In Marca Hispanica XXVIII: three castles in one day, part one — Gurb again

I am now, whether I like it, pretty much a full year behind with reporting again, and this is not going to get better quickly because the last part of April 2015 was pretty dense for me in terms of things to report here. As you will deduce from the title, this is because I was then back in Catalonia for a week or so, so stand by for photos!

Turó del Castell de Gurb, seen from the carpark at Sant Andreu de Gurb below it

Turó del Castell de Gurb, from the carpark at Sant Andreu de Gurb below it

On this trip I had the very welcome assistance and companionship of another academic who could drive, and this let us do some quite silly things. In particular, we split the trip between Vic and Barcelona, with Barcelona in the middle between two stays in Vic. We spent the first day in the country getting to Vic, finding food and wandering round by night with me introducing my companion to the city and standing on a Romanesque bridge watching bats, which was already pretty great. But the next day, we set out to try and introduce my companion to some of my places of importance, as well as adding another place I’d never been to, and the only way this all fitted into the schedule was to try and visit three Osonan castles in a single day. We managed this, somewhat to my surprise, and we started with this one, good old Gurb.

Close-up view of the Castell de Gurb from the church of Sant Andreu below

Behold the awesome zoom power of the new camera! This was taken from the same spot as the previous one and helps show why someone might have put a castle up here. Everything you can see there except the cross is natural rock, folks!

Now, long-term readers will remember that I have history with this place. I had already written about it before I was able to visit it, which was foolhardy but I got away with it I think.1 Then when I did first visit it, there was no clear way up that didn’t lead through private land, and so I couldn’t get closer than the same car-park where I took these photos. The church of Sant Andreu is itself worth a visit, but was not our great goal.2

Tower and apse of Sant Andreu de Gurb

Tower and apse of Sant Andreu, more or less the same as they were in this previous post I admit

Possible re-used ornament in the wall of Sant Andreu de Gurb

This, on the other hand, I did not previously notice tucked into its wall just in from the tower, and I’m still not quite sure what I make of it. Re-used ornament from an earlier building?

A few months after I got back from the first trip, Ricardo Ballo helpfully put a description of the best route up on his excellent website (although it no longer seems to be there). I still, thankfully, have a print-out, but they got me up to the top for the first time when I went back some years later.

Wooden carved sign of walking route to the Castell de Gurb

Actual signage, and quite delightful signage at that

But every time I go it seems that the situation gets better: the official route up is now signposted and, moreover, leads through a quite charmingly surreal little sculpture park set up around the castle’s base by local artists.

Bird-box in the form of the Temple de Vic, in the sculpture park below the Turó del Castell de Gurb

All the sculpture is in wood. Some of it is basically Alice in Wonderland or generally cartoonish animals, but some of it is a bit more locally-focused. Only Vigatans or those who would like to be are probably going to understand the form of this bird-box…

That said, the actual route up, especially in wet weather, is still a little forbidding. Ricardo Ballo’s route was doable entirely on foot; I had to put my hand down once, as I recall. This way up was sometimes a matter of hauling oneself up muddy slopes using tree roots. It is a fairly easy climb, but it is definitely a climb, not a walk. And there were other dangers too…

Bottom of the route up to the Castell de Gurb from the sculpture park below it

The bottom of the climb, with a Komodo guardian and a poem about the restoration of the spring

It’s worth it, though.

View from the plateau of the Turó del Castell de Gurb

View from about the halfway point. From here the climbing is more or less done and you have a walked approach to the castle, but to harp back to an old theme of mine, you’d still have trouble getting anything less agile than a mule up the previous bit

The actual Castell de Gurb viewed from just outside its walls

The target finally sighted at the end of the plateau, with its flag duly flying. Note that since I was last here it’s been changed for the one with the blue star…

Jonathan Jarrett atop the Castell de Gurb observing the Catalan flag

Yours truly, arrived and paying due homage (photograph by Rebecca Darley)

There are by now several points I use Gurb to make on the rare occasions I get to talk about my core work to an audience. The first is: it is a long way up, and not easy to get either up to or down from, especially if you wanted to ride a horse as a knight might.

Rocks blocking ascent or descent from the Turó del Castell de Gurb

Not, admittedly, the way you’d choose to come up or go down, but illustrative, and also directly above the view in the photo three above…

The second, however, is: you surely can see a lot from up here, including your local population foci but also things a lot further away.

View of Sant Andreu de Gurb from the Castell de Gurb

Sant Andreu seen from far) above

View of the city of Vic from the Castell de Gurb

The city of Vic, sprawled out in the hazy middle distance

View of the Puig d'Orsal from the Castell de Gurb

A thing I could not have done with the previous camera: I’m pretty sure this rock is studded by the church of Sant Vicenç de Malla, which means that atop it are the ruins of the Castell d’Orsal, of which I also wrote in the book3

View of the Turó del Castell de Tona from the Castell de Gurb

Distant but in signalling range, the brother church of Sant Andreu de Tona and its own little Castell, on which more in a few posts (or in this old one)

Those are intervisible fortifications, my friends; I’m just saying. And the third point is simply: there isn’t a lot to go on now, but this castle, which was the centre of a seigneurial lordship in the tenth and eleventh centuries, could never have been very big, there just isn’t room.4 Having two people with cameras up there lets one make this point visually. The following two pictures were taken by us at exactly the same time, pointing at each other, standing as close to opposite edges of the castle floor as we dared.

Jonathan Jarrett standing at the edge of the Castell de Gurb

Your humble author trying to ignore his vertigo at one end of the Castell (photo by Rebecca Darley)…

Rebecca Darley standing at the edge of the Castell de Gurb

… and my esteemed companion standing at the other end taking the previous photo

It’s not a lot of room, really. However, a thing I had not realised, and probably never would have until someone with archæological digging experience started showing me how to look: there are also loads of potsherds up here.

Potsherd hidden in a crack in the ruins of the tower of the Castell de Gurb

The first one, hidden between two stones of the square tower of the Castell, before we realised how many there were

Probably-medieval potsherds from surface scatter at the Castell de Gurb

In more expert hands, two bits of thick coarse cookware of a date neither of us could guess

Medieval potsherd in situ on the floor of the Castell de Gurb

And once you’ve started seeing them, they’re everywhere, coarse greyware that may actually be medieval (like this one dead centre), paler and thicker biscuity ware I don’t know anything about, and also much more modern glazed stuff here and there

In general, I get the idea that we were most definitely not the first visitors to sit and eat lunch in the foundations of the square tower of this castle. But it was really nice to be back and do that anyway (though I should assure you that we left no future archæology behind us). Hopefully you don’t mind the revisit!

1. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 100-127; for more detail on the actual castle, see Jordi Vigué i Viñas, Albert Benet i Clarà & Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, “Castell de Gurb” in Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica II: Osona I (Barcelona 1984), pp. 207-211.

2. On it see Adell, Dolors Arumí i Gómez, Antoni Pladevall i Font, Benet, María Lluïsa Cases & A. Roig i Deulofeu, “Sant Andreu de Gurb” in Vigué, Catalunya Romànica II, pp. 211-216, and Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 122-125.

3. Ibid., pp. 75-86; for more architectonic details, see Vigué, Benet & Pladevall, “Castell de Malla” in Vigué, Catalunya Romànica II, pp. 292-294, and Vigué, Benet, Pladevall, A. López i Mullor, A. González i Moreno-Navarro, Adell, J. Bracons i Clapés & Eduard Carbonell i Esteller, “Sant Vicenç de Malla”, ibid. pp. 295-313.

4. On the lordship see Benet, La família Gurb-Queralt (956-1276): senyors de Sallent, Olò, Avinyó, Manlleu, Voltregà, Queralt i Santa Coloma de Queralt (Sallent 1993), and Jarrett as in n. 1 above, as well as more broadly S. Ponce i Vivet (ed.), Gurb: un poble arrelat a la terra (Barcelona 2002).


5 responses to “In Marca Hispanica XXVIII: three castles in one day, part one — Gurb again

  1. I wonder whether one purpose of such a high castle is to act as a look-out, and to use flags to signal to people down below. An obvious point, I know, but it would presumably mean that you didn’t often need to lead horses, supplies, or large numbers of people up there. Did people in that era signal with mirrors?

    • I was thinking more beacons, in the Roman fashion, although smoke wouldn’t show up well against that haze… Either way, though, you have reached the same conclusion as I did, not least because of fortifications like Tona which are actually too small to lie down in, let alone live in…

  2. Pingback: In Marca Hispanica XXIX: three castles in one day, part two – Taradell | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  3. Pingback: In Marca Hispanica XXX: three castles in one day, part 3 – Tona | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  4. Pingback: In Marca Hispanica XXXI: contacts, changes of plan and a main-street hermitage | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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