Sunday, February 19, 2012

Medieval Spain -- Morella: A Journey into the past

Blog Update:  My current posting is about a trip of over 10 years ago.  My wife and I travelled to Spain 10 days after 9/11.  We had had our trip to the Spanish Mediterranean regions and Barcelona planned for many months so we were not going to be deterred by world events.  Here is something I thought I would share.  I still have to work on my Vietnam stories and give an update on my retirement, but I just was remembering this trip and thought I would share with you some of the interesting aspects of the trip and a couple of old scanned images of the countryside.  I highly recommend going to Spain.  It is a fascinating country.

Morella:  A Spanish City of Ancient Origins

            When you suddenly see Morella in the fall mist from the distance upon making a turn on the road that meanders up to this ancient town from the neighboring farmland, you may be tempted as I to recall the cover of one of Sting’s Albums.  The picture showed a hill top fortress that is very much like that of Morella.  Sting’s music, particularly a Fortress Around Your Heart as arranged by the London Symphony Orchestra and included in this album, kept churning through my brain as I came closer to this wonderfully medieval town.

            The beginnings of Morella reach back in time as early as the Celts, Carthaginians, and Romans.  The Romans considered the town a fine and central location for protecting much of its domain.  Its high vantage point of over 1000 meters (3000 ft) allowed for easy monitoring of Rome’s subjects.  During the over 400 years that Roman controlled the region, the town attained the status of a municipality forming part of a much larger Roman province.  Upon the decline of Rome, the Visigoths occupied the town in 411, but left little to mark their stay over the next 300 years.  However, in 714, the Berbers took control and for the next 500 years, the city was mostly in Arab control except for the time El Cid established a re-birth of the town and re-built the castle during the 11th century.  Over the course of 3 to 4 centuries, the town was the site of many prominent battles in the varying campaigns of Spain seeking the removal of Arab control of its lands.

            As suggested by its history, Morella’s is filled with the both the horror and enchantment of the Dark Ages and Medieval Times as Spain came to be a well defined country and eventually a major power in Europe in the 15th and 16th Century.  Even once Spain become well established, Morella often was a city in the center of the various civil wars and eventually became the stronghold central to the Carlist resistance in the approximately 50 years of civil war during the mid-19th century.  Even during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Morella was an important and strategic Republican (leftist leaning democratic) town that was eventually captured toward the end of that war by the eventual Dictator General Franco.

            Through all its history, Morella and its people have become among the most hardy, independent minded and resilient people of Spain staunchly proud of their city.  Today, even though its population had declined to nearly 3000 people from the nearly 10,000 inhabitants of 1900, the citizens support a thriving tourist industry as well as trade in woolen and agricultural goods.  In fact, the population has shown some rebound as many Spaniards see opportunity to find a home and good work in Morella as Spain transitioned to democracy during the later half of the 20th century.

            To see this bit of history and the culture associated with it, Morella is a wonderful day trip from the coastal towns of the Mediterranean.  Such towns include Castellon, Benicarlo, Alcoeber, and Peniscola among others.  All are within 100 kilometers (63 miles) of Morella.  Indeed, one the finest places to take day trips from is Peniscola (85 kilometers from Morella), which lies on the coast midway between Barcelona and Valencia.  That town is a tourist haven especially for Spaniards and a few Europeans.  It, too, is full of interesting history with it own medieval bastions as well as a wonderful beach and vacation vibrancy.  A tourist, who seeks some variety from the beach town resort, can head to the mountains, which they can reach by car or bus in about 1-1/2 hours and spend virtually the entire day touring the Morella’s castle, Roman ruins, churches, textile workshops, stores, and restaurants before arriving back to the coastal town in the late evening.

Some may find staying a few days in Morella more appealing.  In this way, tourists can receive a fuller flavor of this exquisite town.  One can only park toward the bottom of the town and then walk up the winding streets to stay in the town that flourishes below the castle.  Morella is full of folklore, which brings together the many cultural evolutions of the town as celebrated in colorful fiestas such as the Fiesta Sexenales in September every 6 years, and the annual celebration that commemorates in January, the re-conquest of the town for the Arabs.  One thing that is certain, when you visit this town, you will be stepping back into time Morella will be a fortress around your heart with lasting appeal.

February 2012 -- Article and Images by John D. Roach