In 1963, I used the 10 day Easter break of the French Petroleum Institute to drive from Paris to Seville and Madrid with my friend Pierre M. in his car.
We drove through the massif central stopping to visit a few colourful villages and crossed the Pyrenees into Spain via Andorra adding a new country to our respective lists.
We camped without permission wherever we could but Spain was still under Franco at that time so we had to be careful not to get in trouble with the redoubtable leather capped Guardia Civil. We split in Madrid, Pierre had planned to stay there for a few weeks so I hitchhiked back to Paris.
I have salvaged only few pictures of this trip so I have put them all on this Easter 1963 page and scanned some postcards (indicated by black borders), in an attempt to fill some of the gaps . The links in the headers below will provide detailed information on the three countries we traversed.
FranceAtlapedia CIA Country Reports Lonely Planet Traveldocs Wikipedia
Our itinerary in France: Paris, Orléans, Limoges, Roc Amadour, Cordes, Albi, Toulouse, Carcassonne and mine on the way back, Biarritz, Bordeaux, Orléans and Paris.
I took few photos in those days but the medieval town of Roc Amadour built on a cliff in the mountains of Dordogne was spectacular enough for me to take out my camera.
Here is a close-up view of the spectacular Roc Amadour overhanging cliff. The town was an important stop on the pilgrimage trail to Compostelle in medieval times.
We also stopped to visit the equally spectacular hilltop fortified town of Cordes-sur-Ciel also dating back to medieval times.
The great Gothic Cathédrale Ste-Cécile in Albi, more of a fortress than a church was begun in 1282 after the heretic Cathars had been crushed by the northern French nobility in an incredibly bloody religious war sanctified by calling it a crusade.
For the sin of opposing the corruption in the Catholic clergy, the Cathars were eliminated from the face of the earth and their lands seized by the northern nobility under the ordres of Pope Innocent III.
The Cathar beliefs, that originated in Eastern Europe, held that human souls could be freed from the material world created by Satan, through a succession of rebirths eventually leading to god's heaven. These concepts recall both the Manicheism of Zarathoustra and the transmigration of souls of Hindu Vedas.
It is obvious from the ground that the massive cathedral-fortress sought to impress the people of southern France more than to elevate their thoughts towards God.
That's my friend Pierre being duly impressed.
We only drove through Toulouse but I remember a great two hour lunch we had there and the delightful accent of the people.
The architecture of these fortified towns is more revealing about the lifestyle and politics of the region in medieval times than the best history books.
The local noble (or warlord), who owned not only the land but also the people who farmed it did not go through the expense of building these elaborate defences just for their looks!
Looking at these powerful walls from the outside, one wonders if they were built mostly to keep the peasant rabble under control or to prevent the greedy noble neighbours from taking over.
Perhaps a bit of both... who do you identify with, the peasant rabble or the greedy neighbour?
Looking out from the ramparts, who do you fear most, the peasant rabble kept at the starvation level by your heavy taxes or the greedy neighbour who wants to add your cake to his?
Yes, I think that past architecture can be a great history book.
You learn a lot from the architecture in Tibet if you take away what the Chinese have built there in the last 50 years!
Capital: Andorra the Old
Sitting on the border between France and Spain, the small principality of Andorra offers excellent trekking in summer and skiing in winter.
Legend tells that Charlemagne founded Andorra in 805 in recognition of aid given by its inhabitants against the Saracens but the earliest document known that mentions Andorra is the act of consecration of the cathedral of Santa Maria of Urgell in 839, which mentions the parishes of Andorra as the fief of the Counts of Urgell (who owned the land and the peasants on it of course).
I'll skip over centuries of intrigues with catholic bishops and a number of other nobles (warlords) to state that Andorra became an independent state with a written constitution 14 March 1993.
It was still a principality when I drove through with Pierre in 1963.
|Atlapedia CIA Country Reports Lonely Planet Traveldocs Wikipedia|
We were just driving through to get to Spain but the sign on this restaurant prompted us to stop here for a meal. The owner was an Andorran who had made enough money in Quebec to come back and open his own business. He was an interesting chap and his wine was excellent.
I had taken only one picture of Andorra but I did buy this postcard as a souvenir of that quaint place. Andorra la Vella is certainly much bigger now, 50 years later.
SpainAtlapedia CIA Country Reports Lonely Planet Traveldocs Wikipedia
Itinerary in Spain: Montserrat, Barcelona, Sagunto, Valencia, Alicante, Murcia, Grenada, Sevilla, Cordoba, Toledo, Madrid, Burgos and Irún.
In Spain we marvelled at Gaudi's fertile architectural imagination in Barcelona but I did not take any pictures so here is a scanned postcard of the incredible Sagrada Familia Cathedral that has been in the process of being built since 1883.
Further south, we come to Sagunto on the coast where this picture of a 1st century AD Roman amphitheatre was taken.
Not much further on the way to Valencia we stopped to examine this old watchtower but there was nobody around to tell us whether it had been built by the Romans, the Vandals or the Arabs.
In Valencia I had my first exposure to great flamenco while enjoying another first, a fabulous paella! Here is the Cathedral's octagonal bell tower, the Miguelete from which there is a great view over the labyrinthine streets of the old city.
Moving west inland we came to historic Granada where the Arab occupation since 711 AD has left an indelible mark. After the fall of Cordoba in 1236 and of Sevilla in 1248, it is here that the Nasrid dynasty held on for another two and a half centuries before falling before Christian armies in 1492.
The Christian Isabel and Fernando established their court in the fabulous Alhambra maintaining intact the Arab architecture and decorations.
Not far north of the Alhambra, past the Muslim quarter of Albaycin is the town of Sacromonte where gypsies have been living since the 18th century in houses partly or completely carved out of the hillside.
Below left, a gypsy girl who graciously did a pirouette when she saw I was about to take her picture.
On the right, one of the less fancy troglodyte homes.
We finally made it to Sevilla in time to see the incredible fervour of the Semana Santa ceremonies! I don't know if it is the same now in 2005 but what I saw in 1963 could correctly be called collective hysteria.
Actually, it was a well organised hysteria with the clergy keeping full control of the gas and brake pedals of the mob's emotions.
Below left, the famous Giralda whose internal spiral stone ramps could be climbed by horsemen up to the top.
I had forgotten the name of the church on the right but an anonymous reader wrote to say it is the cathedral of Murcia. Thanks!
Collective madness is heavy stuff so it was a relief to reach the sanity of busy Madrid.
Pierre stayed here to learn Spanish and I hitchhiked back to Paris to learn about oil and gas.