Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Symbolic Flame of Canigó

Yesterday, the whole of what many call the Catalan Countries (els països Catalans) celebrated the eve of St John the Baptist (la nit de Sant Joan) with firecrackers and fireworks but, above all, innumerable bonfires. Many of these were lit up by fire literally brought down from the Canigó.

The official English name of the mountain is Canigou, since from a state border perspective it is located in France. However, this part of the Pyrenees used to be Catalan speaking and forms part of Northern Catalonia (Catalunya del Nord). Since the 19th century Renaixança (re-birth) movement, the area has been considered the birth place of the Catalan nation. Among other things, this is where we find the monastery Saint-Martin-du-Canigou (Sant Martí del Canigó) founded by Wilfred II of Cerdanya (Guifré II de Cerdanya), a 10th century count who created links between his lands and Berga, Besalú and Barcelona.

The mountain in itself - located only 50 kilometers from the coast - is symbolic. It presents a sharp flank towards the plains of Roselló which historically made people consider it the highest peak of the Pyrenees (it ‘only’ measures 2.784 m compared with the 3.404 of Pic d’Aneto). In spite of its dramatic look, the Canigó can be accessed by hiking, which explains how, once a year, as many as 30.000 bonfires around the Catalan Countries can originate from here.

To Vilanova i la Geltrú - more precisely to the neighbourhood (barri) named Sant Joan - the fire was brought by a four man committee which, the night before, had lit up their oil lamps with on the bonfire burning at the peak of Canigó. The Falcons and Bordegassos (castellers) of Vilanova celebrated its arrival with human towers and speeches were made by Mayor Joan Ignasi Elena and a representative of the movement Desperta! (Wake Up!). In the latter one, we learnt about the symbolic value of this flame - in Vilanova lighting up a sculpture resembling the map of the Països Catalans – and were reminded to continue our defense of the Catalan language and work to re-unite what is today known as Catalonia, Andorra, the Balearic Islands, the Valencian Community (país Valèncià) and Northern Catalonia.

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Main source: Wikipedia in Catalan.

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Castellers, Catalonia, Human Towers, Penedès, Vilanova,


Donyet said...

You mentioned this part of the Pyrenees used to be Catalan speaking, are you saying they no longer speak Catalan there?
I've never been there so I can't refute that, but they still do speak Catalan in Catalunya Nord, it's just not as prevalent as it used to be.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Hi Donyet,

Thanks for commenting, especially on such a sensitive comment as the language situation in Northern Catalonia.

During the short trips I have made to Perpinyà and the ski-resort Font Romeu, I haven't met one single person who has answered me in Catalan. It's, of course, possible that the locals I have talked to didn't understand me because of my Swedish accent, but I don't think so since they didn't have any problems with my French - much worse than my Catalan.

To me, "it's just not as prevalent as it used to be" is to underestimate how successful the French rulers have been in weeding out disturbing regional languages.

Worst of all is the history of Occitan - spoken by 14 million people not many generations ago and today official language only in Vall d'Aran (which is here and not in France).

In short: If it hadn't been for the reporter on TV3, I would never have heard the Northern Catalan dialect.