Monday 12 January 2015

Medieval Catalonia: Millennium-old town of Besalú

If you think Barcelona is all you are going see when visiting the northeast part of Spain, you are missing out on some of the most beautiful sights of the region.  The county of Catalonia traces back a thousand years, when many  market towns thrived along the important trade routes north and south of the Pyrenees mountains.  The town of Besalú was documented since the 10th century.  

At that time, Spain as a country has not yet emerged; a region called Marca Hispania roughly covers what is now Catalonia, and was a zone created by Charlemagne as a defensive line against the moors occupying Al-Andalus in the south.  Before that, the Muslim forces had conquered as far north as Narbonne (250km north of Barcelona).  

With Charlemagne taking control of the region, peace reigned
and trade flourished.  This was a place of colourful people and culture, from Basques to Hispano-Romans to Jews and Muslims to Goths.  Besalú was one of the liveliest towns, bustling with artisans, shops, and traders gathered from the area.  In fact, the first shop as you enter the town gates is a shop that sells some of the most beautifully made wooden toys.  The spirit of artisans and craftsmanship is still very much alive.

Several important and beautiful sites dominate the town, such as the Monastery of Saint Peter (10th century), the Gate and the Bridge (11th to 14th century), Jewish Bath and Synagogue (13th century), various towers, walls (from 11th to 14th century), squares and Medieval buildings.  

Reserve about 2 hours to explore the entire town, more if you enjoy visiting little shops and artist ateliers.  Restaurants and cafes are found in all the squares, as well as what used to be the Jewish quarters, now overlooking the river.  A Medieval Music festival takes place in Besalú each year.  From Barcelona, it is about an hour and half of scenic drive; or take a train to Girona and change to a direct bus to Besalú.  

Official Spain Tourism website:

How to get there:

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