Posts filed under ‘History’

Some Catalan Poetry

I had mentioned in my last post that we were given a book on Catalan poetry. I was browsing through the book and realized that the poems were written over many centuries and by people from all levels of Catalan society. One poem written in the 16th century seems to be about a man named Roca and was written by Francesc Vicent Garcia who was the rector of Vallfogona. It was a random selection as I can only understand a little.

A ROCA GUINART

Quan baixes de muntanya, valent Roca,
com si una roca de Montseny baixara,
mostres al mon la fortalesa rara,
que per a tu sa furia tota es poca.
Ninguna de tes bales lo cap toca
de qui no et veja, si no fuig la cara,
que ton valor insigne no s’empara
tras falsa mata ni traidora soca.
Tot aquest Principat fas que badalle,
Que et persegueix de sou i persegueixes
Ab mortal i funebre parasisme.
Qui tinga el tal judici mire I calle,
O diga’t senyoria, que ho mereixes
Per lo millor pillard del cristianisme.

This next poem written Anonim (anonymously) is about the war of 1812 against France. It stood out because of our visit to Montserrat and the destruction caused by Napoleon’s armies there (not to mention the theft of history).

De la Guerra Del Frances
Es una meravella
De veure els sometents;
Com mes els aturmenten,
Sempre son mes valents.
Francesos valerosos,
direu a vostre rei
que dintre Catalunya
mai hi fara la llei.
La primera vegada
que al Bruc vareu anar,
molt contents i alegres
hi vareu arribar.
Amb els canons de fusta
els llevarem la pell.
Es van posar a correr
fins a Molins de Rei.
A la guerra, a la guerra,
contra Napoleon,
per defensar Fernando,
la Patria y Religion.

Hope you enjoy and if any reader would care to comment on the content of the first poem, it would be very much appreciated.

September 13, 2006 at 8:57 am 1 comment

Sant Cugat del Valles

Barcelona is one truly amazing city. The more we discover its secrets the more impressive it gets. This morning, Alex and I took the metro from Provenca station to Vallvidrera. It’s only 2 or 3 stops but the metro station is in a park , Serra de Collserola. Our objective was to hike from Barcelona to Sant Cugat. It’s about a 15 to 20 km hike with an altitude difference of 200 metres. I really didn’t feel like going but I knew that because I felt this way it was probably going to be a good day. It was.
We left home at 7:15 and walked over to the Provenca station. Getting out at Vallvidrera was a real surprise because it was a LOT cooler there than home. Exiting the station, we were given a hardcover book of Catalan poetry. Why? it was a holday to celebrate being Catalan so all kinds of cultural events were happening around Catalunya.

We were right at the entrance to the park and ready to start our trek. The trail began at the information centre which was a little uphill. Once we reached the start, Alex synchronized our position on the map so we could follow the trail a little easier. A good thing too because many of the directional signs had been removed by vandals and there are many trails in the park. The beginning of the trail was more or less a dirt road. It was an easy path but climbed steadily. This was our view about 45 minutes into the walk, behind Tibidabo and up quite high.

A little further along and the trail split a few ways. It was a good thing we had the map. We had to walk along a road for a few hundred metres and at this point we took a paved trail that veered down off the road. We followed it for about a kilometre and then came to some switchback. We checked the map and saw that we were on the wrong trail. There were two trails that were very close at the road and we took the first one we saw. Climbing back to the road we saw the other trail about 5 metres further. Proceeding along the correct trail we crossed a viaduct and stopped to admire the view. It was still morning and the haze was quite heavy. Far off, you could just see Montserrat and even from that distance it was still impressive. I tried taking a photo but it didn’t come out. Could have used a polarizing filter. Just after the viaduct there were some ruins and three trails leading off in different directions. After consulting the map and the guide book we found the right one.

The trail varied significantly in quality, going from paved path to rock strewn, narrow gorges. It was at this point that we had the roughest and narrowest part of the hike. The trail was quite steep, both up and down sections, and rocky but if you took your time and carefully picked your way it was ok.

So, here we are picking our way carefully through the rough spots when I hear this pounding behind me. We move out of the way and this jogger comes running by. He was like a gazelle, bouncing from rock to rock. I was impressed with his sure footedness (is that a word). By the way, he wasn’t the only jogger to go by.

There were lot’s of mountain bikers up there too and at one point there was quite an interesting bit of trail. We could hear the cyclists coming so we stood to one side of the trail. It was hilarious because the first rider stood up and braked for all he was worth. He ended up at the side of the trail and about three riders behind him all drove into each other. The other three manged to stop in time and they all proceeded cautiously down this piece of trail. They were questioning the guide as to the mountain bike classification of Media because of the traildifficulty and the steep, narrow inclines. Anyhow, we met up with them at the bottom as they were changing someone’s back tire.

We continued along this trail until a point where five trails intersected. Some of the trails are classed as GR or Gran Recorregu and PR or Petit Recorregu. These are long distance and short distance trails that make up a nation wide network of trekking trails. At this point we required serious map consultation. Imagine taking a GR trail and ending up in Madrid ????

Once again we headed off on the right path and exited the difficult phase at a restaurant, Masia can Borrell. It was a farm at some time and very rustic. The food was very Catalan and fit the mood we were in. We ordered pan amb tomaquet and Jamon con melon. the pan was served as separate items. We had to rub the garlic and tomato onto the bread. the food was DELICIOUS, just enough to keep us going.

We studied the map and headed back out to the trail. At this point the trail passed through open meadows. It was nice to have such large variations in trail quality and surroundings.

As soon as we walked through the fields and back into the woods, we entered the final three kms before reaching Sant Cugat. The trail here was very easy and peaceful.

It was around here that we saw this weird tree, all by itself, in the middle of a field.

This tree is known as Pi d’en Xandri. It is over 200 years old and I guess at that age, needs help in standing. Actually, it’s quite an impressive and healthy tree for 200 years old.

Well, we finally arived in Sant Cugat, three and a half hours after leaving Barcelona. We headed up to the monastery that is in the old part of the city.

This place was OLD. You could feel the age as you walked around the buildings. I beleive it was founded around 900 AD and has quite the history. It’s a Benedictine monastery so has ties with Montserrat.

Alex was looking at some copies of manuscript and mentioned the century it was from. A little later on we saw copies of the same manuscript in the museum with some background info on it and she was dead on. She always amazes me with how much she knows.

After we left the abbey, Alex wanted to visit the church. It was a part of the monastery and was built in the 12th or 13th century. We got there to find the big doors closed and locked.

Alex went back to the monastery to ask when the church would be open and I waited outside. In a few minutes, a man came running over and unlocked the doors. I couldn’t beleive it. Alex came around the corner and I asked her how she managed to have so much pull. She laughed and told me that they said the church doesn’t open until 6:00 PM so we were very fortunate.

We toured the church and I found graves from the 1400’s . I always look on the floor because they buried influential people in the church floors. Some graves were too old to read, their markings all worn off.

Ok, it was time to go so we headed out to the square, had a clara and some aceitunas and then trekked over to the train station. We arrived home around 3:00 after a truly great day.

September 12, 2006 at 7:14 pm 3 comments

Montserrat, Some Background

Just a note before you read this post. Much of the material was copied from many different sites and slightly modified to flow. I do not claim authorship to any of it. The Benedictines have a very informative website here. Enjoy………..

Montserrat has an interesting beginning that reaches back to Paleolithic times. The most important prehistory vestiges in Montserrat have been found in the “Cova Gran” and the “Cova Freda.” Pottery dating back to early Neolithic times was found for the first time in Catalonia in these caves. This pottery was often decorated with patterns made with shells. This Montserrat pottery is known as “Cardial” Pottery.

Somewhere around 880 AD, some shepherd children had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The visions occurred over the next few weeks in the same location, near a cave on Montserrat Mountain. The village priest and others witnessed them. When the religious elders of the community explored this cave they found an image of the Virgin Mary.

According to legend, the image was carved by St. Luke and brought to Spain by St. Peter. During the Moorish occupation, the image was hidden in a cave near Montserrat and was rediscovered by the elders. From that moment on the cave became a holy sanctuary for the Virgin of Montserrat and one of the most popular religious sites in Spain.

Religious activity increased significantly and by the end of the 9th century, four chapels had been built in the mountain: St. Mary’s, St. Acisclo’s, St. Peter’s and St. Martin’s. Nowadays, only St. Acisclo’s remains and it is situated in the garden of the Monastery. Legend has it that the mountain, also called Monsalvat, was also thought to have been the site of the castle of the Holy Grail.

In 1125, Oliba, Abbot of Ripoll and Bishop of Vic, founded the Montserrat Monastery next to St. Mary’s chapel, which was to soon become a Romanic style sanctuary. The Benedictine monastery has become one of the greatest religious shrines of Spain. Through songs, Alfonso X, popularized the appearances of the Virgin and numerous pilgrims begin to arrive. The followers of the Virgin of Montserrat, popularly known as “La Moreneta” because of the dark material of which she is sculpted, is the most popular following in Catalunya. Towards the end of the century a new image of the Holy Mother of God was sculpted: it is one of the jewels of Catalan Romanic and is visited by thousands. In addition, Bernat Boïl, a former Montserrat hermit, went with Christopher Columbus to America marking the start of the cult of the Virgin of Montserrat in America.

The abbey has also become world famous for its boy’s choir and school of music and hails back to 1223 making the school the oldest in Europe.

In 1522, Saint Ignatius of Loyola offered his knight’s sword to the image of the Virgin of Montserrat, gave up his militaristic life and dressed in sackcloth like any other pilgrim.

The present church of Montserrat was consecrated in 1592 by the Bishop of Vic, Pedro Jaime, on the 2nd of February, in the presence of the Bishops of Urgell, Girona and Elna.

Napoleon’s army destroyed Montserrat in 1811. The monks hid the image of the Virgin, saving it from being destroyed.

Montserrat is also a very powerful symbol for the Catalan people and was notorious during the Franco regime for being a stronghold of Catalan culture and language. In direct defiance of Franco’s anti-Catalan laws, the monks of Montserrat continued celebrating marriages and baptisms in Catalan after the Civil War. The monastery became a refuge for the many Catalan nationalists that remained underground until Franco’s death in 1975.

The abbey can be reached by road, by cable car, or by the Montserrat Rack Railway from Monistrol in the valley below, which in turn can be reached by Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya train from Barcelona’s Plaça d’Espanya station. From the abbey a funicular railway goes up to the top of the mountain, where there are various abandoned hovels in the cliff faces that were previously the abodes of reclusive monks.

September 10, 2006 at 3:17 pm Leave a comment

Montserrat at Last

I think Alex and I deserve a pat on the back. We have been planning to visit Montserrat since the beginning of the summer and we finally made it. It’s only a 1 hour train ride from Barcelona so there is no problem getting there we just got sidetracked every time we’d plan the trip. We caught the train at the station in Placa Espanya and got off at Monistrol. In the station at Placa Espanya, you can buy all types of tickets to Montserrat. Various options include access to museums, the funiculars, and the train from Monistrol, even the metro in Barcelona. We purchased the 18 Euro one but prices are a low as 6 or 7 Euros. When we arrived at Monistrol, the train to take us up the mountain was waiting for us. It appears that the two trains are synchronized for minimum connection times. Even the return journey was synchronized.

Montserrat is very impressive as you approach Monistrol. The peaks and rock formations are very unique and can be seen from a fair distance away. The main attraction of Montserrat however, is not the mountain itself but the Benedictine abbey that is built there. The original abbey and surrounding buildings were mostly destroyed by Napoleon in 1811. It was restored in the 19th and 20th century but I’ll use another post to elaborate the interesting history of Montserrat.

The ride up the mountain is quite something. The train itself uses a special geared rail in the centre of the tracks because of the steep angles it climbs. I would guess that this train is climbing near 30 degrees (it’s a guess) at some points. We arrived at the monastery and Alex headed off to the info booth to get some maps and then we headed to the cafeteria to eat. I was quite surprised at the prices. Lunch was not that expensive considering the amount of tourists that come to this site.

After lunch we took the funicular de Sant Joan to the top of the mountain. It’s an impressive view from there and it seemed to be the starting point for a lot of hiking trails. There are hundreds of hiking trails up here, all connecting and crossing and go for hundreds of kilometers. We had come to Montserrat on a discovery mission. We wanted to check it out so we could pick a nice trail in the future and spend a day walking in the mountains but we HAD to try at least one trail. We had a choice, one trail led up to the Sant Joan retreat and the other led back to the abbey. This is the trail that leads to Sant Joan.

We chose the one that led back to the abbey. It’s timed at 55 minutes and we stopped so often to check things out that I think the 55-minute time is VERY conservative. The trail is almost all downhill so not much effort is required.

We saw some interesting shapes in the deadwood along the trail.

When we arrived back at the abbey, Alex wanted to visit the basilica.

We actually went into the sanctuary where the Virgin of Montserrat is hosted. It’s an eerie feeling being there. There was a lineup but I don’t think it was even close to the normal line of pilgrims who visit this site.

Afterwards we walked around the abbey, went into the stores to see the tourists shop and went through an audio-visual display about the site. My camera battery died and that was it for photos (did I hear a big sigh of relief). This last photo was a corner of the original Cloisters. The only part that was left after Napoleon.

The trip home was as easy as going and on the train we met a really nice couple from Toronto. They were on a tour and had come on their own to see Montserrat for themselves. We had an interesting conversation with them and it seemed the trip home took far less time than going.

All in all a great day and I look foreword to going back and doing some trekking.

September 10, 2006 at 11:12 am 2 comments

A Little Catalan History

Since Alex and I have been here we’ve been exploring different areas around Barcelona. We’ve come to appreciate the rich and long history that Catalunya has. To be honest, before we came here I only knew of a language named Catalan but I never associated it with such a rich past. I feel I have to explore this history a bit and here is some of what I’ve learnt. The following information was taken from many sites (Wikipedia and Geocities to name a few) and I don’t claim authorship to any of it:

The territory that now constitutes the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain, and the adjoining Catalan region of France, was first settled during the Middle Palaeolithic. Like the rest of the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula, it was colonized by Ancient Greeks and Carthaginians and was part of the pre-Roman Iberian culture. Later it was part of the Roman Empire, then came under Visigothic rule after Rome’s collapse.

The northernmost part of Catalonia was briefly occupied by the Moorish (Muslim-ruled) al-Andalus in the eighth century, but in 732 local Visigoths regained autonomy, though they voluntarily made themselves tributary to the emerging Frankish kingdom. The grouping of these local powers were Marca Hispanica.

A definite Catalan culture developed in the Middle Ages under the leadership of the Counts of Barcelona. As part of the Crown of Aragon — most historians would say the dominant part — the Catalans became a great maritime power, expanding by trade and conquest into Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and even Sardinia and Sicily. There are areas today in France and Sicily that still speak a dialect of Catalan.
The marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1469) unified Christian Spain; in 1492, the last of al-Andalus was conquered and the Spanish conquest of the Americas began. Political power began to shift away from Catalonia toward Castile.

For some time, Catalonia continued to retain its own laws, but these gradually eroded. Over the next few centuries, Catalonia was generally on the losing side of a series of wars that led steadily to more centralization of power in Spain. The most significant conflict was the War of the Spanish Succession, which began when Carlos II died without a successor in 1700. Catalonia supported the claim of a member of the Austrian branch of the Hapsburg dynasty, while the rest of Spain generally supported the French Bourbon claimant, Felipe V. Following the final surrender of Catalan troops on September 11, 1714, Felipe V’s Nueva Planta decrees banned all the main Catalan political institutions and imposed military-based rule over the region.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Catalonia became a center of Spain’s industrialization; to this day it remains the most industrialised part of Spain, rivaled only by the Basque Country. In first third of the 20th century, Catalonia several times gained and lost varying degrees of autonomy, but Catalan autonomy and culture were crushed to an unprecedented degree after the defeat of the Second Spanish Republic (founded 1931) in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) brought General Francisco Franco to power. Even public use of the Catalan language was banned.
After Franco’s death (1975) and the adoption of a democratic Spanish constitution (1978), Catalonia recovered cultural autonomy and some political autonomy. Today, Catalonia is almost universally recognized as one of the most economically dynamic regions of Spain and the Catalan capital, Barcelona, is a major international cultural centre and tourist destination.
Catalonia’s original statute of autonomy adopted by the Spanish government December 22, 1979 officially recognised Catalonia as a nationality. This was recently superseded by a new statute of autonomy August 9, 2006, which defines Catalonia as a nation.
The Catalan flag, known as the senyera, is one of the oldest flags in Europe. There is documentary evidence of it since the 13th century but it may have even existed even before then. According to legend, Guifre el Pelós, the count of Barcelona, marches his army into France to help his uncle, Carles el Calb, defend France from the Norman invasions. Guifre miraculously drives the Normans out but is mortally wounded by an arrow to the chest. As he lays dying Carles dips four of his fingers in his nephew’s blood and runs them across his nephew’s golden shield, thus creating the symbol of Catalan nationality that is still used today.

Sant Jordi, or Saint George, is the patron saint of Catalonia (as well as England) and his saint’s day, April 23, is a well-known Catalan holiday. According to legend, the knight Sant Jordi killed a dragon and rescued a princess. Sant Jordi cut off the dragon’s head and from the blood emerged a rose bush. On April 23 friends and family typically exchange roses and buy books for each other. Sant Jordi’s red cross on a white background can be seen on the shield of Barcelona and on the English flag.

Also known as “The Day of Lovers,” La Diada de Sant Jordi is like Valentine’s Day with some uniquely Latin twists. The main event is the exchange of gifts between sweethearts–men give their novias roses, and women give their novios a book to celebrate the occasion. Roses have been associated with this day since medieval times.

September 1, 2006 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

From 200 books to 200 registers

On Friday, March 3rd I passed my comprehensive exams. Aimed at providing a solid background for future research and teaching, the ‘comps’, as they are fondly called, involve reading about 200 books over a period of 9 months. I averaged one and a half books a day towards the last few weeks of reading. While I had a healthy attitude towards the exams in the beginning, towards the end I totally freaked out and reached rock bottom somewhere at the end of January. I couldn’t eat or sleep properly, I cried for no reason, I was convinced my academic carreer was over before it even started. They would finally discover what a big fraud I am… “If I can pass this” I thought “research and writing my thesis will be no problem”.

Maybe I spoke too soon. Or maybe things haven’t changed that much. Or maybe we need to convince ourselves, in a graduate program, that the next stage will be easier in order to move on.

I’m now doing my research. Instead of two hundred typed books I need to read two hundred manuscript books (chancery registers). Instead of modern English, French or Spanish I now have to read highly abbreviated Latin and medieval Catalan and Aragonese.

Suddenly, I miss the comps…

August 6, 2006 at 5:36 am 6 comments

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