains…

… where we find a friendly restaurant.

To round our excursion up, we climb the castle rock and enjoy the view.

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Back at home: I enjoy reading „natural history“ by Joan Perucho to learn all about the dip

Back at home I read the novel of Joan Perucho. In his normal life, Perucho was a serious judge. When writing his „historias naturales“ or „natural history“, he must have twinkled with his eyes. The novel can be located somewhere between fable and reality and is full of humor. I could find five threads of interlaced actions.

  • First the novel is about the vampire Dip –  his full name is Onofro de Dip. In the 13th century, he had owned the „meadows“ around Pratdip (hence the “prats of dip”). He traveled to Hungary to prepare the marriage for his king James I with Yolanda (or Violant) of Hungary (James and Violant are a historical fact). On the way to Hungary, Onofro de Dip fell in love with the lady vampire Meczyr who turned him into a vampire and „Non-Dead“ (No Muerto). He returned to Pratdip in the early 19th century and terrorized the village killing inhabitants every night. The current owner of Pratdip, Baroness Urpí, asks her brother, Marqués de La Gralla, for help (Gralla is a „real“ noble family from Barcelona; they owned a palace that no longer exists today). A friend of the Marqués de Gralla, the young natural scientist Antonio de Montpalau (an invented person), travels to Pratdip, neutralizes the vampire with the help of garlic, parsley and wooden crosses. Then he finds Dip’s grave in the castle and expulses Dip from Pratdip. Onofro de Dip morphs into the solo guerillero El Mochuelo (the Owl) fighting for the (conservative) Carlists and terrorizing the region of Tortosa and Berga. Montpalau pursues him, finds him finally in a crypta near Berga (castle Mataplana) and by speaking out some magic words, Montpalau makes Onofro de Dip die „properly“ and find his peace.
  • Second the novel is the portrait of the higher society of the Barcelona area in the early 19th century. Montpalau as a young scientist belongs to that higher society. The members of the high society enjoy meeting in the Gralla palace, eating and discussing history, natural science, mathematics or music. As a reader you feel the luxury and shake your head about the sometimes detached, elitist or even absurd discussions. Once Frédéric Chopin and George Sand are invited to a banquet, as they stop over in Barcelona.
    Antonio de Montpalau is a scientist who is focused on classifying animals and plants aorund him. He is also interested in geography and geology. Before going to Pratdip, he  researches all literature available and he finds scientific literature about vampires that recommends using garlic, parsley, portulak, wooden crosses and mirrors to fight vampires (I can feel Perucho smile, when he lets Montpalau buy ten dozens of mirrors before leaving for Pratdip).
  • Third the novel has a historical background: The year 1840 in the first Carlist War in which the male pretendent of the throne, Carl V, fought against his niece, the actual Queen Isabel II.
    • One one hand, the Carlists that fought for Carl V, were conservative. Their target was a federation of several states unified by the king of Spain and the catholic church as the only two common denominators of the federation, conserving, what Spain had been before. A man made constitution was not needed in their eyes. Federation was, of course, welcomed by Catalonia (or also the Basque region). Carlists were strong in Catalonia.
    • On the other hand, the followers of the actual Queen Isabel II were classified as liberal, as they based their ideas on the French Revolution. The wanted the separation of church and state, a centralized state based on the constitution (as set up in 1812, like France). The idea of the centralized state was not, what Catalonia strived for, but the high society in Barcelona, including Antonio de Montpalau, was liberal.
    • Some real persons give a realistic background, the most important being Ramón Cabrera. He was the outstanding leader of the conservative Carlists in Catalonia. His liberal (pro Isabel) opponent was Baldomero Espartero.  In 1840, Espartero defeated Cabrera and his Carlists in Berga not far from the Pyrenees.
    • Montpalau and Onofro de Dip interact with the real persons. Ramón Cabrera has been photographed wearing a large scarf around the collar of his shirt. Furthermore he has been reported to feel ill, when trying to conquer Gandesa. Perucho tells us the reason. Cabrera attacked Gandesa at the time, when Dip morphed into the Carlist guerilla „El Mochuelo” that wanted to become a Carlist leader himself. He bit Cabrera such that he will become an immortal vampire. This is why Cabrera felt weak and this is why, he had to wear a large scarf (to hide the stitches of the vampire – twinkle). Perucho continues describing, how the liberal Antonio de Montpalau was captured by the conservative (Carlist) troups of Cabrera, how he could ease the symptoms of the bite for Cabrera and how finally Montpalau succeeded to free Cabrera from his gloomy destiny by making Onofro de Dip die properly – as described in the first thread of actions – in the crypta near Berga, just after the Carlist Cabrera had been fully defeated in Berga by the (pro Isabel) Espartero.
  • Fourth the novel is a travel report about Catalonia in the early 19th century. Antonio de Montpalau, his nephew Novau and his coachman Amadeo travel from Barcelona via Villafranca, Reus and Falset to Pratdip. After having expulsed the vampire-Dip from Pratdip, they leave to pursue the vampire-El Mochuelo, cross the Ebro near Miravet, stay for some time in Gandesa, continue to Morella. Cabrera resides in Morella and Montpalau and his followers are captured here. Then as prisoners they accompany Cabrera to Berga. Our travelers visit places of interest on the way (e.g. the monastery Vallbona de los Monges where the Queen Violant from Hungary has been buried), admire the beauty of the landscape, eat local specialties and drink delicious wines from Terra Alta. The travel reports are full of humor, e.g. about real places of interest such as the cathedral of Tarragona that they like though their travel handbook by (real) Alexandre Laborde does not recommend to visit it. Or about less real events: The three heroes meet giant fleas, but luckily Monpalau knows, how to escape them: They inflame branches of pine trees and carry them like torches (twinkle).
  • Fifth it is a love story with a very, very happy end. While Antonio de Montpalau is fighting the Dip in Pratdip, he and Inés fall in love. Inés is the daughter of the baroness Urpí that has asked her brother, Marqués de Gralla, for help against the Dip. Montpalau has to leave his love to pursue the Dip.  A historian has encouraged Montpalau to do so, as he found (historic-scientific) sources that reveil, it is Montpalau’s fate to defeat the Dip (twinkle). After having vanquished the vampire Dip-El Mochuelo near Berga, Montpalau returns to Barcelona. At the palace of Marqués de Gralla he finds his love Inés (the Marqués‘ niece) waiting for him. What a happy end!

Perucho’s novel was the first book that I accomplished reading in Spanish. In the beginning it was a bit of a tough start for me, because Perucho takes his time to set the stage. But then, when the action of neutralizing and chasing the Dip-El Mochuelo accelerates, what a pleasure! And it was even more pleasure to go back to the start to enjoy the setting of the stage, once I understood more about the historical background. The novel is full of humor and of fantasy with links to real history and geography. I did enjoy to read about many places in Catalonia that I know and that Perucho moves to the early 19th century presenting them with the eyes of Antonio Montpalau and his followers. And I did enjoy to learn more about Spanish history which helps to understand what is going on in Spain today.

 

In Catalonia (Spain): Excursion to Zaragoza

Zaragoza, the capital of Aragón is our longest excursion. It is a three hours’ drive from Hospitalet de l’Infant. In Hospitalet we spend a few days in the apartment of our friends end October until mid November 2016.

We start in sunny Hospitalet crossing the hills to reach the Ebro valley where the scenery is hidden in grey fog. After three hours, we park our car right in the center under the Plaza del Pilar. With Ursula we always first enter the Tourist Office to get some maps and advice about what to see. We are told that the old Islamic Palace and Parliament Seat (Aljaferia) is closed for renovation. That means our sightseeing will be restricted to the very city center.

We feel like hot chocolate in the famous Gran Café. What a disappointment! We are served churros that are not fresh and melted chocolate that is dense and tepid. Well, it seems that this is how chocolate is made in Spain, but I do not think that “old” churros are a particular Spanish specialty. As for the chocolate drink it is a pity that Spain seems not to have adopted the Mexican way of preparing it – the Mexicans prepare much lighter chocolate using hot water.

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The Catedral-Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar – an important stop on the Way of St. James

In front of the Catedral-Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar four pilgrims are absorbed by their prayings. This cathedral is important on the Way of St. James. Right here, it is said, the Virgin Maria appeared to St. James (Jakob) on a pillar (in Spanish “pilar”) in 40 AD. In the hazy background the Cathedral of Seo can be seen.

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The Catedral-Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar has been built in Baroque style in the late 17th century. Inside it  is richly decorated. Some vaults (or domes) are painted with frescos by Francisco Goya. It is not allowed to take photos inside the cathedral. This is the view of the Cathedral of Pilar from the Plaza Pilar.

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Eleven vaults (or domes) decorate the roof of the cathedral.

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From the Ebro river we take more photos of the Cathedral of Pilar with the stone bridge.

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Fishing seems to be a rewarding activity here.

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The Archbishop’s Catedral de Seo with Mudejar elements

Also on the Plaza Pilar there is the Archbishop Cathedral of Seo. The construction started in the 12th century (some Roman elements are left in the apsis), and it was newly built in the 14th century (hence primarily Gothic in style). The tower is the late 17th century work of an Italian architect. The Cathedral of Seo has been UNESCO world heritage since 2001.

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The northern wall is of fine Gothic-Mudejar style.

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Inside we find innumerable chapels – some of them of Renaissance and some of Baroque style. Each chapel is explained in detail. A nice detail: A statue of Joseph holding his baby – I saw that only in Tarragona before. One chapel is devoted to the young Domingo that was said to have been murdered by Jews – which was taken as a reason for pogroms. Later it was concluded that the crime never took place which makes me feel bad. Why do we invent crimes and make someone guilty for them?

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The Lonja (bourse) 

The Lonja (bourse) was built in the 16th century to provide a public space for traders that so far have used the churches for trading.

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It is Renaissance in style. Ursula focuses on some details of the façade.

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Iglesia Parroquial de San Pablo

Outside of the old town wall we look for the Iglesia Parroquial de San Pablo from the 13/14th century. It contains Mudejar elements, in particular the octagonal tower. It has been UNESCO world heritage since 2001. Unfortunately we find the church closed.

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This is the Puerta Tramontana with Christ in the middle and Maria, Saint John and Saint Blasius. One of the saints cannot be identified.

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Ursula’s photographic eye spots the lamp with the ornaments.

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In the Calle San Pablo we have delicious tapas in a friendly small bar. We have chat with the people from the area and with a lady from Vladivostok in Russia – far, far away from here.

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More sights in the city center: The Central Market, the Roman Wall and the Museum of Goya

The Central Market was built in 1903. Plants on the roof add to the decoration. The market is now closed – it is afternoon.

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Across the market a shop sells traditional regional clothing.

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In front of the ruins of the Roman Wall Augustus watches a caroussel being demounted. Augustus gave his name to Zaragoza (Caesaraugusta).

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We finish visiting Zaragoza with the Museum of Francisco Goya (1746-1828). He is from Aragon. First he painted for churches, then portraits at the court (pretty realistic portraits) and in his last years he made engravings of the war with France that was a nightmare for him (Zaragoza was occupied by the French from 1809-13). Goya is considered to  be a predecessor of the Surrealists.

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We take our car out of the garage (rather a spacious garage, if I remember right) and drive back home – another three hours. It was a long day. Zaragoza was worth visiting.

In Catalonia (Spain): Discovering modernism in Reus

On a windy day we explore the city of Reus. It is just half an hours’ drive from Hospitalet de l’Infant, where we spend a few days in the apartment of our friends end October until mid November 2016.

Reus is the home town of Marshall Prim. He fought for the constitution of Spain and from 1868-70 he was Prime Minister of Spain (look at the cypress – it WAS windy).

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We park our car in the parking cellar located under the statue of Marshall Prim. It was another of those parking houses with small parking lots and narrow corridors. We found a comfortable slot on the fifth floor underground… if only I will be able to “climb” up from here again without getting stuck!

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The Gaudí Centre

Gaudí was born in Reus. Though he never built anything in Reus, the city is proud of their son and has set up a museum about his life, his architecture and the way he worked. The museum is well curated. We learn, how Gaudí experimented to find the laws of nature that he then applied to create harmonic architectural structures. For instance he used straight lines, triangles or quadrats and twisted them to find the harmonic shapes. Based on the “law of chains” he built slim arches that could stand without counterweights (when the sides of the arches stand upright, counterweights have to prevent the arch from collapsing, like in Roman or Gothic architecture, but when they are inclined, the arches do not collapse). These hanging wooden sticks are one of experiments.

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He tested everything with models, before implementing it, even studying the exposure to light.

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He had an overall approach to architecture also creating the furniture.

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The Gaudí Center is located at the market square (Plaça Mercada), next to the townhall and the green modernist Casa Piñyol.

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Across is the modernist Casa Navas with the shop for bath and wellness on the groundfloor. I buy a dressing gown (in Spanish: albornoz – the moors must have introduced this to Spain).

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We have lunch in the roof top restaurant of the Gaudí Centre. The view is great, but the waiters would have preferred us not to disturb them and the meal was expensive and poor (liver cream from the tube – in Swiss German: Leberpains – served on crackers with a few salad leaves, all for 15 Euros).

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The cathedral San Pere – late gothic and a no-no tour guide

South of the market square we visit the late gothic cathedral San Pere from the early 16th century.

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Inside we find two sisters praying and singing at low voices. It is a solemn atmosphere. Bump! A group of tourists enters. Their tour guide starts to talk in a loud voice. The prayers continue gently. Ursula frowns and whispers: “This is an absolute no-go!”

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The fish market or Peixateria Velles

Behind the church we enter the fish market (Peixateria Velles) with the sculpture of a basket containing fish products next to the entrance.

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Through the gate we see the galleries and inviting restaurants and bars.

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Modernist houses in Reus – a selection

Finishing off our day we follow a walk proposed by Reus tourism to discover a selection of the 29 Art Nouveau buildings proposed. This is the Casa Anguera behind the fish market…

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… with a detail of the flower ornaments.

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The Casa Serra and the Casa Marco mark the entrance to the small street, where Gaudí was born.

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The blue tiles of the Casa Laguna adorn the street leading from the square of Marshall Prim to the market square

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Not far from here is the Casa Carpa with the painted balcony doors.

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With Ursula’s directions I succeed to manoeuver my car out of the narrow garage under Marshall Prim (five floors up through rectangular small corridors!).

Reus is a small town worth a visit!

Back at Hospitalet I enjoy the inside pool with the swimming lanes – it is very busy here with swimming courses and water gymnastics going on around me.

In Catalonia (Spain) – some excursions around Hospitalet: Ebro Delta and Tortosa

On a sunny Friday in November 2017, we get up early to take photos in the beautiful landscape of the Ebro delta and then continue to Tortosa on the Ebro. This is another excursion that we go for, while enjoying the small apartment of our friends in Hospitalet de l’Infant at the end of October until mid November 2016.

 

The morning light in the Ebro Delta

In November the rice fields have been harvested awaiting the next cultivation cycle. We enjoy taking photos in the atmosphere of this morning.

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Ursula has a very good “photo eye”, when capturing the fields…

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… and the black egrets reflecting in them.

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Then the birds decide, we are too close and fly away.

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We have a chat with a fisher – he comes here regularly from Andorra. And yes, I do understand that driving is forbidden here…

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In Deltebre we visit the Ecomuseum. This place is a miniature Ebro Delta showing its plants and wild life as well as the economy: Fishing, the cultivation of rice and – more inland – the cultivation of vegetables and fruit.

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Tortosa – Basilica-Catedral de Santa Maria

In summer we had visited Tortosa, and it was pouring with rain. The town seemed grey and not very welcoming and the cathedral was closed. Now we return, leave our car in one of these narrow Catalonian parking houses in the city center and set out to explore the Basilica-Catedral de Santa Maria  with the bishop’s palace and the convent. The gothic construction started in 1347 (Thomas Schröder: “Katalonien”, Michael Müller Verlag 2015). From outside, the cathedral seems “uncompleted”: The roof is flat.

The nave is spacious with high vaults – just right for the archbishop in the 15th century.

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The exhibition shows treasures such as this lamb embroidered in gold…

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… or this funerary object.

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I love the cloister dating from the 13th century…

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… and use this photo of the arches for my 2016 Christmas card.

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Tortosa – Jewish center

After a break in a small bar that serves excellent tapas, we stroll through the former Jewish quarter.

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All that is left are the street names (such Carrer and Travesa de Jerusalem) and some plates explaining where the synagogue and the kosher butcher were located.

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Now we find a halal butcher instead.

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Tortosa – history  in the former slaughterhouse

The slaughterhouse has been built by Pau Monguió. This art-nouveau building now hosts an exhibition of the history of Catalonia. The display starts with the stone age, continues with the Iberians trading with the Phoenicians (“Iberians” comes from “Ebro”) , the Romans (Tortosa was then called “Dertosa”), the Visigots and the Moors. In 1148 Tortosa was sieged during the Second Crusade and reconquered by an allied army. In the 15th century, Tortosa became an important regional center and the seat of the archbishop. It lost its importance in the 19th century and particulary suffered from bombings in the civil war of 1936-1939.

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I particularly like the coat of arms of the monastery Scala Dei near Montsant made from alabaster – it represents the Escala Dei or the ladder of God.

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After a short visit in the Tortosa market, we maneuver our car out of the narrow, narrow parking house and drive back to our small apartment in Hospitalet de l’Infant.

 

 

In Catalonia – Spain: Discovering Escornalbou, Falset and Siurana

On a very windy, chilly and cristal celar day we explore the monastery Escornalbou, the small town of Falset and gorgeous Siurana perched on a steep rock. All these places we find near Hospitalet de l’Infant, where – in the apartment of our friends – we spend a few days end October until mid November 2016 .

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Castillo-Monasterio de Sant Miguel d’Escornalbou

A sinuous road takes us up to the Castillo-Monasterio de Sant Miguel d’Escornalbou on about 800m above sea level. The monastery is perched on a pass with the chapel Santa Barbara above it. We look at the monastery from the viewpoint across.

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From here we also have a gorgeous view of the mountains…

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… and of the sea.

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The monastery was built in the 12th/13th century. First Augustinian monks lived here and later it was inhabited by Franciscan monks. In 1835 the monastery was confiscated.

This is the façade of the Romanesque church.

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Inside we find Maria and her son.

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From the cloister there is an impressive view of the Mediterranean Sea. It must have been a pleasure to pray and meditate here.

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In the 17/18t century the castle has been added to the monastery. It was in use until about 1980. Mr Toda lived here. I am impressed by the luxury and in particular by the library…

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… and by the view from the window.

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Perhaps it was a bit lonely to live up here.

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Shopping and lunch in Falset

We continue our way on the sinuous path through the mountains to stop in Falset. This is the central town of the Montsant and Priorat area. The name “Falset” comes from sickle – and their are two sickles in their coat of arms (see Wikipedia and Miquel Hudin: “Vinologue Montsant”, Leavenworth Press 2014, p. 64).

My “Vinologue” tells me that Vins I Olis offers a good selection of wines from the area of Monsant and Priorat on one spot. We buy some cheese…

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… and some wine – in particular I look for “Scala Dei” (Granatxa), and with the advice of the shopkeeper, Marc, I acquire a selection of cuvées with local and international grapes.

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Marc, reserves a table for us in the El Cairet in the old city center – for 13:30, which is early here. The restaurant opens so early – just for us.

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It is a small and cosy place.

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The restaurant owner is proud of the meals that she prepares with great care using regional products. Hence we order the local menus suggested by her. We particularly loved the hazelnut soup, the autumn salad with dried fruit, the bacalao (codfish) a la plancha and the fig dessert on puff pastry. This restaurant is a place to remember and return!

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Siurana – perched on a steep rock – an Eldorado for climbers

We leave Falset and using sinuous roads we drive to the small town Siurana perched on a rock above the river Siurana. Campers are bordering the road and climbers are hanging in the cliffs or crags. This is an eldorado for climbers. The recent edition of “Insipiration”, the newspaper of one of “my” Swiss outdoor shops, talks about “Sehnsucht Siurana” or “Longing for Siurana”. Also the Internet is full of information about the climbing routes (e.g. planet mountain). One route is called after the princess Abdelaza that jumped down with her horse, because she did not want to be captured by the Christians, when they conquered Siurana in 1150.

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On three sides the village is surrounded by cliffs. Using the small gate we enter and stroll through the narrow streets.

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The Romanesque church Santa Maria is located above the cliffs.

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The portal has a modestly decorated tympanum with Christ, the sun, the moon, two lions and eight persons, presumably apostles.

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Across we see the table mountain Montsant under clouds. It is chilly and very windy in Siurana.

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Before leaving we have a cafecito in the friendly bakery at Cornudellas. We are by far the oldest guests. We are surrounded by young climbers that are taking a warm drink before spending the night in their campers. We are happy to return to our warm apartment in Hospitalet, and I look forward to having a swim in the heated public inside pool.