Historical and cultural context

The Canigó, the lighthouse and reference of the most Mediterranean Pyrenees, is the sacred mountain of the Catalans on both sides of the border

The Canigó rises imposingly between the northern Catalan counties of Conflent, Vallespir and Rosselló, and is close to the Empordà and the province of Girona in general.

It is a highly iconic place that has been a source of inspiration for poets, legends and popular sayings; and home, for centuries, of woodsmen, ranchers, farmers, shepherds, blacksmiths, peasants, monks, bandits, porters, coal miners, pilgrims, naturalists, hikers…

Fascinated and intrigued by his lofty figure, the human being feared, respected, admired and conquered respectively these peaks glorified by tales and legends. Considered for a long time the highest mountain in the Pyrenees, the Canigó massif became the sacred mountain of the Catalan Countries.

The sacred mountain of the Catalan Countries?

In the whole of the Pyrenees we do not find such significant differences in level as those of this massif with respect to the plains that border it, 2,700 meters, located at sea level. It is not surprising that until well into the 18th century, the immemorial belief that the Canigó was the highest mountain in the Pyrenees was maintained. Its proximity to the Mediterranean, less than 50 km in a straight line, made it an unmistakable sign for all sailors.

The myth grows, however, when this massif takes place during the Renaixença, that is, at the time of the start of the national resurgence of Catalonia, the quintessential geographical emblem of the Catalan territory. Jacint Verdaguer, the architect of the literary renaissance, made him the protagonist in 1886 of an epic set in the Pyrenees. The Canigó becomes a powerful bond that reunites, at the end of s. XIX, the two Catalonia, after three centuries of separation by the Treaty of the Pyrenees. The Catalan renaissance that takes place on both sides of the border, the awareness of Catalanness, passes through the Canigó. It was through this political and social movement that Catalonia asserted its identity, and Canigó took on the role of “mountain – symbol” from the publication of the great poem by Mossèn Cinto.

A number of common traditions still surround these territories today, the most emblematic of which is the lighting of the Canigó flame. Every June 22 at 10.30 pm, the summit of Canigó shines with a thousand fires, and it is from this great bonfire that all the bonfires of Sant Joan dels Països Catalans will be lit. At dawn on the day of the festival, after a group of hikers from the Perpignan Youth Circle accompanied him to the top of the Canigó, the fire spread, flame to flame, to all corners of the country. From Prats de Molló to Alicante and from Tamarit de Llitera to Ciutadella, the flame of the Canigó is the spark that ignites the hundreds of bonfires that illuminate the night of Sant Joan, an ancestral welcome party in the summer inherited from the first settlers of the Mediterranean.

Over time, the Canigó remains in the collective subconscious of all Catalans, and is revered as an unquestionable link between the north and the south, so close, so brotherly, but sometimes so little communicated by the orography of the axial Pyrenees, accentuated by the border raised as a result of the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659). Traveling to the Canigó has the charm of crossing a border without moving from the country itself, it symbolizes the hug to the exiled brother who is expensive to see, but whom he loves as the first day. Or maybe more. And whom time and men have turned into a cradle, a myth, a lighthouse, an icon… Without a doubt, the most mythical mountain in the Catalan Pyrenees.

Verdaguer, creator of the myth

In 1879 Verdaguer spent a medicinal stay in the spa town of La Presta (Prats de Molló) which aroused his interest in the nearby Canigó mountain, where he made numerous solo excursions to reach the summit. Later, with his backpack on his shoulder and also alone, he explored this mountain again until he left no corner to explore, but constantly pointing notes and data in the notebook that never left him.

He was so impressed by the massif and the temples and monasteries – or ruins – that he discovered that it became a real obsession for him that made him want to write about this mountain. During the summers of 1883 and 1884, when he had already made his decision, he began to write as he traveled the entire mountain range with his hazelnut cane, cassock, breviary, and notebook, sometimes amidst storms and storms. He climbed the Maladeta and the Puigmal, visiting the Pallars and the Aran Valley… places that, despite their beauty, seemed inferior to their beloved mountain. And so, walking through the mountains, stopping here and there, a “Pyrenean legend from the times of the Reconquest” arose in his mind, and the love poem between the gentleman Gentile and the fairy Flordeneu. Here are some of his verses:

Lo Canigó és una magnòlia inmensa
Que en un rebrot del Pirineu se bada;
Per abelles té fades que la volten,
Per papallons los cisnes i les àligues.
Formen son càlzer escarides serres
Que plateja l’hivern i l’estiu daura,
Grandiós veire on beu olors l’estrella,
Los aires rellentor, los núvols aigua.
Les boscúries de pins són sos barbissos,
Los Estanyols ses gotes de rosada,
I és son pistil aqueix palau aurífic,
Somni d’aloja que del cel davalla.

“Cant II, Flordeneu”
Del Canigó gegantí
Gentil en la cima es troba,
Davant d’un quadro diví
Que tots els sentits li roba.

“Cant VI, Nuviatge”
Lo que un segle bastí l’altre ho aterra,
mes resta sempre el monument de Déu;
i la tempesta, el torb, l’odi i la guerra
al Canigó no el tiraran a terra,
no esbrancaran l’altívol Pirineu.
Epíleg, Los dos campanars

The Canigó according to the sages

Josep Pla: “Bishop Cinto knew our country, the Pyrenees and Roussillon like no other in a prodigious way”.

Jordi Creus: “From Pallars to Ripollès and from Val d’Aran to Vallespir, Verdaguer had trodden the territory. A pioneer hiker, the poet had first climbed the summit of Pic de Balaig – the traditional name of the Canigó mountain – in the late 1870s, an ascent he would repeat several times throughout his life ”.

Jordi Vila-Abadal, former monk of the Monastery of Sant Miquel de Cuixà: “The Canigó is a symbol of our identity; and, like her, sadly subjected to the domination of another. Beyond the Canigó – mountain, there is a Canigó – symbol, which for each one has a particular and non-transferable meaning but which, collectively looked at, represents what we citizens of common Catalan-speaking countries have in common and gives us identity. ”.

Joan Maragall about the first hikers of the Catalan Association of Scientific Excursions and the Center Excursionista de Catalunya: schools of an entire people. “Hiking is not a sport, it is not a pastime, it is not a study, it is love; nor is it an abstract love of nature, but of our nature.”

Eduard Vila i Riba, member of the CEC (1906): traded at the expense of our own blood ”.

Eduard Voltas, former director of Descobrir Catalunya magazine: For historical reasons, the Canigó has become a kind of “Montserrat del Nord” from the point of view of national mythology, and in a Mecca of Catalan hiking.

Josep Pla: “El Canigó, the diamond mountain: covered with snow, slightly pink, it looked like a huge diamond; on his pachydermal shoulders, the geometry of his edges sparkled in pink and blue luster. The mountain had a fascinating indifference, a force of dazzling beauty that magnetized the gaze. “

Jean-Pierre Bobo, historian: “The love of the Catalans for Canigó, this love without reason, passionate, is confused with the love of the Catalan land and the native country. The canigó is a powerful bond that reunites, at the end of s. XIX, the two Catalonia, after three centuries of separation by the Treaty of the Pyrenees. The Catalan renaissance that takes place at the end of the s. XIX on both sides of the border, the awareness of Catalanness, passes through the Canigó. And it is through this political and social movement that Catalonia asserted its identity. And the canigó takes on the role of “mountain – symbol” from the publication, in 1886, of the great poem Canigó by Jacint Verdaguer. “

Josep Ribas (Sant Llorenç de la Salanca, 1931), professor and illustrator from Roussillon: “The Canigó had a triple vocation: besides being a land of freedom and a pastoral and mining area, it was also a center of high spirituality, with Romanesque abbeys and Baroque churches.”

Tangible and intangible heritage

Etymology of the word “Canigó”, supposedly pre-Roman: the current word would be the evolution of the ancient Kanikono, “the white giant”. The name of the mountain, however, was for many centuries the Pic de Balaig, a place name already present in various places in the Massif. The Balaig Valley is considered the headwaters of the Taurinyà riverbank, below the Canigó basin, along which passes the forest road that leads to the Balaig fir grove and the Cortalets refuge, above the Estany de Balaig.

The Canigó flame: throughout the year, the Museum of the Casa Pairal in Perpignan hosts a fire that has been lit since 1955. At dawn on June 23, after a group of hikers from the Perpignan Youth Circle accompanied him to the top of the Canigó, the fire spread, flame to flame, to all corners of the country. From Prats de Molló to Alicante and from Tamarit de Llitera to Ciutadella, the Canigó Flame is the spark that ignites the hundreds of bonfires that illuminate the night of Sant Joan, an ancestral welcome party in the summer inherited from the first settlers of the Mediterranean.

Monastery of Sant Miquel de Cuixà: Sant Miquel de Cuixà is a Benedictine monastery located at the foot of the Canigó, in the valley of the river Llitera or riverside of Taurinyà, in the municipality of Codalet, in Conflent. It was founded by Archpriest Protasi in 879. It was with the abbots Garí and Oliba that it became one of the most important spiritual and cultural centers in Catalonia in feudal times. It is the most interesting monument of pre-Romanesque or early Romanesque architecture. The current monastic complex is the result of three constructive moments: the temple consecrated in 974, the reforms and new constructions of the abbot Oliba during the first half of the 11th century, and the cloister corresponds to the time of the abbot Gregori. The Monastery of Sant Miquel de Cuixà has been chosen by popular vote as one of the Seven Wonders of the material cultural heritage of Catalonia.

Monastery of Sant Martí del Canigó: The abbey of Sant Martí del Canigó is located at 1,094 m above sea level, behind a rocky outcrop of the Canigó massif, at the height of the small village of Castell de Vernet, in El Conflent. It is around the year 997 (first mention of this abbey), on the initiative of Guifré II of Cerdanya, count of Cerdanya and Conflent and great grandson of Guifré el Pilós, that the construction works of the abbey are undertaken. of Sant Martí del Canigó in order to bring in a community of Benedictine monks. The first will come from the abbey of Sant Miquel de Cuixà, in Codalet, in El Conflent. The donations of the counts of Cerdanya quickly boosted the growth of the abbey, which became one of the main monasteries in the region, which rivaled that of Sant Miquel de Cuixà and Arles. The capitals of the cloister date from the 12th and 13th centuries. The earthquake of Catalonia in 1428 destroyed the monastery. The religious community abandoned it between 1783 and 1785. The abbey of Sant Martí del Canigó is a place where religious life is still maintained, ruled by a Catholic community.

The Cortalets Refuge: inaugurated on September 4, 1899 by the French Alpine Club, was one of the first refuges in the Pyrenees, becoming one of the strategic points of Catalan Pyrenees. A separate chapter deserves the period of World War II, in which during the Occupation it was used by the Maquis, and set on fire by German forces in June 1944, to be rebuilt later in 1948.