THE FIRST PROVENÇAL GRAMMAR
The small agricultural and industrial centre of Besalu is located on the road between Figueres and Olot. In the Middle Ages it was the capital of a powerful county that extended up to Corbières (which is today in the French compartment of Aude). It was the birthplace of a famous “troubadour”, Ramon Vidal who was the author of several poetic works and what can be termed as being the first grammar of the Romance language, consisting of a treatise in Occitane language entitled “Regles o las rasons de trobar”.
The town in this period featured numerous stately houses, and churches as well as a Benedictine monastery, surrounded by walls. Like all commercial towns it had its Jewish quarter, known as the Call. It was reached by a very high bridge which linked the two opposing banks of the Fluvia river. Besalu experienced a turbulent period during the 17th century, during the French wars, and was a century later invaded and pillaged by Napoleonic armies.
Economic prosperity returned at the end of the 19th century with the advent of the industrial revolution. Today this small industrial and agricultural centre has proved able to preserve its architectural heritage.
A BRIDGE AND AN ABBEY
The Pont Vell (Old bridge) over the Fluvia river is undoubtedly the most spectacular monument of Besalu. It was built before 1075, and experienced a turbulent history. It was damaged by flooding on several occasions, and was subsequently bombed during the Spanish civil war and was then rebuilt in identical style. Its five pointed arches, dominate the river forming a very wide angle, thereby enhancing the intrinsic elegance of the construction itself.
The fortifications positioned over the main pillar, and on the western extremity from the town side have also been preserved.Once over the bridge we come to the Jewish Call, where the synagogue is located, of which only the “mikwé” remains, one of the rare ritual baths of the Middle Ages to have remained intact.Particularly worthy of note is the Plaça Major (Main square),with its Romanesque buildings (Casa dels Arcs), Gothic (Curia Reial) or dating back to the 16-17th century (Casa de la Vila). The nearby roads also feature other splendid Medieval residences such as: Can Cambo, Casa Llaudes (Romanesque).But the Romanesque style is perhaps best illustrated in the abbey of Sant Pere, the church of a Benedictine monastery founded in 997 and which continued to exist until 1835. Consisting of three imposing naves supported by large pillars which open out onto a low transept. The cloister is surrounded by a deambulatory along the models of the Romanesque apses of France. The large capitals surrounding the circular column feature excellent sculpted decorations which have unfortunately been damaged by fire.
From the outside, the cloister, deambulatory and smaller apses appear to be incorporated in a more massive apse.Not far away in the town centre is the church of Saint Vincent, which is also Romanesque, featuring an elegant front and an attractive portal at the south end.
THE REIGN OF ALABASTER
A visit to Besalu is not complete without at least a short walk over the hillside which surrounds the town to the north, at the foot of the Mare de Deu del Mont massif, covered by a lush Mediterranean vegetation. Scattered with a series of wealthy farmhouses, built in the 18th century, from where we can reach the alabaster caves of Beuda, the largest in Spain. The stone is quarried here, and often cut into fine slivers and used for the “panels” which reflect a wonderful light into many of the Catalan churches.The village of Beuda is also worthy of a visit for its Romanesque church of San Feliu featuring three naves and a triple apse, and an imposing portal. The nearby woods also conceal the ancient Benedictine priory of Sant Sepulcre which depended on the abbey of Lagrasse in Linguadoca, once again featuring an elegant triple nave, with a two pitch roof and apse, in a wonderful lush setting