In Marca Hispanica XI: climbing castles

The top of the Castell de Gurb viewed from inside the ruins of its tower

The top of the Castell de Gurb viewed from inside the ruins of its tower

Of old crumbly castles it is hard to find the trace
(Dear dear dear dear dear dear dear dear dear oh dear no)
Without decent web help you could never find the place
(Dear dear dear dear dear dear dear dear dear oh dear no)

The Turó de Gurb viewed from the side of the C25 highway that separates it from the modern community

The Turó de Gurb viewed from the side of the C25 highway that separates it from the modern community, early-day mist still coating it

Climbing castles can be somewhat challenging ripping fun
Last time I tried I couldn’t reach this one!
Climbing castles in Ca-ta-lun-ya
Inca-stella-mento català!

Sant Andreu de Gurb viewed from the castle hilltop

Sant Andreu de Gurb viewed from the castle hilltop, just up from the building dead centre of the picture

You all know how beastly their lords are
Inca-stella-mento català!
They watch, they loom
They drop people in cells

Remains of a cistern (not actually a cell, sorry) dug into the hilltop of the Castell de Gurb

Remains of a cistern (not actually a cell, sorry) dug into the hilltop of the Castell de Gurb

The best thing you can do is pay and say, “well well”1. So!
Climbing castles in Ca-ta-lun-ya
Inca-stella-mento català!

Flag, cross and triangulation point on the site of the Castell de Gurb

Flag, cross and triangulation point on the site of the Castell de Gurb

(Some historical and topographical details below the cut, along with more pictures of course. With apologies to those “Mephistophelian engines of pleasure”, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.)

Setting out to climb the Turó del Castell de Gurb

Setting out to climb...

So herewith we finally reach the posts about my trip to Catalonia in April. As the Medieval History Geek has remarked, I seem to be running about two months behind; his faith in my eventually getting stuff written up is touching. Anyway. The Castell de Gurb is important to me because I wrote about it in the book, where I show it as a centre of an early semi-autonomous lordship established by the count and the bishop almost together. It’s established by a public power, a single family comes nevertheless effectively to own it and its supporting lands although they are obliged to serve the public power too, it’s only later that becomes a problem for anyone.2 Whether you can call this feudal is debatable, and the next post will push that debate still further towards the edge of the possible. But when I first visited Gurb, as said above, I couldn’t actually get onto the castle; the obvious route up led through private land and we couldn’t see a way round this. Shortly after I got back, of course, someone put directions to it on the web, and so this time, armed with that information, I set out to get there. I was a bit more constrained this trip because of relying on public transport, and there are some places where that really doesn’t work in Catalonia. Here it meant getting a bus to the Carrer Sant Roc in the modern township of Gurb, which blends seamlessly with the city of Vic and has nothing much going on apart from warehousing and selling bathrooms. From there, however, it was a half-kilometre walk in the sun to the foot of the castle hill, and as you can see from the pictures above, that’s just the start. Actually, there seems to be a hiking route up from Sant Andreu, these days standing almost alone in what was the old village, and that must always have been the real main access, but the route I had leads up the back of the hill, via a streambed that dries out in summer. My charters are full of these cases of a torrent “qui discurrit in tempus pluviale“, so it was kind of nice to see what that actually looks like in such a context.3

Streambed leading down the hill from the Castell de Gurb

Streambed leading down the hill from the Castell de Gurb

But this was also the way up, and it wasn’t completely easy; in fact it was at about the limit of what I could do without actual climbing gear; even then I was very glad of my boots and wished I’d brought a bag that left both hands free, and it was a sufficient challenge to my vertigo that I was very glad to see the top. The platform of the castle is not very large, either, and I felt very exposed; when I hunkered down in the tower base to take the first picture above and thus had stones at my back, that was a considerable relief. The castle can never have been very big, though it would at least have been habitable, which some things that are called castles out here are not.

The hilltop on which the old Castell de Gurb stood

The hilltop on which the old Castell de Gurb stood, taken from the triangulation point, cross invisible to my left, flag at my right shoulder, and the tower ruins in the kind of divot at upper left

I took a lot more photos up there, including one of the place I’d had to photograph the castle from last time when I couldn’t reach it, but the one I’m proudest of is definitely this one. Note that this was taken from above:

Eagle flying over the Plana de Vic, taken from the Castell de Gurb

Eagle flying over the Plana de Vic

There were three of these birds, doing fairly lazy and pointless circles; I got one half-decent shot of one of them on the way up, a great many more where they were invisibly small, and this one, and after that I felt I could scramble down the hillside (that went a lot faster than the climb) and return to Vic with a sense of having started the trip off right.


1. “No, I just told you, it’s a cistern.”

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 100-128; much much more detail about the family and their subsequent careers, in Catalan, in Albert Benet i Clarà, La Família Gurb-Queralt (956-1276). Senyors de Sallent, Olò, Avinyó, Manlleu, Voltregà, Queralt i Santa Coloma de Queralt (Sallent 1993), that information brought you by the “if I interlibrary-loaned it from Seville so can you” faction.

3. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueolòica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1401.

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11 responses to “In Marca Hispanica XI: climbing castles

  1. Lovely. In Normandy, the main hazards are the farmers.

    I fear you may have started something you cannot control. Reivers has been singing ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’, substituting the word ‘student’ for ‘spaceman’ and I wondering who would play vibes in a medieval orchestra version of ‘The Intro and the Outro’ (Genghis Kahn?). Surely you can do something also with ‘Big Shot’…

    • Looking very relaxed there, O Mighty Khan; nice!

      I hadn’t actually planned to make a theme of this, not least because the next post I have planned is fairly dense feudalism stuff and the one after that, more photos, contains a certain amount of complaining. Maybe `Look Out There’s a Monster Coming’ :-) I think that there is no way for me to attempt a riff on `Big Shot’ without getting seriously unprofessional. Though I don’t know: “In the region of 42.230119, 2.289562 – one hell of a region…”

  2. … and return to Vic with a sense of having started the trip off right.

    Funny, your episode reminds me a tipycal initiation rite.
    A lonely trip to a ‘sacred’ place (the castel).
    A hard test to overcome (the climbing).
    A symbolic price (3 eagles).
    :)

    Beautiful.

  3. Ah – this revives fond memories of being introduced to the Bonzos via ‘Cool Britannia’ in the original vinyl…
    not to mention general jealousy over the capacity to visit *actual* medieval ruins!
    Love the photos. :)

    • Kath, I’m pretty sure you do more international travelling than I do! Your lack of medieval ruination must be down to your priorities, at least in part madam. But I’m glad you like the photos, there are more coming.

      (My copy of `Hunting Tigers’ is on the US vinyl of Tadpoles, in fact, which was retitled I’m the Urban Spaceman; so I do think of it with a very faint crackle and vinyl ambience.)

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