Mt. Canigou as viewed from near Perpignon
We visited two towns in the region - Vernet-les-bains and Villefranche-de-Conflent. For those who want to go straight to the pictures, use the hot-links. For those who are interested in a general understanding of the region, browse the text below before you go.
To understand a region, you must be aware of its history. This region is now known in France as the Languedoc-Rousillon. However, its roots go much further back. This is truly one of the regions of the Catalan people. I say 'one', because the remainder of the Catalan is across the border in Spain. Catalan was originally in the realm of the King of Majorica. This is a little misleading. The roots of Catalonia as a nation date back to the Middle Ages.
One of, if not, the best web sites concerning Catalon history and politics is HISTORY OF CATALONIA. This site contains several chronological chapters. The focus of the site is the changing of that kingdom's influence from an independent Catalan-Aragon sovereignty to the Catalan quest for independancy today. I will use excerpts noted in " " from several of the early chapters, but I strongly suggest examining the site in detail if you are headed to the region.
Another reference found on the web is, of course, available from Amazon.com. The book is entitled A Mediterranean Emporium : The Catalan Kingdom of Majorca by David Abulafia. References from the review of that book will be denoted as ' '. It should be noted that this is a special order book and a library may be your best means of obtaining a copy. It is published by Cambridge University Press.
From Moors to Christians deals primarily with the Majorca Islands, but it is a good source for the pirates that prompted the king of Aragon to invade. Here I will use * * to denote excerpts. Verification of that site is now in question as it may have been posted by a student at the university in Australia. University policy is to remove sites by students who have left. However, I have a hard copy of the site taken from my earlier research on the web.
HISTORY OF CATALONIA: "Throughout the centuries, the Catalan nation has had various political institutions and forms of government, each one appropriate to its time, with varying degrees of sovereignty. With the marriage of Count Ramon Berenguer IV to Petronila of Aragon in 1137, the Kingdom of Catalonia and Aragon was born. In addition to these two territories, together with Provence and Roussillon, this kingdom was successively incorporate the Balearic Islands (Majorica, et al), Valencia, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and Naples, and ultimately extended as far as Athens and Neopatria."
Quoting from the review of A Mediterranean Emporium : The Catalan Kingdom of Majorca: 'The Catalan kingdom of Majorca was established under the will of King James I of Aragon, who conquered Majorca in 1229, but it was ruled from 1276 to 1343 by a cadet dynasty.' (My note: The invasion of Majorca was prompted by the need to squelch pirates based on Majorca who were raiding the ocean commerce: see next paragraph.) 'The kingdom included the key business centers on Montpellier and Perpignan, and other lands in what is now southern France. It was home to important Jewish and Muslim communities, and was the focus of immigration from Catalonia, Provence and Italy.
The age of pirates - From Moors to Christians states: *The Balearic then knew a period of prosperity and political independence until about 1100. The govenor of this period, al-Murtada, even minted coins of money with his name between 1077 and 1093. But this calm period stayed short. The Balearic aroused the greed of the Almovarids, the berber sovereigns of the dester of Maroc.* I will paraphrase for a moment. In 1113, a flotilla financed by the merchants of Rome and Pisa were sent to dislodge the Moors. The Balearics were a crossroad for commercial relations between Europe and North Africa. *However, the motivations of the count Ramon Berrenguer III of Barcelona, (my note: see above) who also joined the war alliance, is much less obvious. The commercial interests of the Catalans in the Balearic seemed much less clear.... the count of Barcelona was probably hoping to gain some benefits from this campaign as compensation. Nevertheless, the pisano-catalan conquest ended with a failure.*
Continuing *A new alliance, one that would be able to exploit the weakness of the Moorish rule of the Balearic, soon took form under the reign of Jaime I of Aragon (1213-1276). At the early age of twenty in 1228, Jaimes I saw the conquest of the Balearic islands as an exalting chivalic adventure, a crusade to protect the Cross against the infidels. The king said he was putting more honor on the conquest of this one small kingdom "in the middle of the sea, where it pleased God to put it", than in the three kingdoms on the continent. The expedition received the benediction of the Pope. ...the conquest was not truly seen as a crusade. Jaime I simply pictured his war as way to recover lands that had been stolen from Christendom. The conquest of Majorca and the colonization that followed were thus mostly motivated by the wish to gain new markets and new territories. ..it put an end to the five centuries of Moorish dominatioin of the Balearic.* So, the kindom of Majorca was really the kingdom of Aragon and Majorca. This was the Catalan kingdom of the Catalan people.
Now to more recent history. Again from HISTORY OF CATALONIA: "By virtue of the Treaty of Corbeil (1258) between James I the Conqueror and Louis IX (Saint Louis of France), the former agreed to the loss of his dominions beyound the Pyrenees (except Montpellier and Roussillon), while the King of France as the successor to the Carolingian kings renounced his rights to the Catalan provinces of Barcelona, Urgell, Besalu, Roussillon,Empuries, Cerdanya, Conflent, girona and Osona. Catalonia lost territory but gained legitimate independence."
"The Catalon-Aragon dynasy came to an end in the early 15th century. The throne passed successively to Castillan (Trastamara), French (Bourbon) and austrian (Hapsburg) dynasties. but the lands under the Catalan-Aragon crown, as of the 14th century, could count on a political and administrative body which emerged from the Corts Reials, the Generalitat, which ws to become a government institution."
"Although the Thirty Years War had ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, in which spanish dominions in the centre of Europe were relinquished, the war between France and Castile affecting Catalan terrritories to the north of the Pyrenees continued. When Louis XIV and Phillip IV signed the Peace of the Pyreness in 1659, Catalonia was mutilated when Phillip IV ceded a part of Catalan territory (Roussillon, Capcir, Conflent, Vallespir and part of Cerdanya) to France, once again trangressing the Constitutions of Catalonia."
And now to today. Surfing the 'net on Catalan will result in a number of sites dealing with the flags of Catalan such as Flags of the World. Nationalistic pride is still very much alive. Conversations with people in the region result in the feeling that they are Catalan, not French. If you were to ask someone in the region if they would be in favor of uniting with the Catalans of Spain, the answer would be 'no'. But, if you were to ask if they would be willing to join with their brethern in Spain to form a nation of Catalan, the answer would be most positive.
There are a couple other sites that provide some insight. Some are tourist related, but, hey, we are all tourists when we go.
French Affair Vacation Properties
My wife and I plan on returning to the region in the near future. We will focus our attention on the wine and coastal regions.
And now the