Historical and cultural context

On horseback from Occitania and the Països Catalans through the mountains that unite and separate these two sister nations

The Carlit 50 Lakes itinerary runs through a high mountain area that is homogeneous at an orographic and landscape level, but quite diverse at a geographical, administrative, and historical level.

During the journey we will be riding the French departments of the Eastern Pyrenees and the Midi-Pyrenees, or what is the same, riding the Catalan and Occitania countries.

Occitan flag, Source: Vilaweb

The Coma d’Anyell pass, in the stage between La Bullosa and Vésines, separates the regions of Alta Cerdanya (Northern Catalonia) and Alto Ariège (Occitania). Similarly, the Col Terrers, which we crossed on the stage between En Beis and Camporrells, also separates the Upper Ariège from the Capcir. Despite being a historical zone of linguistic transition, where the Catalan and Occitan languages had so many features in common that they were confused, the etymological differences are already glimpsed by analyzing their toponymy.

Hydrography also has these two strategic points of passage as limits of large river basins, since while rising from these two hills the waters go to the Mediterranean Sea through the Auda and Segre rivers, towards the west they go to the ocean Atlantic meeting in the Garonne River.

Let’s make a brushstroke of the two nations that host the itinerary:

Occitania

It is a millenary European nation. It is a land with a language and a history own and a town that is outlined over time thanks to the ethnic contribution of Celts, Iberians, Ligurians, Greeks, Romans and Visigoths.

Today, Occitania is politically divided between the Spanish, Italian and French states, where most of its territory and population are located. It is not internationally recognized as a political entity, but the Occitan language is official in the Principality of Catalonia, and in the Aran Valley, from where it is its own language.

To get an idea of the geographical and human dimensions of Occitania, we will focus on the territory where Occitan is spoken: it is a unit with 16 million inhabitants spread over 190,000 km2. It extends from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and from the Auvergne massif to the Iberian Peninsula. Thus, it encompasses the southwestern part of the Alpine arch. It also includes Aquitaine, Limousin, Languedoc, Auvergne and Provence.

Linguistic map of Occitan and Catalan, Source: CPNL

Northern Catalonia

Also called Northern Catalonia, it is the historically and culturally Catalan part and separated, for the benefit of France, from the rest of Catalonia by virtue of the treaty of the Pyrenees (on November 7, 1659). The denomination includes the historical regions of Roussillon, Conflent, Vallespir, Capcir and the north of Cerdanya (what is known as Alta Cerdanya). La Fenolleda, despite being predominantly Occitan, is often included in the definition of Northern Catalonia due to its geographical and administrative relations with Roussillon.

Currently these regions constitute the French department of the Eastern Pyrenees, which is included within the region of Languedoc-Roussillon (Languedoc-Roussillon), which is informally known in French as Catalan Pays.

The Pyrenees unites and separates at the same time these two nations full of history in common, and with two languages evolved from Latin with very close proximity in every way, to the point that some scholars say that they originated as the same language that was evolving differently over time on both sides of the Pyrenees.

Retrieve original place names

The information on this mountain crossing is intended to be disseminated with the original toponymic forms, both in the Catalan part and in the Occitan part.

As an example, some Occitan place names that we have wanted to show in their original form are that of the pond and refuge of Vésines (instead of the French Bésines), or those of the villages of Acs (instead of the French Ax-les-Thermes) or L ‘Ospitalet (instead of the French Hospitalet-près-d’Andorre).

Let us focus, however, on the etymology of the Catalan place name La Bullosa, the nerve center of this itinerary, and called Les Bouillouses in French.

Segons ens explica Ferran Alexandri, el nom deriva del llatí BULLIRE ‘bullir, estar en ebullición, brollar’; aplicat sobretot a aigües que emergeixen amb força. Everyone knows the lake of La Bullosa in the upper Cerdanya, near Montlluis, where the waters of the rising course of the Tet spread. There was here a series of wetlands and ponds, which extended from the foot of Puig Peric, where the river is born, to more to the south of the latitude of Carlit. The great Catalan etymologist Coromines noted that in 1931 they said La Bullosa, but French maps and guides put Las Bouillouses in the plural. Thirty years later, in some population of the region you could also feel the Bullosas, but the fact is that etymologically we must write it with U, as one enters the “Onomasticon Cataloniae” and in the Great Catalan Encyclopedia.

And then we make a brushstroke of some of the tourist resources in the area from the heritage point of view:

The information on this mountain crossing is intended to be disseminated with the original toponymic forms, both in the Catalan part and in the Occitan part.

As an example, some Occitan place names that we have wanted to show in their original form are that of the pond and refuge of Vésines (instead of the French Bésines), or those of the villages of Acs (instead of the French Ax-les-Thermes) or L ‘Ospitalet (instead of the French Hospitalet-près-d’Andorre).

Let us focus, however, on the etymology of the Catalan place name La Bullosa, the nerve center of this itinerary, and called Les Bouillouses in French.

Segons ens explica Ferran Alexandri, el nom deriva del llatí BULLIRE ‘bullir, estar en ebullición, brollar’; aplicat sobretot a aigües que emergeixen amb força. Everyone knows the lake of La Bullosa in the upper Cerdanya, near Montlluis, where the waters of the rising course of the Tet spread. There was here a series of wetlands and ponds, which extended from the foot of Puig Peric, where the river is born, to more to the south of the latitude of Carlit. The great Catalan etymologist Coromines noted that in 1931 they said La Bullosa, but French maps and guides put Las Bouillouses in the plural. Thirty years later, in some population of the region you could also feel the Bullosas, but the fact is that etymologically we must write it with U, as one enters the “Onomasticon Cataloniae” and in the Great Catalan Encyclopedia.

And then we make a brushstroke of some of the tourist resources in the area from the heritage point of view:

The Yellow Train

A symbol of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the Yellow Train has traveled all year round this territory for almost 100 years. The railway line was built at the beginning of the 20th century, in order to connect the mountain lands with the Roussillon plain.

Begun in 1903, the first section from Vilafranca to Montlluís will be inaugurated in 1910. Then, with an easier construction, the second part, from Montlluís to La Guingueta d’Ix (Bourg-Madame), with the Bolquera station (1,593 meters ), was inaugurated in June 1911. The six kilometers to the Tor de Querol will be completed in 1927. The construction of this railway route requires the construction of 650 structures, including 19 tunnels and two notable bridges: the Séjourné viaduct and the bridge Gisclard pendant. The train journey, especially with the wagons uncovered, reveals a panoramic landscape. As the train climbs the steep valley of the Tet, Conflent above, and then crosses the flatter areas of Cerdanya between large mountains, flanking the massif of the Canigó, Cambre d’Aze, Carlit and Puigmal, and seeing in the distance, the silhouette of the Serra del Cadí. At each curve you can see new villages, with Romanesque churches, and the entrance to narrow valleys of the Alto Conflent reserved only for hikers. In winter, we discover the ski resorts that cling to the slopes of Cerdanya.

Little Yellow Train, Source: France.fr

The defense architecture of Vauban the Catalan Pyrenees

Vauban (Saint-Léger-de-Fougeret, Kingdom of France, May 15, 1633 – Paris, France, March 30, 1707) was a military engineer and Marshal of France, known for the Vauban Method of siege and military engineering. A French engineer in the service of King Louis XV, he was at the same time a military man, an architect, a great traveler and an observer of his time.

Everywhere in France he built an important line of fortifications called the “iron girdle.” It had the objective of protecting and controlling the French territory. Fourteen of these places, illustrating one of the facets of his work, were grouped in the Network of Greater Vauban Sites with the aim of having Vauban’s work recognized in the UNESCO world heritage. Two of these exceptional places are part of the Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees: Mont Louis and Villefranche-de-Conflent. His stories intersect after the ratification of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, which marks the annexation to France of the lands of Northern Catalonia: Roussillon and Cerdanya.

Montlluís, Alta Cerdanya

In April 1679, Vauban decided to build Montlluis at the crossroads of three roads. At the gates of Cerdanya, framed by the Collado de la Perxa, Montlluis controls the entrance of the Conflent through the Têt valley and the entrance of the Capcir into the Languedoc country. In this place, Vauban projected a square with a citadel, a high city and a low city. A formidable stronghold, Mont-Louis still retains its military vocation today by hosting the National Training Center, but it also affirms its economic and administrative dynamism.

 

Fortified town of Montlluís

Vilafranca de Conflent

Catalan city founded in the 11th century by the Count of Cerdanya, at the confluence of the Têt, Cadí and Rojà valleys, Vilafranca was taken and its walls demolished by the French in 1654. Recognizing his strategic interest, Vauban decided to adapt the city’s defenses to the demands of the military techniques of his time. He imagines and builds two fortified complexes with the aim of guarding the valley: the fortified cave of Cueva Bastera and the Fort Liberia castle. At Fort Liberia, the assailant is compelled to defeat, both by the complex geography of the site (a steep hillside) and by the quality of the military construction. In the 19th century, Villefranche became a tourist town. Walking through the alleys full of artisan shops is inevitable, and it is an invitation to travel back in time.

Vilafranca del Conflent