Saragossa to Lerida

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Saragossa to Lerida

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.

Crossing into Catalonia  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 patronized 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.

Catalan speech: Because of its closeness to France, a separate language has evolved in Catalonia: Catalan. (Official "Spanish" is actually Castillian.) Their language is a mixture of French and original Spanish; spoken over the border in France too. A rich language, with a whole literature which continues today.

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 Lerida 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 Lerida). There are some remains of the old walls at Alcarraz.

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

History: Lerida was first known as Lltirta in early Iberian times. Under the Romans, the name changed to Iierda, hence "Lerida." 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, Lerida 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.


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