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In Marca Hispanica XXX: three castles in one day, part 3 – Tona

I haven’t done a very good job of explaining my itinerary on last year’s Catalonia trip, I realise, but I’ll remedy that next post but one and in the meantime complete the epic three-castles-in-one-day road-trip. The last stop on this before returning to Vic to collapse was Tona, now on the main road just south of that city. Very long-term readers will know that I’ve been to Tona before and some people may even be aware that I’ve written about it, not always correctly alas as this post will have to admit, but that hasn’t by any means answered all the questions I have about this site and besides, I think it’s kind of iconic and I wanted to show it off.1

View on the way down from the Turó del Castell de Tona

Even without anything medieval in view it’s still fairly impressive country. This is a view on the way down from the Turó del Castell

But I did have a definite research agenda as we approached: firstly to get the different bits of stuff at Tona into each other’s context in my head, secondly to explore the possibility that there had been more than one fortification on the hill and thirdly to gather any extra information going on the digs here and their results. I think I had also hoped faintly to get into the church for a look around, but I hadn’t thought it likely to happen. And indeed, when we had planned out our itinerary it became clear that we would have to do the castles, which you can visit unaided, on the Monday of our stay because basically everything public in Catalonia is shut on Mondays so it was all we could do. Accordingly, no church access, and also no access to this.

Pla de les Lloses, Tona, with the Turó del Castell and the tower of Sant Andreu visible in the background

Camp de les Lloses, Tona, with the Turó del Castell and the tower of Sant Andreu visible in the background. Not a quick ascent!

What you see in the foreground here is a Roman villa site, excavated and exposed. Here is the admission I have to make: before I could get here I had got the impression from my reading that this was a small site and on the hilltop.2 Even on my previous visit, when I passed this site I couldn’t find any obvious signage to tell me what it was so didn’t correct my impression. And by this time I was in print about it saying there were late Roman burials up on the hill.3 It must be admitted that my 1987 reading about it would have been written before the 1991 dig that exposed most of this stuff down below, but I still got the location wrong, although Roman and indeed Iberian materials of a non-funerary kind were found on the hilltop in a 1972 dig, I later learned.4 Bother. But looked at going forwards, it means that when the hilltop was being put into documentable use in the ninth and tenth centuries, they may not have needed what was up there to think of their place as somehow being Roman, as I have argued; the villa’s remains may well still have been visible, though if so it is interesting that they were apparently recognised as Roman rather than just becoming a Palau.5

Santa Maria del Barri de Tona

Santa Maria del Barri, on the way up the hill

So moving onwards and upwards, this is the first thing one comes to. I had no recollection of this place being here from my previous visit, though obviously it must have been. This is Santa Maria del Barri, but it has also been known as the Mare de Déu de Lurdes, because the Marian cult of Lourdes had a reliquary offshoot here until quite recently. The exterior is basically Romanesque, complete with triple Lombard friezes and so on, and that twelfth-century construction is the earliest remaining although there was a church here back in my period too; the interior, however, is redone in Gothic and I was quite sorry not to have been able to look when I eventually found this out as it looks pretty splendid.

Outcrops of the Turó del Castell de Tona

Outcrops of the Turó del Castell – but natural, or man-made?

A little way around the nice concrete road that now leads most of the way up the hilltop, we came upon this view. Now, I don’t know about you but, with the question about plural fortifications top of my mind at this point, this looked to me like built fabric and no mistake and I was left wondering how I’d ever missed it. Not so simple, though, as I will show you in a minute!

Water-trough or cistern dug into the Pla del Castell de Tona

Water-trough or cistern dug into the Pla del Castell

I was keen to get an idea how the hilltop had been used since my period, and here both the signage and the visible archæology were helpful. It seems that there was a settlement up here until the fifteenth century, at which point it mostly moved down into the valley and the parish was relocated to the church down there, with old Sant Andreu being used only for festivals and so on. This trough probably dates to when this was mostly houses and gardens, although it has been suggested that it is much older and in fact gives the place its name.6

Roofed hole in the ground of the Pla del Castell de Tona

Then there’s this, which is definitely built structure but for which there’s no signage and not really any way to learn more short of getting into it, which neither of us were willing to do…

After the move down, anyway, the gardens remained in operation, for those who could be bothered, and in fact market gardening continued in a desultory fashion up here until the mid-twentieth century. Of this, there are definitely still signs…

A huge cabbage growing on the Pla del Castell de Tona

About the biggest cabbage I have ever seen, and all its own work too

You can take the garden away from the cabbage but you can’t take the cabbage away from the garden? I don’t know. Anyway, there were lots. But what of the big research questions? Well, let’s just take a closer look at those outcrops. Here’s the context, and then a series of close-ups, taken by me at the very limit of what my vertigo could stand, lying flat at the edge of a sheer drop with camera tied to my wrist and definitely not looking down.

An outcrop of the Turó del Castell de Tona

Outcrop, with landscape context

An outcrop of the Turó del Castell de Tona

Closer up…

Does this still look like artificial building-up of a hilltop edge to you?

An outcrop of the Turó del Castell de Tona in close-up

Closer still…

Or is this just what the local rock looks like as its layers start to break down with exposure to weather and erosion? The closer I took the lens the less sure I was.

An outcrop of the Turó del Castell de Tona, in extreme close-up

As close as I dared, with zoom exploited to the full

If that is dry-stone heaping what’s holding it together? And it looks so irregular here, and yet from below so deliberately smoothed-off and straight. Probably more importantly, though, there’s no sign of any superstructure above these outcrops, nor anything in the signage which actually admits the presence of a second castle. According to information I only got later, however, there are old photographs which make it even more uncertain, as they seem to show the now-missing superstructure, and a 1377 report of inspection by the royal vicar for the area reports on two castles at Tona, one about here…7 The stones were subsequently spoiled to help build the new parish church down in the town.8 (And that seems just about possible from the look of the new church in photos; I have yet to get down there and see it or the museum, but I need to because that’s where the consecration act lives…)

Sant Andreu de la Parroquí de Tona

Sant Andreu de la Parroquí de Tona, not my photo but you can see where the stones of the possible second castle might now be…

Until I found that, I had decided that if these outcroppings are artificial, they were built to stabilise growing or building land for the old village, not to supply foundations for a fortification, and now I’m uncertain again. But the problem with the known castle remains, because as you may remember it looks like this.

East face of the Castell de Tona

East face of the Castell de Tona, which I pick first mainly because there’s enough of the mortar cladding left here that you can still just about imagine what it looked like when it was new, whenever the heck that was, but also because of the suggestive fragment of wall creeping away from the bottom of the tower at the right, of which it seems there was once more.

There is confusion about this tower.9 In the first place, its date has been much debated. At the absolutely most sceptically open, it’s post-Roman because it’s mortared, and it’s probably pre-twelfth century because it’s square (hmm) and certainly pre-1377 because the inspection report I’ve mentioned describes it. But it’s also so dirt-simple of fabric that any stylistic criterion applies to it only very vaguely; whoever put this up was not checking in with the latest fashionable architects when they did it, so almost any time within that timeframe could work if standing fabric was all you had to judge by. The stone is all local and the techniques not much less so.

Foundation courses in opus spicatum at the Castell de Tona

Foundation courses in opus spicatum or herringbone masonry, in other areas a Roman giveaway and here as often a sign of high medieval work…

Now it transpired from signage that there have been finds from the tower, another thing about which I was wrong on the basis of old information. This hasn’t made it through to the general web, but seems to have happened in 2003, and because in this respect the Generalitat is exemplary now, that means that the report is on the web.10 And from this, of course, a more complex picture emerges.

View of the interior of the Castell de Tona

The interior, as viewed through the doorway that seems not to have been in the original tower but bodged in at some unfortunate point in its history

I have gone on record as saying an adult male couldn’t lie down in the tower, but it turns out that I am wrong about that too; it’s 2.46 m square in there, so you could probably sleep two or three people in there if you really needed to.11 But in fact you probably never would have needed to, because in 1377 at least, the tower was not all that was here; there was also the wall that we can still see that tiny bit of creeping away, a small precinct within the wall and what the medieval inspectors described as a ‘sala vella’, an old hall, which was presumably the domestic space. There’s no way to date any of these missing buildings, of course, nor any way to be sure that that date should also apply to the tower if you could.12

East face of the Castell de Tona

From the entry-way side it’s much clear that restoration work has been done up at the top of the tower, to which of course there’s no permitted access from the ground, which is at least sort of historical

The 2003 dig was confined to the tower itself, although they did spot where exterior walls had once joined it and found what they thought was probably one edge of the ‘sala vella’ very close by. The concentration was however prompted by very genuine fears that the tower would soon fall apart. Much of what they did was therefore repair work, in matching but obvious new fabric at the upperworks, fixing leaks and patching up until they could be sure it would stay up by itself for the foreseeable future. They put a metal stairway inside to get people up to the fighting top and then put a metal gate in the way, as you see, so that no-one would.13

Jonathan Jarrett standing at the Castell de Tona

Gratuitous shot of your narrator standing with his significant castle

But they also lifted about a foot of rubble out of the tower base, very carefully and methodically, and found a paved floor underneath it (now re-covered with a wooden one). Some of the rubble turned out to be sixteenth- or seventeenth-century roof tiles, suggesting that there was at that point a covering to the fighting top, and some of it turned out to be Iberian-period potsherds, usually burnt. No-one thinks the tower’s that old, so some of that material must have come in in fill used to lay fires, but some appeared to be at the bedrock level, suggesting that the original floor had actually been put down over remains of a Roman-period hearth. And those were all the finds, about a dozen bits of necessarily antecedent pottery (though some grey medieval stuff did turn up outside in the precinct area).14 So our conclusions remain: the tower is probably ninth- or tenth-century but we’re not explicit about why we think that, there is some sign of work of the twelfth century in the upper parts and the whole thing was repaired somewhat in the late fourteenth century and given a roof in the sixteenth or seventeenth.15 And since then, not a lot till 2003.

Castell and Sant Andreu de Tona

A fresh version of the photo from the cover of my book, showing the Castell and Sant Andreu’s relationship in space

But of course the Castell is not all that’s up here; from 889 at least if not before this was also an ecclesiastical site. I tried to catch that duality in the cover photo of my book duplicated above, and of course now I was here a special opportunity arose, for which we had planned.

Jonathan Jarrett and his first book standing on the hilltop of Tona in the scene depicted on the book's cover

The author, with the book, standing in the middle of the scene pictured upon it with the scene over his middle

So while we’re here, what about that church? Well, here at least the story as we know it is simpler. The church has been dug, twice at least, although the more recent of those digs was actually going on while my previously-standard reference was being written.16 The signage has been updated to reflect it, however, and so I can give you the simple version: there was burial going on here by the ninth or tenth centuries, and presumably a church here then since we know that one was built in 889; unusually, it seems to have been stone though the digs haven’t really done more than locate the top layer of its surviving work.

Sant Andreu del Castell de Tona

Sant Andreu in all its glory

The existing building is late eleventh-century, with thirteenth- and fourteenth-century side-chapels and a much later top to its belltower. I have never got in here but it must be extremely dark; the slim apertures you see there are the only original windows.

Sant Andreu de Tona on the windowless side

Look! None this side!

In fact they subsequently had to bodge one into the apse, I imagine just to make it possible to find your way around the altar to light the candles.

Window in the apse of Sant Andreu de Tona

Later window in the apse

But by this time the light was fading outside as well; somehow I have never got here except at the end of the afternoon. Some day I will give Tona a full day and get down to the town and the museum as well. But for the meantime, I learnt more from this trip, even if I have learnt a lot more by getting set to write about it now. And with even that new knowledge we could head back to Vic and concentrate on more important things like food. Much to my shock and grief, el Rebost del Canonge, which was one of the best places I ever ate and drank, had gone. I was of course unconsolable but Restaurant Corretgers 6 really did an excellent job of trying, and if I really can’t have el Rebost back this may do. And so to bed, because the next day was going to be very complicated and I’ll tell you about it in a couple of posts’ time.


1. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), p. 42; Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 106-108.

2. Antoni Cavallé i Crivillers & R. Espadaler i Parsarises, “Pla de les Lloses” in Jordi Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica III: Osona II, ed. Vigué (Barcelona 1986), p. 645. In my defence, there’s not a lot of detail in the part of one page which they get.

3. Jarrett, “Centurions”, pp. 107-108. I think my argument survives the correction fine, but it’s embarrassing. But that’s the theme of the moment, innit?

4. Josep Font Piqueras & Imma Mestres Santacreu, “Intervenció arqueològica i restauració de la Torre de Guaita del Castell de Tona, Tona, Osona, 5 de maig – 30 de juny de 2003”, unpublished report of 18th December 2005, online at http://hdl.handle.net/10687/10860, last modified 1st September 2009 as of 9th April 2016, pp. 9, 10 & 13, at the last citing (embarrassingly for me) Montserrat Sarri i Vilageliu, Antoni Pladevall i Font, Albert Benet i Clarà, Dolors Arumí i Gómez, Antoni Cavallé i Crivillers & R. Espadaler i Parsarises, “Castell de Tona” in Vigué Catalunya Romànica III, pp. 636-639. This may explain, but not excuse, my mistaken impression about the Pla de les Lloses.

5. Jarrett, “Centurions”, pp. 104-108.

6. Font & Mestres, “Intervenció”, p. 13, attributing the idea to Josep Balari i Jovany without precise citation but saying he wrote in 1987 rather than 1897 as was in fact the case. This is probably all dealt with in Antoni Pladevall i Font, Tona: mil cent anys d’història (Tona 1990) but for reasons I will explain in a later post, I’ve not actually been able to read that bit of it yet.

7. Arxiu Episcopal de Vic, Manual 1374-1375, Llibre de Crides de 1374-86, fos 104r-105v, as cited by Font & Mestres, “Intervenció”, pp. Annex I 2-3, where printed.

8. Ibid. pp. 11-12.

9. See Sarri, Pladevall, Benet, Arumí, Cavallé & Espadaler, “Castell de Tona”, and Font & Mestres, “Intervenció”, p. 13, where more recent references.

10. Font & Mestres, “Intervenció”.

11. Ibid. p. 12.

12. Ibid. pp. 10-12. The whole complex was supposed to take 15 men to defend, so you can tell that while it wasn’t big it was obviously a lot more than just the tower.

13. Ibid. pp. 18-21.

14. Ibid. pp. 16-18 with a stratigraphical survey including finds details pp. Annex 4 1-12.

15. Ibid. p. 22, although the early modern roof is only mentioned at p. 18.

16. That being Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Pladevall, Benet, Arumí, Cavallé & Espadaler, “Sant Andreu de Tona” in Vigué, Catalunya Romànica III, pp. 639-644. Font & Mestres, “Intervenció”, p. 23, list A. Caballé & M. M. Espadeler, “L’actuació arqueològica al castell de Tona dels anys 1985-1986” in Llibre de Tona: Sant Jordi 1993 (Tona 1993), pp. 91-97, which is presumably what one needs, since the report on this dig doesn’t seem to be online.

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One response to “In Marca Hispanica XXX: three castles in one day, part 3 – Tona

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

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