La Vall d'Àssua

Altron

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Municipal area of Altron (Vall d'Àssua)

Altron

In ancient times, Altron was part of an enclosed town with three entrances. It seems that the village started to grow around the watchtower, the Cardaire Tower, which today serves as one of the corners of the main town square, having been converted into a strange house with six floors.

Casa Sobirà (also known as Casa Julià, as this was the name of the family that founded it) was one of the richest and most powerful houses in the valley. The people of Sobirà bought the Barony of Rialp and the Àssua Valley from Philip V of Spain and enjoyed the attributes of being minor nobility. You can see the threshing floor and the straw loft as soon as you get to the village and the house is a little higher up, on the main street.

 A couple of legends are linked to this manor house, in particular the origin of the "Esquerrana" dance and the name of one of the houses in the village, Casa Orella (“Aurella”).

It happened that the Count of Pallars, as a result of a fight over a lady, lost his left arm. While he was in Casa Sobirà recovering, a shepherd from the house, seeing him sad, recommended him to go and visit the villages belonging to his manor to entertain himself, but the Count responded that without his arm he would be unable to dance the welcoming dance which it was customary to do at each village visited, meaning that his subjects would feel sorry for him. The shepherd thought about it for some days and suggested making a wooden arm and composing a dance that he would practise with his sister. This is what they did and the first village where the new dance was shown was Esterri d’Àneu, where it was so successful that the count left it as a gift for the village, from where it spread all around the Pallars region.

 With regard to the origin of the name of Casa Orella (meaning ear), apparently, in ancient times, it was obligatory to attend religious services and that not doing so was considered to be a very serious offence. One day, the husband of a housemaid in Casa Sobirà went to collect the cows and when they were on their way back, they played up and fled. He spent a long time finding them and when he entered the village, he heard the call for prayer; thinking that it was the first call, he took some time mating the animals and when he got to the church he found the doors closed. At the break of dawn they went to find him to execute him. His wife prayed for clemency to the lady of Sobirà and she in turn to her husband for his life to be spared, but as a reminder, so that he would never forget what had happened, he ordered the executioner to cut off one of his ears. This is why the house was given this name.

 The church of Altron, which unlike most of the churches in the valley was built in the recent period (18th-century), is in the middle of the village. If you look carefully, you will see that one of the openings in the belfry has been filled in. It seems that in the past, all the villages in the area had to pay a tax to hear the chimes of the clock. One year, Surp did not want to pay and, so that the residents of Surp would not be able to hear the time, it was decided to fill in the opening of the belfry that gave onto this village.

 

Surp

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Municipal area of Surp (Vall d'Àssua)

Surp

Surp is on the sunniest side of the valley. The most notable building is the church of Sant Iscle i Santa Victòria, a Romanesque construction that preserves many original features such as the portal and the windows in the apse. The apse had been decorated with mural paintings that unfortunately were removed from the place and are now divided between the Diocese Museum of Seu d'Urgell (the largest part of the decoration of the apse), the National Art Museum of Catalonia - MNAC- (fragment of John the apostle under the arcade holding a book) and the rest is in the United States of America in the Art Museum of the city of Toledo, Ohio (a fragment with the apostles James and Philip).

Joan Coromines took particular notice of another building, Casa Bertran, which he called "the Cathedral of the Pallars farmers". From an architectural point of view, Casa Bertran is very interesting. It still preserves some defence loopholes, and you can see the embellishment decorating the windows; at the entrance to the village, next to the house, you can also find the immense corrals with their unique arcades. The building style brings to mind that which existed in the south of France and it is said that they were built by the same master mason who built Casa El Tor d'Alós.

 

In the upper part of Surp there used to be a castle with the same name as the village. Nothing is left of the castle, but the remains of the castle road can be found. It would seem that there were still some walls remaining at the beginning of the 20th century, but that the residents used the stones to make other buildings.

Escàs

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Municipal area of Escàs (Vall d'Àssua)

Escàs

Escàs sits on a cliff, also on the sunny side of the Àssua Valley. Etymologically speaking, the word "Escàs" means a place where there are holes, furrows or grooves.

 Escàs is a village with a notable stockbreeding tradition. In fact, for centuries it has served as a cattle track. This means that, when the animals were moved to new pastures, one of the routes passed through Escàs and the herds and the shepherds stopped there, both when going up the mountain as well as when coming down it. The people of Escàs offered their fields so that the animals could rest in them and, in exchange, the animals fertilised them.

  

The dance of the Calçots

In winter, the animals of Escàs, like other mountain herds, grazed on the lower lands of Urgell or of Tarragona. The shepherds of Casa Però, who spent the winter in the valleys, took a dance with them that the village of Escàs maintained well into the 20th century. All that was required was the sound of the flageolet, shepherds and young lasses. The words are as follows: 

«Les calçots traïdors,

diu que no volen, diu que no troben,

les calçots traïdors;

diu que no troben balladors.

 

Ara ballen, ara ballen,

ara ballen ells tots sols.

Les calçots són uns dimonis,

les calçots són uns traïdors;

ara ballen, ara ballen,

ara ballen ells tots sols.

 

Les calçots traïdors,

diu que no volen, diu que no troben,

les calçots traïdors,

diu que no volen balladors.

 

L’any vinent no hi haurà festa,

si no ballen ells tots dos.

Les calçots són uns golaires,

s’han menjat ells les calçots.

Lo vi bo de la pitxella

s’han begut les dos tots sols.

 

Les calçots traïdors

diu que no volen, diu que no troben,

les calçots traïdors

diu que no volen balladors.»

 

Caregue

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Municipal area of Caregue (Vall d'Àssua)

Caregue

Caregue is nestled between the mountains of the valley, on the sunniest side. Access to this part of Àssua is not in such good condition as the main road, but it is worth getting to know it.

The active residents’ association has managed to obtain several works to improve Caregue. They have restored a Gothic altarpiece from the Church of Sant Martí, a relatively modern building that replaced the old church, which was in a very poor condition. In 1758, a pastoral visit was made to the village church and the visitor wrote: " we found the church and its walls to be in a very poor state, there are three unrecognizable altars, they have no shape or form and they are almost completely condemned. In short, this church has nothing decent about it apart from the side chapel, and then only a little.” The visitor gave them eight months to repair it or to build a new one. The Village people probably decided on the latter, as it would seem that the original building was lower down, next to today's cemetery.

 In Caregue, you can see Casa Bellera, one of the protected houses in the valley, which is notable thanks to its architecture. The façade is supported on some arches that form the entrance to the house.

 There is a legend about Casa Galí, which is a little higher up than Casa Bellera, and which was traditionally a well-off household, explaining its good fortune. It is said that from time to time, one can see two snakes dancing around each other. If anyone is fortunate enough to see this and throws a silk handkerchief on top of them, this handkerchief will give them good luck. This is what the story says happened to the old man in Casa Galí, and since the handkerchief has been in the household, they have had good luck ever since.

 Further up the mountain, following the course of the river, you come to the venerated carving of the Mare de Déu de la Muntanya, which has also been restored, together with the baroque altarpiece. (The story has it that the virgin appeared in a shepherd's hut. He tried to take it down to the village, but every day when he got there, he found his pouch to be empty. When he went back to the place he had found it, the virgin was there again. Finally, he understood that she wanted to stay there and they built the hermitage in that place. In the place where the virgin was found, a rose bush grew which survived for centuries. The residents made oil of roses from it which, it was said, cured all ills.

 In Caregue they still remember the traditional torch dance. The tragic death of one of the dancers caused the villagers to stop dancing it. It was however a lively, energetic dance led by a dancer who was followed by those behind with a torch in their teeth to try and burn the mountain rice grass the leader had.

Rodés

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municipal area of Rodés (Vall d'Àssua)

Rodés

Rodés is one of the most remote, smallest villages in the Àssua Valley. Resting on the cliffs that stood over the River Noguera Pallaresa, depending on where you look at it from, it seems to be an inaccessible village. There was a woman in this village who was particularly well known, called Malaia, who people went to see when they were ill or had had an accident. It was said that with her remedies, herbs and patches she could cure almost any illness.

When you reach the village, your attention will probably be drawn by the Church of Sant Andreu, with its whitewashed belfry. This belfry replaced the previous square tower which was hit by a bolt of lightning in the 1960s. 

From Rodés there is a path that leads to the Botella huts, which used to be inhabited, and to the now abandoned village of Sant Romà de Tavernoles, outside the Àssua Valley.

Bernui

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Municipal area of Bernui (Vall d'Àssua)

Bernui

The small village of Bernui is set on the top of a steep rock, topped by the Church of La Mare de Déu of Bernui. The Virgin of Bernui is a 12th-century Romanesque carving that has remained intact to the present and for which the inhabitants of the valley feel great devotion, especially during periods of drought. During the Spanish Civil War, they managed to protect it by hiding it in a cave that was very difficult to reach on some cliffs close to the village.

 It is said that some shepherds from Bernui found the Virgin in the municipal area of Seurí. The two villages wanted to keep it, but as they did not manage to reach an agreement they decided to leave it to chance or to the will of the Virgin. They threw an earthenware pitcher down the mountain and decided that if it remained intact, the carving would be for the people of Bernui, who had blind faith in the Virgin, and that if it broke, it would be the people of Seurí. Miraculously, the pitcher did not break, demonstrating the will of the Mother of God to remain with the people who had most faith in her.

 In the church you can also see a recent finding of some baroque paintings hidden behind a coat of white paint. The restoration process has allowed the ones that were in a better state to be recovered; the roses on the ceiling.

 If you go down to the village, the first house that you see is Casa Alegre, one of the wealthy houses in the Valley, which still preserve the circular balcony from which the priest gave the sermon for the Town Festival and at Corpus Christi.

 

Seurí

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Municipal area of Seurí  (Vall d'Àssua)

Seurí

The village of Seurí nestles in a corner of the Àssua Valley. As soon as you get there, you come to the square, "La Placeta". From here you can see the communal bakery, still in use until the 1950s. Inside it, you can still find the kneading trough, the shovels and the oven in good condition. The last time that bread was made was in 1992, as one of the activities to celebrate the arrival of the telephone in the village. 

The streets on the right lead to the square, the fountain and the public wash places, where some families still wash their clothes. 

At the top of the village there is a church. In the lower part you can see a kind of room, with a wooden door and a grille. It is the old village jail. On the wall behind the church you can make out an arcade which would have corresponded to the old altarpiece inside. It is said that at the beginning of the last century they had to redo this part of the wall to be able to remove the altarpiece that the Bishopric sold to a private individual. This is a story that was repeated in many other villages in the area. In some cases, it has been possible to localise them; however, the one from Seurí has still not been located.

 Half a kilometre from the village there is the deserted village of Meneurí where the roof of the old house is still preserved in quite a good condition. Underneath the built part there are remains of the Romanesque church of Sant Esteve, which still preserves and apse and part of the wall. It is particularly notable for the perfect way in which the ashlars that are part of the walls were worked. 

The nickname of the people of Seurí is explained in a legend. It would seem that the people of Seurí had an old she-ass, which was so old that its hair was white. As they did not know what to do with it, they decided to take it to the fair and, to be able to get more money, they decided to paint it black and, as it was corpulent, pass it off as a young mule. It would seem that the people of Altron believed this and bought it happily, thinking they had made a great deal. They were just getting the animal to the village, when it began to rain and the dye started to run. They immediately realised that they had been tricked. And this is where their nicknames come from, the people of Seurí are called "gitanos" (gipsies) and the people of Altron "carallots" (nitwits). And the people from Sorre, making the most of the event, laughed at the people of Altron, singing: ‘nitwits of Altron, the people from Sorre are no longer the fools!’

 

 

Llessui

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Municipal area of Llessui  (Vall d'Àssua)

Llessui has always been one of the villages with most inhabitants in the Valley. In 1553, it had 51 homes, more homes than in Rialp and only one less than in Sort. This situation remained stable until the 1950s, when the tendency was inverted.

 

The village enjoyed a second golden period when the ski slopes opened in 1967 (if you want, you can look for analogies with Les veus del Pamano). While the ski slopes were operational, some businesses were opened and even a small discotheque. In 1986, the ski slopes were closed. Now, all that is left is the chairlift, which can be seen from the village, silhouetted against the sky.

 

The village of Llessui consists of two districts. The upper part, Llessui, with the Sant Pere belfry, one of the few in Catalonia which is used to get into the church —which was demolished in 1990 on the grounds that it was a ruin— and Torre, in the lower part, with the Church of Sant Julià. Today, the construction of new buildings has visually joined the two centres together.

 

The pinnacle that stands over Llessui, just above it and to the north, is called El Tossal de Torena. Many centuries ago, Torena Castle, the seat of the Barony of the Àssua Valley was located here. All that remain now are the ruins. This is the name that Jaume Cabré adopted for the main setting of the events in Les veus del Pamano, and which, with modifications and changes, refers to the village of Llessui.

 

It is said that in Llessui there has always been a shortage of firewood. And in fact, one can see above the village, above the meadows, that there are pastures, without any pine forests, which are usually found in the other valleys of Pallars. This, without a doubt, has contributed to the strong stock breeding pressure, although legend has it that the person responsible is the old lady of Torena. It is said that a small herd of pigs that this woman kept next to the castle got away, and so that nobody could make use of them, she decided to set the forest on fire. This is how the castle, the pigs and the forest disappeared in flames for evermore.

 

It is explained along the same lines in one of the verses of the Cobles de Peirot.

 

«A Llessui no tenen llenya

i xeretes només fan.

Arropleguen molta brossa

Pra l’hivern anar passant

Lo ginebre han de buscar,

La digo, digo, digo, digo

Lo ginebre han de buscar,

Ni que punxe pra cremar»

 

The old studio in Llessui, another of the main settings in Les veus del Pamano, can be found in the Àssua Valley Shepherds' Ecomuseum and one of the tourist information offices in the Aigüestortes i Estany Sant Maurici National Park as Llessui is one of the ways of getting into the Park.

 

The nickname by which the people of Llessui are known is "panarres" (approximate translation: bread eaters), because it would seem that here there were the most protected houses in the village, with their own bread oven, and they never had problems finding freshly baked bread. This is why the people of Torre, with some envy, gave them this nickname. The people of Torre, on the other hand, were called "matapans" (approximate translation: bread killers).