Places in Catalonia;

May 31st, 2010

The Dance of Death in Verges

Verges: Dansa de la mort 2009 093 por dantzan.

130 kilometres north of Barcelona lies the small town of Verges.  Every Maundy Thursday Verges still “celebrates” the medieval European tradition of the Dansa de La Mort or “Dance of Death”. The macabre nocturnal display features five agile dancers who dance around the crowds in luminescent skeleton costumes. This is the last vestige of a once common spectacle throughout Europe. Above image by dantzen on flickr.

The origin of the dances of death lie in:

The deathly horrors of the 14th century—such as recurring famines; the Hundred Years’ War in France; and, most of all, the Black Death—were culturally assimilated throughout Europe. The omnipresent possibility of sudden and painful death increased the religious desire for penitence, but it also evoked a hysterical desire for amusement while still possible; a last dance as cold comfort. Wikipedia

Francis Barrett elsewhere on iberianature notes:

Verges, with remains of medieval walls and towers, is famous for its macabre Holy Week procession of very distinctive pagan origin, la Dansa del Mort, the dance of the dead. This is performed each Easter Thursday at the end of a long and rather tedious Passion Play, but, as the village bars remain impiously open all evening, is nevertheless well worth seeing.

Francis also notes:

The murmuring crowds lining the unilluminated medieval laneways fall silent at the approach of the torchlit crucifixion procession, led by skeletal figures advancing in a series of jerky stacatto rotations roughly choreographed to a hair-raising semi-irregular single drumbeat – by far the most disturbing aspect of the event.

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Also on iberianature

Travel guide to Osana

Good review of the county of Osana here from Barcelona writing. On food of Osona
Pork and its by-products may be the most emblematic food of the county, but Osona has much else to offer gastronomes. The truffle (trufa), a black mushroom that grows underground and is highly prized, and a wide range of bolets (Catalan mushrooms) including pinetell, rovelló, rossinyol, cep and fredolic are found locally, as are the white beans (mongetes) of the Collsacabra Mountains, characterised by their small size. For dessert, the pa de pessic de Vic (sponge cake) is worth trying as are the regional cheeses, curds, honey and jam.

Sant Martí d’Empúries – the most beautiful village in the Costa Brava?

Sant Martí d`’Empúries is a pretty village with a Romanesque church, several good bars and restaurants and some great views of the Gulf of Roses. Originally an island, this was where the first Greek traders established a settlement. Count Sunyer II (862-915 AD) of Empùries moved his residence from Sant Martí into Castelló circa 860 AD Historians think that this was due to Norman and Barbary pirate raids and pillaging along the coast. If you walk out onto the ancient stone pier, you may experience a very odd electrical phenomenon! Continue reading

The exclave of Llivia


Llivia is what is known as an exclave, a piece of territory wholly surrounded by the territory of another state, in this case France. This curious state of affairs was brought about by the stipulations of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees which ceded the counties of the Northern Pyrenees and Roussillon to the French crown. Llívia was excluded as the treaty stipulated that only villages were to be ceded to France, and Llívia was considered a city due to its status as the ancient capital of Cerdanya. In 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War, there was discussion on the idea of Llívia remaining a free territory of the defeated Republican government, but nothing ever came of the plan, and France gave Franco’s troops permission to occupy the town. Today a single road connects it to Catalonia.

Llivia is home to what is reputedly the oldest chemist in Europe, now a museum, possibly dating from the early 15th century. The small town is set in the beautiful Vall de la Cerdanya.

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Estany Gento

Estany Gento amb el pic de Pala Pedregosa al fons

Estany Gento (Gento Lake) holds the record for the coldest ever recorded temperature in Spain with a nippy -32ºC in 1956, though experts suspect that some of the peaks in the Aragonese Pyrenees have fallen as low as -40ºC. The lake, on the edge of Aigüestortes national park, is glacial in origin. A municiapl hotel is open from July to September.

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Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes

The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes is one of the most important of all Catalan Romanesque sites. Perched high on a hillside overlooking the Gulf of Léon, the setting is as impressive as the ruined walls and towers themselves. The first written record of the monastery dates back to 879 AD, when it was one of the many religious institutions founded in this area after the departure of the Moors. The magnificent Bendictines edifice was constructed between 979 and 1022, and was sacked and abandoned in the eighteenth century. Best preserved is the church at its centre with three wide naves and capitals of delicately carved acanthus leaves and animal heads. The 27-meter high bell-tower has fine arcades. The ruins are at their most atmospheric when shrouded in swirling mist, which is not uncommon in autumn and winter. On the hilltop above Sant Pere are the remains of a medieval castle, and fantastic 360º views that sweep from Cerbère in France to Cap de Creus to the east, to Montgrí and Begur in the south, to the high Pyranees in the west. There is an interesting Romanesque church above the main parking lot. On the hillside just below the monastery there is a pretty grotto with a fountain. This is a good spot from which to look up in awe at the mighty edifice above.

The true origin of the monastery is not known, which has given rise to speculation and legend; such as its foundation by monks who disembarked in the area with the remains of Saint Peter and other saints, to save them from the Barbarian hordes that had fallen on Rome. Once the danger had passed the Pope Boniface IV commanded them to construct a monastery. Read on Wikipedia

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Castellfollit de la Roca

Castellfollit de la Roca - Vista frontal.jpg

Castellfollit de la Roca is a village in la Garrotxa, spectacularly perched on top of a steep cliff. The best view is from the bridge over the river Fluvià. The cliff is illuminated after dark until midnight for about 6 months of the year. I am told that road widening near Castellfollit has done away with the very weird and wonderful privately constructed free children’s labyrinth beside the river that used to make drivers stop and stare. Castellfollit itself has a spectacular old church, some narrow medieval streets, a parador and a fonda, but in my personal experience is a very unfriendly little dump. To be enjoyed from afar.

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Ullastret is the name of both a charming village and of the fascinating archeological site about 2km away for which it is famous. The latter, set on a lush hillside, was inhabited continually from 7BC until its mysterious abandonment in the late 17th century. It has been carefully excavated to reveal Cyclopean (pre-Iberian) foundations and the remains of houses, water reservoirs and canalisation, and the main square resembles those of certain Greek settlements. There is a small but excellent archaeological museum in the 14th century Sant Andreu chapel. Here you can really see the impact of the Greeks on Iberian culture.

Ullastret village is a medieval precinct surrounded by three distinct lines of defensive walls. There’s a nice café with terrace in the main plaça. Look across the square for the dungeon in the NW corner tower. Continue reading