Friday, January 6, 2012

Castell de San Ferran

Another windy day in El Port de la Selva when you can't really go for a walk. We decided to go back to Castell de San Ferran, a massive 18th century fortress on the outskirts of Figureres.  We had made our first visit there only the day before but found it closed. We were, however, able to walk around the outside of the fortress, enjoying panoramic views of Figueres, the Alt Emporda plain and the distant Pyrenees.

Castel Sant Ferran was built as a defense against incursions from nearby France, and was state-of-the-art for its time. Occupying 32 hectares of land, ringed by a three-kilometer wall and a five-kilometer moat, it is one of the biggest fortresses in the world, and considered to be the most important architectural monument in the Empordà region. It saw action during the Napoleonic wars and the Republican government was based here in the final days of the Spanish Civil War. Nowadays, in addition being a museum, it is used for cultural events and has provided a backdrop for films.

We were given a map and small audio unit; at fourteen or so stations around the fortress we pressed a blue button to hear more of Castell de San Ferran's colorful story. It was designed to hold a regular garrison of 6,000 troops including 500 cavalrymen whose horses were kept in an amazing underground stable. We were constantly impressed by the scale of things; even the columns of an uncompleted church had been 'super-sized' to withstand bombardment. Under the parade ground is an enormous nine million-litre water cistern, which can be toured in small boats, an experience we will save for a later visit.

The wind made it difficult to hear the recorded commentary, and at one time there seemed the real possibility that one of us might do a Mary Poppins over the battlements! Our final stop brought us to a memorial to General Alvarez de Castro. He led the heroic defense of Girona in 1809. Girona fell to Napoleon's forces after a seven-month siege, and the defeated general was held captive at Castell de San Ferran, dying there in mysterious circumstances.

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