Castelló d´Empúries and the Aiguamolls de l´Empordà (2)
Castelló d´Empúries was once the island capital of the Counts of Empúries and an important trading centre when the River Muga was still navegable. The town has a magnificent medieval bridge, and the impressive thirteenth-century battlement church of Santa María, is well worth a visit. This Catalan Gothic church was intended by Count Hug Ponç IV to be a cathedral, and stands on a site first occupied by a 6th century Visigoth church (destroyed by the Moors) and later by one built in 888 by Guifré el Pelós [Wilfred the Hairy], Count of Barcelona. The enormous ornate doorway is remarkably well preserved, despite the destructive attentions of French Napoleonic soldiers, and it alone is reward enough for the trip. There is an exceptional 1485 Burgundian Gothic alabaster altarpiece at the back of the apse. Castello’s narrow alleys and streets conceal some fine medieval buildings, although little trace remains of the once flourishing Jewish community. The urban centre originally lay near the main church, but as the population increased, the town extended and the “Plaça dels Homes” (Men’s Square) became the centre with the Counts’ Palace, now the Town Hall, and the ancient Commodities Exchange called the Llotja del Mar. In the 19th century the Desamortizaciónes de Mendizábal, a Spanish government measure freeing much land from Church control, enabled a lot of well off families to consolidate their status by buying property both within and outside the walls. These proprietors such as Climent, Nouvilas, Delohm, Negre, Oliveres, Pastell among others are buried in ornate tombs in the municipal cemetery. The town was besieged as recently as 1874 by the Carlists. There are several good bars and restaurants.
Nearby Vilanova de la Muga is a pretty village with a large 12th century Romanesque church featuring extraordinary original frescoes depicting the Pancreator surrounded by the 12 disciples and their symbols. Also Crismón
Unpaved backroads behind Castelló lead to l’Estanyol and a less frequented part of the Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l´Empordà. These marshy flatlands are overlooked by Palau Saverdera, a pretty village with an interesting Romanesque church, one of the first in the area with Lombard-influenced absidal decorations. It also has a couple of excellent restaurants, including a converted medieval monastery with a lovely garden. Superb views of the Gulf of Roses are also available from bars and restaurants in Pau and Vilajuíga, which has thermal baths where the water is unusually high in lithium. Nearby there is an extraordinary late night venue called Rachdingue, designed by Salvador Dalí, and also a good wine co-operative. The hillside is a tracery of footpaths leading to countless dolmens, menhirs, tiny Romanesque chapels, and shady picnic areas. Vilajuíga is the only point of access from this side to the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes.
There are two very unpleasant resorts within the municipal limits of Castelló d’Empúries. The ancient marshes on which these two resorts were built used to form an important game preserve and were the property of Mr. Miquel Mateu i Pla, ex-mayor of Barcelona, friend of Franco and owner of Perelada Castle. The name Ampuriabrava has a fine historic ring to it, but in fact the entire place was built from scratch for holidaymakers, mostly Germans, with many of its villas set on a 35-kilometre network of canals so that wealthy owners can dock their yachts just below their back porches. Police regard this as a major drug smuggling centre. What the town lacks in character is somewhat made up for in it’s good selection of sports facilities. Santa Margarita, an exceptionally ugly resort by any standards, is almost exclusively frequented by French tourists. There are several ghastly discotheques nearby.
This article was written by Francis Barrett. See also Francis' excellent guide to Ireland irelandbyways.com
Information about the Ampurdan
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Accommodation in the Ampurdan and the Costa Brava