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Castles and Chateaux of Old Navarre and the Basque Provinces
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THE CANIGOU AND ANDORRA
THERE is a section of the Pyrenees that may well be called "the unknown Pyrenees." The main chain has been travelled, explored and exploited for long years, but the Canigou, lying between the rivers Tet and Tech, has only come to be known since half a dozen years ago when the French Alps Club built a châlet-hotel on the plateau of Cortalets. This is at an altitude of 2,200 metres, from which point it is a two hour and a half climb to the summit.
All the beauties of the main chain of the Pyrenees are here in this side-long spur just before it plunges its forefoot into the blue waters of the Mediterranean. It is majestic, and full of sweet flowering valleys stretching off northward and eastward. Unless one would conquer the Andes or the Himalayas he will find the Canigou, Puig, Campiardos, or Puigmal, from eight to ten thousand feet in height, all he will care to undertake without embracing mountaineering as a profession.
The great charm of the Canigou is its comparatively isolated grandeur; for the mountains slope down nearly to sea level, before they rise again and form the main chain.
A makeshift road runs up as far as the Club's châlet, but walking or mule back are the only practicable means of approach. To-day it is all primitive and unspoiled, but some one in the neighbourhood has been to Switzerland and learned the rudiments of "exploitation" and every little while threatens a funicular railway — and a tea room.
In the châlet are twenty-five beds ready for occupancy, at prices ranging from a franc and a half to two francs and a half in summer. In winter the establishment is closed; but those venturesome spirits who would undertake the climb may get a key to the snow-buried door at Perpignan.
One may dispute the fact that Canigou is as fine as Mont Blanc, Mount McKinley or Popocatepetl, but its three thousand majestic metres of tree-grown height are quite as pleasing and varied in their outline as any other peak on earth.
The Savoyard says: "Ce n'est tout de même pas le Mont Blanc avec ses 4,800 mètres," and you admit it, but one doesn't size up a mountain for its mere mathematical valuation.
The Canigou stands out by itself, and that is why its majesty is so impressive. This is also true of Mont Ventoux in Provence, but how many tourists of the personally conducted order realize there are any mountains in Europe save the Alps and its kingly Mont Blanc — which they fondly but falsely believe is in Switzerland.
High above, as the pilgrims of to-day wind their way among the moss-grown rocks of the mountainside, rises the antique Romano-Byzantine tower and ruins of the old Abbey of Saint Martin.
Built perilously on a rocky peak, the abbey is a regular eagle's nest in fact and fancy. In grandiose melancholy it sits and regards the sweeping plains of Roussillon as it did nearly a thousand years ago. The storms of winter, and the ravages incident to time have used it rather badly. It has been desecrated and pillaged, too, but all this has been stopped; and the abbey church has, with restoration and care, again taken its place among the noble religions monuments of France.
At the beginning of the eleventh century the Comte de Cerdagne and Confient, and his wife Guifred, gave this eerie site, at an altitude of considerably more than a thousand metres above the sea, to a community of Benedictine monks for the purpose of founding a monastery. Ten years later the Bishop Oliba, of Vic-d'Osona in Catalonia, consecrated the church and put it under the patronage of Saint Martin; and a Bull of Pope Sergius IV, dated 1011 and preserved in the Musée at Perpignan, confirmed the act and granted the institution the privilege of being known as a mitred abbey, bestowing on its governor the canonical title. It is this antique monastery which rises to-day from its ruins. It has been sadly robbed in times past of columns, capitals and keystones, and many a neighbouring farm-house bears evidence of having, in part, been built up from its ruins.
THE PILGRIMAGE TO ST. MARTIN
The yearly Catalan pilgrimage to St. Martin de Canigou and the services held in the ruined old abbey are two remarkably impressive sights. The soft, dulcet Catalan speech seems to lend itself readily to the mother tongue of Latin in all its purity. A Spanish poet of some generations ago, Jacinto Verdaguer — called the Mistral-espagnol — wrote a wonderfully vivid epic, "Canigou," with, naturally, the old abbey in the centre of the stage.
In Verdaguer's charming poem, written in the Catalan tongue, the old abbey tower is made to moan: — "Campanes ja no tinch" — "Bells I have no longer." This is no longer true, for in 1904 the omnific "Évêque de Canigou" (really the Bishop of Perpignan) caused to be hung in the old crenelated tower a new peal, and to-day there rings forth from the campanile such reverberating melody as has not been known for centuries: "Campanes ja tinch" — "I have my bell; Oliba has come to life again; he has brought them back to me."
The present Bishop of Perpignan, Monseigneur de Carsalade du Pont, in recent years took steps to acquire proprietorship in the abbey church, that it might be safe from further depredations, and solicited donations throughout his diocese of Perpignan and Catalonia for the enterprise.
In 1902, this prelate and his "faithful" from all the Catalan country, in Spain as well as France, made the Fête de Saint Martin (11th November) memorable. To give a poetic and sentimental importance to this occasion the bishop invited the "Consistoire" of the "Jeux Floraux" of Barcelona to hold their forty-fourth celebration here at the same time.
On a golden November sunlit day, amid the ring of mountains all resplendent with a brilliant autumn verdure, this grandest of all Fêtes of St. Martin was held. In the midst of the throng were the Bishop of Perpignan in his pontifical robes, and the mitred Abbé de la Trappe — a venerable monk with snowy beard and vestments. At the head of the procession floated the reconstituted banner of the Comte Guifred, bearing the inscription "Gui-fre par la gracia de Dieu Comte de Cerdanya y de Confient." The local clergy from all over Roussillon and Catalonia were in line, and thousands of lay pilgrims besides.
At the church, when the procession finally arrived, was celebrated a Pontifical Mass. At the conclusion of this religious ceremony the Catalans of Barcelona took possession of the old basilica and the "fête littéraire" commenced.
The emotion throughout both celebrations was profound, and at the end there broke out seemingly interminable applause and shouts of "Vive la Catalogne!" "Vive le Roussillon." "Vive Barcelone!" "Vive Perpignan!"
Back of the Canigou, between it and the main chain of the Pyrenees, is the smiling valley of the Tech and Vallespir.
The route from Perpignan into Spain passes by Le Boulon, on the Tech. If one is en route to Barcelona, and is not an automobilist, let him make his way to Le Boulon, which is really an incipient watering-place, and take the diligence up over the Col de Perthus and down into Spain on the other side. The hasty travellers may prefer the "Paris-Barcelone Express," but they will know not the joy of travel, and the entrance into Spain through the cut of Cerbère is most unlovely.
France has fortified the Col de Perthus, but Spain only guards her interests by her carabiniers and douaniers. The little bourg of Perthus consists of but one long main street, formed in reality by the "Route Internationale," of which one end is French and the other, the Calle Mayor, is Spanish.
Above the village is Fort Bellegarde. It looks imposing, but if guns could get near enough it would doubtless fall in short order. It was built by Vauban under Louis XIV, in 1679, on a mamelon nearly fifteen hundred feet above the pass, and its situation is most commanding. To the west was another gateway into Spain, once more frequented than the Col de Perthus, but it has been made impracticable by the military strategists as a part of the game of war.
Just beyond Le Boulou is Céret, a little town at an elevation of a couple of hundred metres above the sea.
Céret's bridge has been attributed to the Romans, and to the devil. The round loophole, on either side of the great arch, is supposed to have been a malicious afterthought of the engineers who built the bridge to head off the evil influences of the devil who set them to the task. The application is difficult to follow, and the legend might as well apply to the eyes painted on the bows of a Chinese junk. As a matter of record the bridge was built in 1321, by whom will perhaps never be known.
Amélie-les-Bains is ten kilometres higher up in the valley of Tech, and has become a thermal station of repute, due entirely to the impetus first given to it by the spouse of France's "Citizen Bing" in 1840, whose name it bears.
Bagnères-de-Luchon, or more familiarly Luchon, is called the queen of Pyrenean watering-places. If this is so Amélie-les-Bains is certainly the princess, with its picturesque ring of mountain background, and its guardian sentinel the Canigou rising immediately in front. It enjoys a climate the softest in all the Pyrenees, a sky exempt of all the vicissitudes of the seasons, and a winter without freezing.
Just north of Amélie-les-Bains is the little village of Palada. It sits halfway up the mountainside, beneath the protection of a once formidable château, to-day in ruins, its gray green stones crumbling before the north wind which blows here in the winter months with a severity that blows knots from their holes, — at least this is the local description of it, though the writer has never experienced the like. The inhabitants of the poor little village of Palada got hot-headed in 1871, when Paris was under the Commune, and had a little affair of their own on the same order.
The whole valley of the Tech, being a near neighbour of Spain, has that hybrid French-Spanish aspect which gives a distinctive shade of life and colour to everything about. The red cap of the Catalan is as often seen as the blue hat of the Languedoçian.
At Arles-sur-Tech, not for a moment to be confounded with Arles-en-Provence, is a remarkable series of architectural monuments, as well as a charming old church which dates back to the twelfth century, and a Roman sarcophagus which mysteriously fills itself with water, and performs miracles on the thirtieth of each July. Within the church are the relics of the Christian martyrs, Abdon and Sennen, brought from Rome in the ninth century. The charming little mountain town is at once an historic and a religious shrine.
High up in the valley of the Tech is Prats-de-Mollo, with its guardian fortress of La-garde high above on the flank of a hill. This tiny fortress looks hardly more than a blockhouse to-day, but in its time it was ranked as one of the best works of Vauban. To keep it company, one notes the contrasting ruins of the feudal Château de Peille hard by.
The town itself is fortified by a surrounding rampart, still well preserved, with great gates and pepper-box towers well distributed around its circumference. In olden times these ramparts held off the besieging kings of Aragon, but to-day they would quickly succumb to modern guns and ammunition.
Along with its bygone attractions Prats-de-Mollo is trying hard to become a resort, and there are hotels of a modernity and excellence which are surprising for a small town of twenty-five hundred inhabitants, so far off the beaten track. In spite of this no amount of improvements and up-to-date ideas will ever eradicate the mediæval aspect of the place, unless the walls themselves are razed. Its churches, too, are practically fortresses, like those of its neighbour Arles, and the whole aspect of the region is warlike.
The principal church, which dominates the city with its great Roman tower, is a remarkable construction in more ways than one. It is a veritable church militant, for from its great crenelated tower one may pass by an underground vaulted gallery to and from Fort La-garde. There is no such view to be had up and down the valley and off towards the Spanish frontier as from its platform. The interior is most curious; more Spanish than French in its profuse application of gold and tinsel. A gigantic rétable of the time of Louis XIV is the chief artistic accessory within.
There is no carriage road from Prats into Spain, but a mule track leads to the Spanish village of Camprodon.
In a little corner of the Pyrenees, between Vallespir and the valley of the Tech — where lie Céret, Arles and Prats-de-Mollo — and the valley of the Tet, around the western flank of the Canigou, is the Cerdagne, a little district of other days, known to-day only to travellers to or from Perpignan or Quillan into Andorra, via Hospitalet or Bourg-Madame. Vauban fortified the Col de la Perche on the Spanish border to protect the three districts ceded to Louis XIII by Spain — Cerdagne, Capcir and Conflent.
Almost the whole of the Cerdagne is mountains and valleys; and until one reaches the valley of the Tet, at Villefranche or Prades, one is surrounded by a silent strangeness which is conducive to the thought of high ideals and the worship of nature, but drearily lonesome to one who likes to study men and manners. This is about the wildest, ruggedest, and least spoiled corner of France to-day. Nothing else in the Pyrenees or the Alps can quite approach it for solitude.
Villefranche — Conflent and Barcelonnette in the Basses-Alpes might be sisters, so like are they in their make-up and surroundings. Each have great fortresses with parapets of brick, and great stairways of ninety steps leading up from the lower town. The surrounding houses — half-fortified, narrow-windowed, and bellicose-looking — stand as grim and silent today as if they feared imminent invasion.
Far away in the historic past Villefranche was founded by a Comte de Cerdagne who surrounded himself with a little band of adventurers who were willing to turn their hand to fighting, smuggling or any other profitable business.
Vauban took this old foundation and surrounded it with walls anew, and gave the present formidable aspect to the place, building its ramparts of the red marble or porphyry extracted from the neighbouring mountains. Its naturally protected position, set deep in a rocky gorge, gave added strength to the fortress.
Louis XIV, in one of his irrational moments, built a château here and proposed living in it, but fate ruled otherwise. About the only connection of the king with it was when he chained up four women in a dungeon. The chains and rings in the walls may be seen to-day.
Villefranche, its fortifications and its château are admirable examples of the way of doing things in Roussillon between the tenth and fourteenth centuries; and the town is typically characteristic of a feudal bourg, albeit it has no very splendid or magnificent appointments.
Prades, just east of Villefranche, dates its years from the foundation of Charles-le-Chauve in 844, and has a fourteenth and fifteenth century château (in ruins) affectionately referred to by the habitant as "La Reine Marguerite." Assiduous research fails however to connect either Marguerite de France or Marguerite de Navarre with it or its history.
Near Villefranche is the little paradise of Vernet. It contains both a new and an old town, each distinct one from the other, but forming together a delightful retreat. It has a château, too, which is something a good deal better than a ruin, though it was dismantled in the seventeenth century.
Vernet has a regular population of twelve hundred, and frequently as many more visitors. This is what makes the remarkable combination of the new and the old. The ancient town is built in amphitheatre form on a rocky hillside above which rises the parish church and the château which, since its partial demolition, has lately been restored. The new Vernet, the thermal resort, dates from 1879, when it first began to be exploited as a watering-place, and took the name of Vernet-les-Bains for use in the guide books and railway timetables. Naturally this modern-built town with its hotels, its casino and its bath houses, is less lovely and winsome than its older sister on the hill. There are twelve springs here, and some of them were known to the Romans in the tenth century.
On towards the frontier and the mountain road into the tiny Pyrenean state of Andorra is Mont Louis. Just before Mont Louis, on the main road leading out from Perpignan, one passes below the walls of the highest fortress in France.
Within a couple of kilometres of Mont Louis, at the little village of Planes, is one of the most curious churches in France. It is what is known as a "round church," and there are not many like it in or out of France, if one excepts the baptistries at Pisa and Ravenna, and at Aix-en-Provence, and Charlemagne's church at Aix-la-Chapelle. This Église de Planes is more like a mosque than a church in its outlines, and its circular walls with its curious mission-like bell-tower (surely built by some Spanish padre) present a ground plan and a sky line exceedingly bizarre.
Beyond Mont Louis and close under the shadow of Spain is Bourg-Madame. A peculiar interest attaches to Bourg-Madame by reason of the fact that it is a typical Franco-Spanish frontier town, a mixture of men and manners of the two nations. It sits on one side of the tiny river Sevre, which marks the frontier at this point, a river so narrow that a plank could bridge it, and the comings and goings of French and Spanish travellers across this diminutive bridge will suggest many things to a writer of romantic fiction. Bourg-Madame is a good locale for a novel, and plenty of plots can be had ready-made if one will but gossip with the French and Spanish gendarmes hanging about, or the driver of the diligence who makes the daily round between Bourg-Madame and Puigcerda in Spain.
In 1905 there was held a great fête at Bourg-Madame and Puigcerda, in celebration of the anniversary of the signing of the Franco-Spanish Convention of 1904, relative to the Trans-Pyrenean railways. It was all very practical and there was very little romance about it though it was a veritable fête day for all the mountaineers.
The mayors from both the French and Spanish sides of the frontier, and the municipal councillors and other prominent persons from Barcelona met at the baths of Escalde, at an altitude of fourteen hundred metres. M. Delcassé, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, described the various stages of Franco-Spanish relations leading up to the convention as to the Trans-Pyrenean railways, which he hoped to see rapidly constructed. He said that while in office he had done all in his power to unite France and Spain. "He drank to his dear friends of Spain, to the noble Spanish nation, to its young sovereign, who had only to show himself to the public to win universal sympathy, to the gracious queen, daughter of a great country, the friend of France, who never tired of formulating good wishes for the prosperity and grandeur of valiant Spain." After the fêtes on the French side, the party crossed the frontier and continued this international festival at Puigcerda. The fêtes ended long after midnight, after a gala performance at the theatre, at which the Marseillaise and the Spanish national air were enthusiastically cheered.
The French highroad turns northwest at Bourg-Madame, and via Porta and Porté and the Tour de Carol — perhaps a relic of the Moors, but more likely a reminder of Charlemagne, who chased them from these parts — one comes to Hospitalet, from which point one enters Andorra by crossing the main chain of the Pyrenees at the Col de Puymorins.
"A beggarly village," wrote a traveller of Hospitalet, just previous to the Revolution, "with a shack of an inn that made me almost shrink. Some cutthroat figures were eating black bread, and their faces looked so much like galley-slaves that I thought I heard their chains rattle. I looked at their legs, but found them free."
There's good material here for a novel of adventure, or was a hundred years ago, but now the still humble inn of Hospitalet is quiet and peaceful.
ARMS OF ANDORRA
The little republic of Andorra, hidden away in the fastnesses of the Pyrenees between France and Spain, its allegiance divided between the Bishop of Urgel in Spain and the French Government, is a relic of mediævalism which will probably never fall before the swift advance of twentieth century ideas of progress. At least it will never be over-run by automobiles.
From French or Spanish territory this little unknown land is to be reached by what is called a "route carrossable," but the road is so bad that the sure-footed little donkeys of the Pyrenees are by far the best means of locomotion unless one would go up on foot, a matter of twenty kilometres or more from Hospitalet in Spanish or Porté in French territory.
This is a good place to remark that the donkeys of the Pyrenees largely come from Spain, but curiously enough the donkeys and mules of Spain are mostly bred in the Vendée, just south of the Loire, in France.
The political status of Andorra is most peculiar, but since it has endured without interruption (and this in spite of wars and rumours of war) for six centuries, it seems to be all that is necessary.
A relic of the Middle Ages, Andorra-Viella, the city, and its six thousand inhabitants live in their lonesome retirement much as they did in feudal times, except for the fact that an occasional newspaper smuggled in from France or Spain gives a new topic of conversation.
This paternal governmental arrangement which cares for the welfare of the people of Andorra, the city and the province, is the outcome of a treaty signed by Pierre d'Urg and Roger-Bernard, the third Comte de Foix, giving each other reciprocal rights. There's nothing very strange about this; it was common custom in the Middle Ages for lay and ecclesiastical seigneurs to make such compacts, but the marvel is that it has endured so well with governments rising and falling all about, and grafters and pretenders and dictators ruling every bailiwick in which they can get a foothold. Feudal government may have had some bad features, but certainly the republics and democracies of to-day, to say nothing of absolute monarchies, have some, too.
The ways of access between France and Andorra are numerous enough; but of the eight only two — and those not all the way — are really practicable for wheeled traffic. The others are mere trails, or mule-paths.
The people of Andorra, as might be inferred, are all ardent Catholics; and for a tiny country like this to have a religious seminary, as that at Urgel, is remarkable of itself.
Public instruction is of late making headway, but half a century ago the shepherd and labouring population — perhaps nine-tenths of the whole — had little learning or indeed need for it. Their manners and customs are simple and severe and little has changed in modern life from that of their great-great-great-grandfathers.
Each family has a sort of a chief or official head, and the eldest. son always looks for a wife among the families of his own class. Seldom, if ever, does the married son quit the paternal roof, so large households are the rule. In a family where there are only girls the eldest is the heir, and she may only marry with a cadet of another family by his joining his name with hers. Perhaps it is this that originally set the fashion for hyphenated names.
The Andorrans are generally robust and well built; the maladies of more populous regions are practically unknown among them. This speaks much for the simple life!
Costumes and dress are rough and simple and of heavy woollens, clipped from the sheep and woven on the spot. Public officers, the few representatives of officialdom who exist, alone make any pretence at following the fashions. The women occupy a very subordinate position in public affairs. They may not be present at receptions and functions and not even at mass when it is said by the bishop. Crime is infrequent, and simple, light punishments alone are inflicted. Things are not so uncivilized in Andorra as one might think!
In need all men may be called upon to serve as soldiers, and each head of a family must have a rifle and ball at hand at all times. In other words, he must be able to protect himself against marauders. This does away with the necessity of a large standing police force.
Commerce and industry are free of all taxation in Andorra, and customs dues apply on but few articles. For this reason there is not a very heavy tax on a people who are mostly cultivators and graziers.
There is little manufacturing industry, as might be supposed, and what is made — save by hand and in single examples — is of the most simple character. "Made in Germany" or "Fabriqué en Belgique" are the marks one sees on most of the common manufactured articles. "Those terrible Germans!" is a trite, but true saying.
The Andorrans are a simple, proud, gullible people, who live to-day in the past, of the past and for the past; "Les vallées et souverainetés de l'Andorre" are to them to-day just what they always were — a little world of their own.