History

1. SITUATION

2. HISTORY

2.1 Prades in history and in classical times

2.2 Muslim Rule

2.3 Christian Conquest

2.4 Prades in modern times

3. Prades Buildings

4. Famous characters

4.1 Margarida de Prades (1387-1430)

4.2 Bernat Boïl (1445-1505)

4.3 Mateu Fletxa, el Vell (1485-1553)

4.4 Mateu Fletxa, el Jove (1530-1604)

4.5 Blessed Joan de Santa Marta (1578-1618)

4.6 Pere Balcells i Masgoret. The child of Prades (1855-1875)

4.7 Writers and artists inspired by Prades

 

1. SITUATION

The town of Prades is situated on a plateau around 950 metres above sea level located in the centre of a mountain massif known as the Muntanyes de Prades. The massif belongs to the Catalan Prelitoral Range and is one of the largest mountain groups in the south of Catalonia. The NE-SW-facing municipality extends over 3,300 hectares and the highest point is the 1,203 metre Tossal de la Baltasana, a peak of major importance.

The Muntanyes de Prades stands between the county of Camp de Tarragona on the Mediterranean coast and the inland counties of Conca de Barberà and Priorat. The special mountain characteristics and the height of the massif give it a unique climate which differs from the typical Mediterranean coastal climate and is clearly identified as a high mountain continental climate.  

The location of Prades has traditionally meant the town has been somewhat isolated, reached with difficulty by winding roads from the neighbouring towns of Reus (Baix Camp) and L’Espluga de Francolí (Conca de Barberà). This isolation and the difficulty of rapid communication with the county capital (Reus) led to serious economic stagnation throughout the 20th Century. This led to emigration to the cities of the coast, mainly Reus and Tarragona, which offered better employment opportunities.

The Prades economy currently depends on seasonal tourism which is the largest economic sector in the town. Agriculture, especially potatoes and hazelnuts, has decreased significantly in recent decades. Until the 19th century the area around Prades was mined heavily for lead and barite. There were also a number of pous de neu i gel (traditional cold storage and ice production wells) as well as livestock breeding and forestry.

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2. HISTORY

2.1 Prades in Prehistory and in Classical Times

There is evidence of prehistoric settlement in the Prades Mountains, as demonstrated by the finds of open-air and cave flint workings and even some traces of wall painting known as Art Llevantí.

Open-air flint workings connected to Neolithic settlements based on agriculture and livestock breeding have been found in Les Gritelles and in the Pla de la Guàrdia, amongst other places. Most of these archaeological sites date from Neolithic times and the Bronze Age and are generally situated in natural shelters caused by the typical Triassic relief of the massif.

Several kilometres from the centre of Prades is found the Cova del Cisterer Cave in the Barranc dels Bassots gorge. This is one of the most interesting Neolithic sites in the south of Catalonia and includes several hundred pieces of flint and quartzite: double-edged knives, arrowheads, scrapers, cutters, and percussive tools as well as fragments of unoxidised ceramic cups.

In the Segalassos there is another Neolithic settlement and there are archaeological remains from the same period in the Abellera sanctuary, a site of outstanding beauty, and in front of the Cova del General Cave.

As far as remains from the end of the Bronze Age to the beginning of the Iron Age are concerned, remains of fluted ceramics have been found on the Coll de les Forquetes.

Remains from the Iberian and Roman era can be found in the Rossinyols collection, which includes Iberian coins from the 2nd Century, millstones, and some fragments of ceramic from the time. According to oral records collected by I.Planas, some ceramic remains and mosaics from the Roman Era have been found on the Prades plateau.

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2.2 Muslim Rule

The Muslim invaded Visigothic Catalonia between 713 and 714. In Catalonia, the Episcopal City of Dertosa (Tortosa) fell into Muslim hands and together with Ilerda (Lerida) became one of the political and administrative centres in Catalonia. Unfortunately there are very few archaeological remains from this period.

A tomb which may have belonged to a Muslim cemetery was discovered near Vilanova de Prades at the beginning of the century and there are remains of habitation and tombs in la Roca d’en Grinjol. Some place names in Prades, such as the villages of Albiol or la Mussara, suggest Islamic origins and it is probable that in that era there was a small Muslim military outpost in the place now occupied by the town. 

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2.3 Christian Conquest

In the middle of the 13th Century the so-called Christian Reconquest regained the land belonging to present-day Catalonia. The expansionist policies of Ramon Berenguer IV led to the conquest of the Muslim cities of Tortosa and Lerida, leaving the pocket of land containing the Prades Mountains to be retaken later.

After the surrender of the Muslim cities of Tortosa (1148) and Lerida (1149) the Prades Massif was isolated from the rest of the Al-Andalus lands. The aim of the pincer movement around this particularly intractable area was to isolate it first before invading and conquering it.  The Arab stronghold in Siurana, the nerve centre of the territory, fell finally between 1153 and 1154 with the arrival of four Christian armies led by the Catalan nobles Hug Ponç and Ramon de Cervera, who entered Rojals, Farena and Capafonts in 1151. Bernat de Plegamans and Guillem de Claramunt reached the castles of Albiol and la Mussara over the Coll de Batalla pass, Guillem del Caganos entered the area over the Alforja pass from the south, and Betran de Castellet came from the Priorat to put an end to Muslim rule.  

Once defeated, the Muslims were deported to areas of Lerida and the Ebro and the area was repopulated and colonized, becoming the marquisate of Siurana, belonging to Bertran de Castellet. In 1159 Prades was granted a Municipal Charter by the Count of Barcelona, as was Siurana six years later.

In 1163 the Marquisate of Siurana passed to Albert de Castellvell and was divided into two new domains: Les Muntanyes de Prades under the Royal Bailiwick and the western area which came to be called the Baronetcy of Castellvell.

In 1213 a struggle began between the inhabitants of the Muntanyes de Prades and those of the Camp de Tarragona, who in those days were under the rule of the Bishop of Tarragona. There is evidence of the involvement of people from Prades in the conquests of Mallorca and Valencia during the rule of James 1 (12229 and 1238).

In 1214 the Baronetcy of Castellvell passed to the Entença family by family contract, though Prades and the eastern part of the former marquisate continued under direct Royal rule until in 1324 King Jaume II created the County of Prades for his son Ramon Berenguer. The creation of this County was a response to a Royal strategy to undermine the power and privileges of the Catalan nobility by confronting them with the Royal Household.

The Counts of Prades had the highest rank amongst the Catalan nobles as direct heirs to the King.  Once the exchange was made between the two brothers, Ramon Berenguer and Pere, this lasted to the fourth generation. Then a lack of a male heir led to a woman, Joana Gonçalva Ximenis d’Arenós, inheriting the title, and then becoming allied to the powerful Cardona family through her marriage with Joan Ramon Folch II of Cardona. Later, the son, Joan Ramon Folch III gave first place to the title of Count of Cardona which he had inherited from his father. The name of Prades was relegated to second place, and then further relegated, when the Cardona-Prades family developed links with the Medinaceli dynasty.

It should be remembered that Margarida de Prades, sister of Joana Gonçalva mentioned above, married King Martí l’Humà. She was a young girl at the time and the king was an old man. The child they wished for never arrived and Margarida was therefore the last Queen of the House of Barcelona. After the Compromise of Caspe, a foreign dynasty was enthroned and the history of Catalonia took a new direction.

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2.4 Prades in the Modern Age

In the 16th and 17th centuries the Prades Mountains were affected by bandits, as were many other rural areas in Catalonia, and this led to the creation of a brotherhood in the middle of the 16th century to fight against them.
In 1569 the Duke of Cardona requested a total of 300 men from the Count of Prades to confront the bandits, but he did not manage to wipe them out altogether, so in 1605 the Royal Bailiwick organized another brotherhood.

It was also thought necessary to request help from the Abbot of Poblet and the Prior of Escala Dei and guards were posted on roads, castles and town gates. A large number of the bandits were in fact “moriscos” (Muslim converts to Christianity) hiding out in the Prades Mountains following the expulsion order issued by Philip III.  

During the Catalan Revolt (Guerra dels Segadors) the County of Prades was a centre of support for the Franco-Catalan troops. After the siege of Prades by Royalist forces an order was given to demolish the walls.
In 1663 Caterina, daughter of Lluís Ramon Folch of Cardona, was married to Juan Francisco de la Cerda, eldest son of the Duke of Medinaceli. The new lords were the owners of these lands until the Confiscations of Mendizabal, though they continued to claim certain rights and fees till the end of the 19th century.

According to a 1718 report it seems that the Castle of Prades was ruined during the War of Spanish Succession and during the 18th century the town gradually lost its role as the centre of the county.
In the 19th century Prades was the location of various episodes in the Carlist wars: in 1837 during the 1st war it was burned down, and this happened again in 1874 during the 2nd war. The 3rd war is remembered for the activities of Carlist leader, the Child of Prades, Pere Balcells Masgoret.

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3. BUILDINGS IN PRADES

It wouldn’t be surprising if the origins of Prades went back to the construction of a Muslim castle, although there is no remaining evidence of the building. The highpoint in the growth of the town was between the 13th and the 14th centuries when as early as 1200 it was a lively economic centre with a market and as many as 4 livestock fairs a year. As a capital under the Royal Bailiwick and afterwards a County Capital, Prades was undoubtedly an important economic centre.

The historic centre of Prades is characterized by an almost triangular shape which demonstrates its medieval origins. This urban structure was determined by the regular distribution of the urban space into blocks of regular square and rectangular houses spread around a large open space, the Plaça Major, and a number of streets connecting the town gates.

The space formerly occupied by the Castle-Palace is in the west, at the highest point of the town. Very little is known today about its structure. There are some remains of the apse and the nave of the Romanesque church, which was built between the 12th and 13th centuries. The palace buildings have a similar pattern to those of the Castell de Falset, a later county capital: a church with access into the town for use as a parish church and the palace hall below. It is noteworthy that the north-facing buildings are used as a town wall, as in Falset.
To the east of the town can be found the parish church and the cemetery, also used as the city wall, and next to them there is an impressive Plaça Major, a wide open space currently surrounded by arcades. The location of the church, separated from the centre originating around castle, demonstrates the growth in late medieval times around the new space used for fairs and markets, a space which later became the Plaça Major. This economic development was accompanied by the building of a new town neighbourhood and facilities such as the church. A gate in the wall was also opened up next to the square.  

A third point of interest is the Planet del Pont Gate which is reached by the bridge across the Font d’en Grau gorge; this indicates there was urban development into this area, given that it was one of the exits from the town towards the north. There must have been four town gates: the one next to the church, the one at the foot of the bridge, the castle gate, now no longer extant, and a fourth in the south.

It is thought that the Prades walls were built in the late medieval period and may be related to the creation of the County of Prades in 1324, though the work continued at least until the 15th century, as evidenced by an order by Martí I to authorize the taxing of bread, wine and meat for four years in order to raise money for the construction. The walls remaining today indicate a large ashlar construction with rectangular or square towers and gates like the one next to the church. The east-facing wall is the best conserved and has been restored. There are few remains of the south wall, possibly due to the damage caused by the Catalan Revolt (Guerra dels Segadors) in the 17th century.

Two main town areas can be identified. In the first, around the castle and on the highest ground, is the original feudal centre associated with the military construction. The blocks of houses are somewhat elongated as are the individual houses. The second area is situated around the square, and the blocks are much larger and the houses equally large and less elongated. The streets, which grew up to link the two town gates are the Carrers de Sant Antoni, Nou del Pont and Major.  

The declaration of the historic centre of Prades as a Site of Natural Cultural Interest (BCIN) (Resolution 12 Feb 1993, DOGC Nr. 1732, 14.4.1993) has provided a basic legal mechanism for the protection of the town. The listing of buildings and the demarcation of the protected area are elements which can be used in future town and heritage planning. The remains of the 12th century Prades castle and the fortified gate (14th-15th century) are also listed (BCIN).
The centre is also known as the Red Town, as many of its buildings are made of the characteristic local red stone.

Despite the importance of the historic centre one has to remember that the town buildings are mainly 19th century, as the town was burnt down twice during the Carlist wars. For that reason there are few medieval or early modern buildings, though there may be remains inside other buildings. The street plan, however, does reveal the medieval origins of the town and the way it has evolved over the centuries.

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4. FAMOUS CHARACTERS

4.1 Margarida de Prades (1387-1430)

Margarida de Prades was Queen of Catalonia and Aragon, second wife of King Martí l’Humà, daughter of Pere de Prades and Joana de Cabrera, and great-granddaughter of Jaume II. She was raised in the court of Queen Maria de Luna, where she lived from 1399. When considering the issue of the succession, Martí l’Humà chose Margarida over Cecilia of Aragon, the sister of Count Jaume II of Urgell, and they were married on 17 September 1409, with the blessing of Pope Benedict XIII. She was widowed several months later, before being able to provide the desired heir. Margarida’s youth, her physical beauty and moral qualities along with her cultured spirit and quick intelligence have been lauded in eulogizing, almost panegyric terms by writers who knew her personally. The widowed Queen became the focus of a veritable court of love and honour, becoming the focus of and authority over literary groups who were judged to be of the highest standard, though only fragments have come down to us today. 

Signatura de Margarida de Prades

In order to avoid losing her dignity and the corresponding revenues as Queen she contracted a canonical but secret marriage in 1415 with Joan de Vilaregut i Álvarez de Haro, and in 1416 bore a son, Joan Jeroni Vilaregut.  Perhaps as a result of this becoming public she retired with her husband to the Convent of Valldonzella, where she was widowed once again. In 1428 she became a nun in this convent, which was governed by her aunt Constança de Prades. From Valldonzella, Margarida moved to the convent of Bernardes de Bonrepòs in the Alt Priorat, near the Charterhouse of Scala-Dei and became Abbess from 1428. On 10th of January 1430, she died at the convent whilst still Abbess, having made her will in Prades in the presence of the Barcelona notary, Antoni Vinyes. Her remains were buried in Bonrepòs and later moved to the Convent of Santes Creus. 

Font: Margarida de Prades – Eufemià Fort i Gogul

Llibre de Prades-Torrell de Reus i Ignasi Planas

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4.2 Bernat Boïl (1445-1505)

Bernat Boïl was born in Tarassona in Aragon in 1445. A diplomat and cleric, he was secretary to Ferdinand of Aragon. In 1481 he became a hermit in Montserrat and became their leader in 1482. He joined the Mendicant Order of Francesc de Paula in 1491 and introduced the Order to the Crown of Aragon. Appointed the first Apostolic Vicar to the East Indies on the recommendation of the King he accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to America.  

Boïl sought refuge in the Mountains of Prades in 1484 where later in the 16th century the current sanctuary of Abellera would be built. He had left Montserrat because his contemplative temperament was more attuned to the wild places of Prades and Montsant, where he wanted to found a community under the protection of the Count of Prades. Providence, however, had marked him out for greater things and he had to leave the refuge where the current sanctuary is now located.

Bernat Boïl features in the Gallery of Illustrious Catalans in Barcelona Town Hall and is pictured with a native at the foot of monument to Columbus, which demonstrates his close involvement in the age in which he was living.  There is a plaque in the Prades sanctuary which commemorates his time in Prades. When he returned from America he spent several years with the Catholic Monarchs before retiring to the Monastery of Sant Miquel de Cuixà and becoming Abbot for life. He died at some time between 1505 and 1507.
Sources: Llibre de Prades-Torrell de Reus i Ignasi Planas

Font: Llibre de Prades-Torrell de Reus i Ignasi Planas

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4.3 Mateu Fletxa, the Elder (1485-1553)

Mateu Fletxa, known as the Elder, was born in Prades in 1485. He was a composer who wrote some memorable music during the Renaissance in Catalonia.  The music was used in royal ceremonies, but life was challenging for composers as the nobility did not act as patrons. Musicians were therefore obliged to move to new territories and those who did not do so had difficulties in finding patrons for secular music. Music advanced considerably during the Renaissance, leaving behind the medieval worldview and becoming more akin to our modern way of thinking.  Polyphony was used for both sacred and secular music and advanced in two main areas; harmony and tonality. Furthermore, the concept of the individual composer was created. Mateu Fletxa the Elder created the ensalada and wrote popular songs. He was Chapel Master in Lerida cathedral, where he had been Cantor, and in the years 1544 to 1548 he taught the Infantas Maria and Joana, the daughters of Charles V. There are certain indications that he moved to Valencia afterwards where he became Director of the Chapel of the Duke of Calabria. At least three of his works can be linked to this chapel (Cancionero del Duque de Calabria, also known as the Cancionero de Uppsala).

Las ensaladas de flecha

After his time as music master at the Spanish court, he entered the Monastery of Poblet where he died in 1553 at the age of 72. A collection of his ensaladas was published in Prague in 1588 by his nephew Mateu Fletxa the Younger. Of the 11 ensaladas he composed, only 6 (El Jubilate, La Bomba, La Negrina, La Guerra, El Fuego and La Justa) have come down to us in their entirety. The ensaladas are compositions which partly resemble the Italian mascherate but which are supposed to be sung at Christmas. They are written with great humour and with delicate irony and use a range of texts, languages and dialects. In the song Negrina the composer uses Spanish, Latin, Catalan, Galician, and a strange language mixing elements of the Gypsy language, a kind of Andalusian dialect, and the mannered speech of blacks.

Although forgotten for a time Fletxa’s work now figures in polyphonic programmes, such as those sung by the Orfeo Català Choir, and is now undergoing quite a revival.

Font: Llibre de Prades-Torrell de Reus i Ignasi Planas

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4.4 Mateu Fletxa the Younger (1530-1604)

Mateu Fletxa, known as the Younger, was born in Prades in 1530. Also a composer, he was educated in the Castilian court, close to his uncle and his successor in the court, Bartolomé de Escubero. He was an assistant chaplain to the Infantas Maria and Joana. He left the Castilian Court in 1558 and entered the Carmelite order in Valencia. Thereafter he moved to Italy. In 1564 he was appointed chaplain to the empress Maria, the wife of Maximilian II, before being appointed Abbot of Thianny in Hungary by the Emperor Rudolph II, as a gift to the Emperor’s father. The last record of his presence in the Imperial chapel was in 1551. In 1570 to 1586 he travelled to Spain in order to recruit cantors for the Imperial Chapel. Most of his works, including some outstanding works of polyphonic music, were published in Venice and Prague. His last collection included eight ensaladas by Fletxa the Elder and three of his own. His name was well-known and he enjoyed great prestige in a country so far away Prades. He left behind a number of manuscripts.

He was appointed Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of La Portella in Solsona by Philip II. The abbey had been founded in the 10th century, but had deteriorated during the 12th century with only a cloister and the church remaining from the 11th century. Fletxa ended his days here in 1604.

Font: Llibre de Prades-Torrell de Reus i Ignasi Planas

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4.5 Blessed Joan de Santa Marta (1578-1618)

The Blessed Joan was born in 1578 in Prades in the Archbishopric of Tarragona. At the age of 8 he entered the schola cantorum of the Church of the Pilar in Zaragoza and became a Franciscan monk in the province of Sant Jaume in 1607. He went to Japan in the same year. He learnt Japanese perfectly and wrote a number of tracts refuting the errors of the unbelievers. A fervent preacher of the gospel, he was put in prison and beheaded for his faith in Meaco on the 16th August. He was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1867. 

Font: Llibre de Prades-Torrell de Reus i Ignasi Planas

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4.6 Pere Balcells i Masgoret. The Child of Prades (1855-1875)

The proclamation of Alfonso XII, son of Isabel II, as King of Spain, had a negative effect on the Carlist cause. Carlism was no longer pitted against the powers which had come out of the revolution, such as the Amadeo Monarchy and the Republic. Nevertheless, some volunteers decided to continue the struggle and resist the enemy, more from discipline rather than from a belief that they could win.

It is in this period of history that we come across the character of Pere Balcells i Masgoret, better known as The Child of Prades due to his young age. He was mainly active in the area of the Baix Camp and Priorat. His family came from Granadella and worked as shepherd and day labourers.
At the age of 17 Pere decided to join the Carlist cause and despite his youth and lack of education rose to lead an important band of men, even at the expense of other leaders.

He began to be seen with great regularity between July 1874 and April 1875 when he carried out many raids in the Camp de Tarragona. He was mainly active in and around the mountain towns: Prades, Albarca, Cornudella, Poboleda, Capafonts, La Febró, Alforja, Les Borges, l’Aleixar, Vilaplana, Maspujols, Reus... His enemies also called him “The Shepherd of Prades” and the “Tiger of the Priorat”.

He was particularly active and normally acted on his own initiative. When the Carlist forces had an important engagement he joined other bands such as those of Grau de la Morera, Massagué, Alemany, Mas d’en Mestre, Moore and Tristany. All these leaders knew the territory in which they moved, which was vital in finding hiding places and slipping through the fingers of  the better armed and larger liberal army. Pere’s short life was ended by a bullet taken in a clash with enemy forces in Xerta on 21 April 1875.
Source: Èlia Maixé Sopeña

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4.7 Writers and artists inspired by Prades

A number of artists and writers have found inspiration in this area. Below we provide a list of some of the most outstanding:

Joan Miró: “Prades, el poble” (1917) Nova York The Salomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

“ Carrer de Prades” (1917) Col·lecció particular

Guerau Mutgé: “Prades i l’Abellera”

J.V. Foix: “Si jo fos marxant a Prades”

Josep Aladern: “L’Ermita de l’Abellera”

Ramon Muntanyola: “Vila Vermella”

Melcior Font: “Els Goigs de la Mare de Deu de l’Abellera”

Joan Perucho: “Incredulitats i devocions”

Antoni Rovira i Virgili: “Teatre de la natura. Teatre de la ciutat”

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