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Castello d'Empuries

Castello dEmpuries Cathedral Basilica de Santa Maria Costa Brava Castello d'Empuries was, until the middle of the 14th Century, the capital of the county of Empuries which encompassed almost the whole of the Emporda region and was a rival to the counts of Barcelona. Castello d'Empuries itself sits slightly inland on the Muga river as, in the Middle Ages, this was an area of lakes and sea-marshes (aiguamolls) that were progressively drained or silted up. In recent times, these areas have been converted into the wetland bird sanctuaries of the Aiguamolls d'Emporda and d'Alt Emporda for the visiting flamingos, storks and other migrating and native birds.

However, an area of the wetlands was drained in the 1960s and converted into one of Europe's largest residential marinas - Empuriabrava - a network of linked canals with houses, where each house has it's own mooring space. For tourists, it's easy to see the somewhat overblown Empuriabrava and miss the much more interesting and historic neighbouring town of Castello d'Empuries behind it.

Castello dEmpuries old town walls We want to visit for the history as much as anything. Castello d'Empuries is the only town in the Emporda region with a Cathedral (actually a Basilica) illustrating it's former importance. But for walking, because of the previous lake, much of the surrounding area forms a flat plain crossed by ditches and drains that mean relatively few circular paths. As a result we're playing it by ear to see what we find, rather than having too strong a plan of places to go - we just know we're not heading for Empuriabrava today.

We park at the sports centre. In Catalonia, practically every town with more than 2,000 inhabitants has some form of Poliesportiu Municipal mostly used by one or two particular sports clubs, like handball, basketball, football sala, but also more exotic sports like roller hockey or roller dance - so mostly organised sports and often much more a simple community facility than the professional 'leisure centre' in the UK.

From the sports centre we walk into the centre of town in through older traditional stone terraced houses. Being a Sunday everything is closed, but walking through the streets, Castello d'Empuries shows it's medieval heritage with large buildings and ornate stone window dressings. In the early part of September each year, Castello has a Festival of Troubadors - medieval singers - with the whole town reliving it's past with events like jousting.

Sant Joan de Sescloses and ancient lake bed After zig-zagging through the streets we get to the Basilica de Sant Maria - known as the Cathedral of Empuries. When Catalunya first emerged as a buffer state between the Franks and the Moors in the 9th century, it consisted of a set of semi-independent counties - literally areas ruled by a count. As time passed and the counties became more established, rivalries grew up between the different counts resulting in a series of skirmishes/battles between the Counts of Empuries based in Castello and the Counts of Barcelona who were the dominate ruling family in Catalonia at the time. Eventually the rivalries were settled by intermarriage between the leading families (these unions by marriage eventually leading all the way to the unified Spanish monarchy of Ferdinard and Isabella) which then saw Castello diminished in influence as Barcelona became the pre-eminent centre of Catalonia.

View to the mountain of Canigou from Castello dEmpuries We take the road to the right of the Cathedral and emerge outside the old walls of the town by a river/moat. Historically, the area we can see from this point between Castello and Roses was a lake until about the 16th century providing both fishing and protection for the town. Gradually, as with many of the shallow lakes that were close to the sea, the area was drained and converted to fields, but with very low levels of habitation due to the risks of flooding, so the old town stops at it's old walls on this side.

We walk along the river/moat and back into the city at the next gate. Though it's not marked as such this actually takes us up and through a restaurant garden. We continue back through the old part of the city past noted buildings with plaques and information on them, and past the Cathedral where a crowd has gathered. The bells sound and there is a flurry of rice thrown in the air as a newly married couple leave the church.

We loop around back through the older section back to the river/moat and follow the water course as it narrows and then becomes a steady mill stream above the height of the farm land below. The area around is very flat with views out to Roses, the Albera Massif (which separates Spain and France between La Jonquera and the coast), and round to the snow on the Pyrenees to the west. Though the area nearby is flat with horses and stables directly below us, there are few marked footpaths, and little in the way of circular walks through the fields and Aiguamolls, so we stay close to the millstream and continue out into the countryside.

Panorama of the Pyrenees from Castello dEmpuries It would be fair to say, that for me, walking on the flat lacks variety and that would be the case here. The scenery and views are great, but it doesn't change so much as we walk. The flat area also has a sharp wind blowing across the plain, so we decide just to walk to the hermitage of Sant Joan de Setcloses marked on the map. It's just a small white fronted chapel next to a large old masia and a farmyard with what look like Aberdeen Angus cattle, but it acts as a focus point for the walk.

From the chapel we walk across the fields and over a small ridge which gives and magnificent view of the mountain of Canigo and the Pyrenees, covered in snow rising above the plain. We turn back, through the fields and along the ridge to Castello d'Empuries. As we enter the town, we find some walking information for a path that follows the Muga river. We follow the path to the Muga as it wends it's way around the outskirts of Castello heading towards Empuriavbrava. The path is a broad passeo and passes an old bridge just behind the sports centre where we originally parked.

Neighbouring walks: Aiguamolls d'Emporda (Empuriabrava)

Walking route Castello dEmpuries

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