Saragossa to Barcelona

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Saragossa to Barcelona

Fraga  Population: 9,000. Fraga is located on the Rio Cinca, at an altitude of 790 feet on a fertile plain. Fraga is famed for its figs and for the obstinacy of its inhabitants (recall the stubborn resistance of Saragossa). Located here are some Roman remains (Villa Fortunati), and some ruins of Visigothic buildings. The town has a dark, gray medieval appearance. But the people love to wear bright costumes — which resemble Mediterranean dress in their splashy, lively colors.

Catalonia (Cataluña)  The visitor is more aware of provincial differences in Catalonia than in any other region; it has always been a land apart, and sometimes closer to France than to Spain.

Geography: It is an industrial region of Spain, thus prosperous. Fortunes made over the years have patronised much art and literature. The province is a perfect triangle: Pyrenees to the north, the Mediterranean to the east, and the neighboring Aragon to the west. The part we're going through is cut off from the sea by sierras. Here, the flatlands are extremely cold in winter, due to the winds howling down from the Pyrenees. To the left are the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Distinct history and culture: Being on the sea meant Catalonia was subject to foreign influences: trade, and also invasion. The Greeks arrived (6th century B.C.), then the Carthaginians (who called the city Barcino - hence the name), and finally, the Romans. In the 8th century, the Moors arrived. The Christian forces forced northward by Moorish successes in the south tended to concentrate in Catalonia, and were able to check the Moorish advance (or else reconquer areas sooner). Some Christians called on Charlemagne to help them, and he did — incorporating Catalonia into his empire. (Catalonia was called the "Spanish March.") In the 9th century, the "George Washington" of Catalonia, called Wilfred the Shaggy, revolted and made Catalonia independent of the Empire.

During the Middle Ages, the kingdom prospered due to seaborne trade; traders were sent off even to the Far East. In the 12th century, Catalonia joined Aragon to form the double kingdom: Aragon furnished military muscle, and Catalonia trading wealth. Finally, Queen Isabella of Aragon-Catalonia's marriage to Ferdinand of Castle made Spain one country, and the Moors were pushed out of Granada.

Separatism: Catalonians couldn't accept one Spain. They revolted (1640) against Philip IV, and in the 18th century, joined the Austrians. Philip, putting down the revolt, took revenge by dissolving Catalonia's ancient Fueros (freedoms). During the Republic (1930's), Catalonia was given special autonomy; hence it fought fiercely for the Republican side. Under the nationalists, its autonomy was dissolved, and that's why separatist agitation has continued to the present.

The Catalan Language: The clearest sign of the separateness of Catalonia is the language. Take for example: carrer instead of calle; nou instead of nuevo; sortida instead of salida; si us plau instead of por favor. Sometimes it looks like simply a dialect of Castilian Spanish; at other times its true identity as a separate language is apparent. It incorporates elements of all the Mediterranean romance languages, particularly French. There is no Castilian 'j' (a guttural sound imported from Arabic, which left only a very short-lived influence on Catalan culture). Vowels have a variety of values, unlike Castilian, more like French or English). There is a well known Spanish tongue twister in Catalan whose soft j's and g's make it impossible for Castilians, and whose vocabulary makes it clear that Catalan is far from being a dialect of Castilian Spanish:

Catalan: Setze jutges d'un jutjat menjen fetje d'un penjat.
Castilian: Diéciseis jueces de un tribunal comen hígado de un hombre colgado.
French: Seize juges d'un tribunal mangent le foie d'un pendu.
English: Sixteen judges from a courtroom eat the liver of a hanged man.

Incidentally, sometimes teachers coming for the first time to Barcelona fear a language barrier, under the mistaken impression that Castilian Spanish is a foreign language here. That is not the case. Almost all the conversations they hear around them will be in Castilian, they will be addressed in Castilian and they will have to look out for non-Castilian elements in the daily language of communication. What you say about the Catalan language is for information's sake, not for the sake of practicality.

Arts: Architecture, from Romanesque to Gothic, has stressed simplicity and spaciousness. Romanesque in Catalonia was the first Romanesque in the whole of Spain. It showed strong Mozarabic influence (Mozarabs were Moors who lived in the Christian-reconquered areas).

Barcelona  The chief city of Catalonia, and the first port of Spain. Citizens have always insisted on their rights and independence; hence separatist tendencies in Catalonia are seen most intensely in and around Barcelona.

Sierra de la Mesquita  The area we're traveling through, between Lérida and Alcarraz. Level plateau country which was the traditional border between Catalonia and Aragon. There are rich, fertile fields irrigated by the River Segre (which we'll follow into Lérida). There are some remains of the old walls at Alcarraz.

Lérida  Population: 90,000. Lérida is mainly an industrial city, surrounded by rich farmlands with modern irrigation. Its name in Catalan is Lleida.

History: Lérida was first known as Lltirta in early Iberian times. Under the Romans, the name changed to Iierda, hence "Lérida." A strong fort was built early on, sitting on the hill; the fort was known as the Zuda. In Roman times, Caesar and Pompey's armies battled each other here; sieges occurred again and again, as armies sweeping into Catalonia tried to capture Lerida — gateway to Barcelona. During the Roman occupation, Lérida was so remote that the Roman fathers (in Rome) would threaten recalcitrant youth with a "trip to Ilerda" to frighten them. The city figured in the struggles between Castilian kings and the French; usually siding with the French, or whoever was at war with Spain. During the War of Spanish Succession, Lerida's cathedral was used as barracks.

Features of Lerida: The Zuda, or old Moorish Alcazar, was the citadel besieged and defended. Inside the walls is the Old Cathedral (Seo Antigua), no longer used. Built in the 13th century on the site of Moorish mosque. It was used as barracks when Philip V captured Lerida from the Austrians (1707, causing much damage. It continued to be used as barracks until 1948. Restoration has begun.

Present: Found recently at the ancient seashore were the remains of perhaps 300,000 dinosaur eggs. The eggs date from the last days of the dinosaurs, the Upper Cretaceous Period, which lasted from 73 million to 65 million years ago. Some eggs measure about eight inches across.

Bellpuig  Over the town looms the Castle of Anglesola, a powerful family which ruled this territory during late-medieval times. A son of the Anglesola family became Viceroy of Sicily, and is buried in the church inside the castle.

Tarrega  We are traveling along the Urgel Palin, a monotonous countryside watered by the River Cervera. The land here is good for raising garden vegetables, but not especially noteworthy to view. We'll come to steeper foothills before too long.

The major landmark of the town is the Palace of the marquises of Floresta (Gothic) which has large, beautiful windows. There are many attractive little corners in the town.

Cervera  (The road bypasses this town through a tunnel, so no point in mentioning any specific landmark.) Believe it or not,this little town was once the chief university center of Catalonia. The story goes back to the Spanish Bourbon King Philip V. Like other Spanish kings, he had his problems with the independently-minded Catalonians. The University of Barcelona and the University of Lerida were "hotbeds" of Catalonian unrest. His solution: dissolve these universities, and establish a university at a remote town: Cervera. The university here opened in 1714. But Spanish students will be Spanish students! Students here became just as independent-minded. A famous episode happened in 1760, Joseph Baretti tried to enter the university-town, but had failed to ask "permission" of the students. He was hissed at as he entered the city gate, and met with a shower of stones.

Close-minded, centre of Catalan nationalism.

The university moved back to Barcelona in 1841.

Igualada  In this town is the Church of Santa María, with a statue of the "Christ of Iguadala," which in 1590 sweated blood in front of the congregation. Also in the church is the Standard of the Somaten of Igualada, who defeated the French at the River Bruch in 1808.

Montserrat  We catch a glimpse of the mountains of Montserrat. These rocky pinnacles and their jagged outline have always reminded the Spanish of a sawtooth; hence, "Montserrat," sawtooth mountains. The Shrine of Montserrat is the most venerated place in Catalonia, the shrine of the region. The shrine houses a statue of the Virgin (carved wood),said to have been found in a thicket on the mountain. The statue was probably a pagan effigy originally, but with the conversion of the region to Christianity, it was given a new representation. The huge abbey stands on the top of one of the pinnacles; the building was begun in 1410 by Pope Benedict XIII. Visitors today reach the abbey by cablecar, and there are popular walks on top of the mountain, with superb views. Richard Wagner used Montserrat as a setting for his opera, Parsifal. The "sawtooth" mountains have always suggested mystery and the supernatural, and awed all who visited them.

Olesa de Montserrat  (If visible from the road.) A Passion Play is held in this town, inspired by the nearby Shrine of Montserrat.

Martorell  The river we are following is the Llobregat, and the old bridge is the Pont del Diable (Bridge of the Devil), an ancient construction restored in 1768 by King Carlos III; unfortunately, it was almost destroyed during the Civil War, which raged furiously around Barcelona, which was the Republican headquarters.

The River Llobregat has flooded from time to time, destroying bridges and washing houses away. The river drains rainwater from the mountains of Catalonia, and originates up to the north, near the French border. It runs into the sea just south of Barcelona.

We're now on the outskirts of Barcelona.

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