Catalonia

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Throughout history, Catalonia has been the scene of wars between the French the Spanish and, in medieval times, the Moors. In addition to this, the coastline was often raided by the Barbary Pirates. This resulted in a large number of castles and fortified towns being built all over the region.

In 1497 the Spanish built an early artillery castle at Salses to protect the frontier. Over the next half century the bastioned'system was developed to defend against artillery. In the 1540s bastioned fortifications were built at Perpignan, Collioure and Roses on the order of Emperor Charles V.

A hundred years later the Catalan people rebelled against Spain and appealed to France for assistance. The French, who were at war with Spain, were happy to oblige and in 1642 they invaded Catalonia, taking Perpignan and Collioure. In 1659 the Treaty of the Pyrenees'was signed, which moved the Franco-Spanish border south to its present location (shown on the map above).

Although the French gained territory this treaty, the Spanish side of the new frontier was much better defended than the French side. During the War of Devolution (1667-1668) the Spanish repeatedly made damaging raids across the border. Using the strong fortress of Puigcerdà in the mountains of Cerdanya as a base, they attacked the Têt valley with ease. Similarly, the Tech valley was subjected to raids from Spanish garrison at Camprodon.

Following these setbacks, the French decided to fortify the frontier. To protect the Têt valley the fortifications of Villefranche de Conflent were improved. Fort des Bains was built to guard the Tech and a small fort was built at Bellegarde protecting the most passable route over the mountains.

However, during the first few years of Dutch War (1672-1678) the Spanish still dominated the frontier, in spite of the new fortifications. In 1674 they captured Bellegarde and began to strengthen it. In frustration, the French fought back, waging an offensive war in the region until the end of the conflict. In 1675 they recaptured Bellegarde and in the closing months of the war Puigcerdà was taken and its fortifications demolished, to prevent the Spanish from using it again.

After the Dutch War Vauban'visited Roussillon to carry out more substantial fortification work. He strengthened Perpignan, Collioure and Bellegarde and built Fort Liberia above Villefranche de Conflent. He also built Fort Lagarde to protect the Tech valley more adequately. However most importantly he designed a the new fortress of Mont-Louis to protect Cerdanya, as Puigcerdà had done for the Spanish on their side of the border.

In subsequent conflicts the Spanish were almost always on the defensive in Catalonia and were never able to dominate the frontier as they did in the 1660s and 1670s. During the War of the Grand Alliance the French made bold offensives far south of the Pyrenees, even occupying Barcelona. In 1689 they took Camprodon and slighted its defences to prevent any further menace to the Tech valley.

Many of the fortresses in Catalonia have survived, because the region was not heavily industrialised. The benefits of tourism near the coast and the ski resorts has been recognised and so most of the fortified places are in good condition and can be visited all year round.