Inland Catalonia in the Baroque era was a land dominated by poverty, desperation and fear. The deep social unrest gave rise to a great number of figures who fought to escape, whilst others became scapegoats for the sins of a famished and weakened society.
The economic and social backdrop of scarcity and rivalries led to the prominence of the figure of the outlaw. Over-population in the mountains forced some locals to become highwaymen in order to survive the hard times, sometimes on their own behalf, but often under the protection of more powerful men.
Meanwhile, society looked for someone to blame for its troubles and hoped for the return of the favour of the gods. Women accused of witchcraft atoned for the sins of an era incapable of meeting even the most basic needs of its people.
Against this backdrop of instability, the vastness and density of the forests of Montseny, Guilleries and Lluçanès regions provided the perfect setting for witches and outlaws of 16th and 17th century Catalonia to flourish.
Although it may not be immediately apparent, witches and bandits are figures that have a lot in common. Firstly, their characters have been central to the creation of a myth, and they have given rise to tales and stories, well-known sayings and to superstitions and unfounded beliefs, and so on. They have become legends.
Witches and outlaws in inland Catalonia lived side by side throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Catalonia in the Baroque period is often described as decadent and excessively passionate. One thing for sure is that it was an age dominated by the light and shadows so characteristic of the artistic movement from which the period takes its name.
Witches and outlaws lived alongside each other in the same place: the mountains and the woods of inland Catalonia where they found protection and refuge.
Between 1618 and 1622, as the wave of repression against witchcraft swept across Western Europe, many trials took place in inland Catalonia. This phenomenon was seen from Urgell and Segarra right down to the regions of Osona, Vallès, Selva, Bages, Berguedà and Anoia. Often initiated by the local community of the alleged witch, accusations of witchcraft were generally aimed at women who were advanced in age and of humble status. A whole host of evil powers would be attributed to her: bringing about disease, casting spells on people or them, destroying crops with hailstorms, etc. More than 400 women went through such trials and, in the worst cases, they were executed after a trial in which the main evidence consisted of a confession forced out of them under torture.
Abject poverty in the mountains, feuds and schemes between gentlemen – the combination of these three factors brought banditry to its height in Catalonia in the 16th and 17th centuries. At once a highwayman and a defender of ideals, the Catalan outlaw of the Baroque era was, first and foremost, the right-hand man of a particular judicial lord, defending his master’s interests.
Under the protection of these lords, groups of outlaws prospered, captained by charismatic characters like Serrallonga or Rocaguinarda. These bands could be made up of as many as one hundred men. They had weapons, animals to ride and travelled far an wide across the territory. They often survived together for decades. With little regard for reality, the literature of the Spanish Golden Age (Siglo de Oro) turned them into heroes who fought for justice, and by the time of the Renaissance in the 19th century, they had become legends.
Whether it be the grandeur of the peaks of the Montseny or the more rounded slopes of Lluçanès, the forest has long been a determining factor in the life of the people of this area. It is clear that one of the forest’s key roles was as a source of natural resources for those who took refuge within it: logs, firewood, coal, game, fruit and water all came from the woods. In other cases, meanwhile, areas of forest were cleared to grow crops. However, the forest was more than just a part of the economic history of the local villages, it was also a place for leisure and excursions, home to both real and imaginary people, the setting for myths and legends. In short, it was a symbolic place intimately etched on the conscience of the people.
Arbúcies, Sant Hilari Sacalm, Viladrau, Olost and Sant Feliu Sasserra are the towns that make up Association of Towns participating in the Tourism Development Initiative: Woods of Witches and Bandits. Their strength lies in the diversity of what they offer collectively. The common denominator underlying all of the points of tourist interest here is that, in the past, they all provided the setting for important chapters in the history of witchcraft and banditry during the 16th and 17th centuries.
These towns have come together to revitalise tourism in the area and develop the local economy. To this end, they have created the Tourism Development Initiative which, as well as the towns’ own funding, also receives financial support from Turespaña (Spanish tourism authority) and from the Direcció General de Turisme de la Generalitat de Catalunya (Tourism office of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia). In addition, the Diputacions (Provincial Councils) of Girona and of Barcelona have given support to the Association in this venture through their own tourism and cultural bodies. Furthermore, the Association has signed knowledge-sharing agreements in vatious fields with the Universities of Girona and Vic.
With the objective of offering modern visitors something different and authentic, the Association has focused on the area’s rich heritage in terms of witchcraft and banditry. Using natural and cultural resources, it has developed a sustainable tourism project suitable for all ages: hiking routes to key emblematic sites, events recreating historical times, sites designed to gain in-depth insight into the phenomena, and much more.
A broad selection of activities designed for visitors to enjoy at any time of year. And all in a spectacular setting: the unbeatable backdrop of the natural beauty of inland Catalonia and the forests of the Montseny, Guilleries and Lluçanès regions.
A whole world to discover…