From WikiPOBia

(Difference between revisions)
Jump to: navigation, search

Revision as of 18:14, 11 November 2008

Catalonia is currently an Autonomous Community in the north-eastern corner of Spain. As an independent, recognizable entity, Catalonia has a long history which started around the eight century when the Franks repelled the Moorish invasion and the small counties left in the no-man-land in between Franks and Moors started to grow into a common culture, with their own language (still in use nowadays) and customs, centered around the city of Barcelona. By marrying into the family of the Kings of Aragon, a later Count of Barcelona started using the title of Aragon, which eventually fell on Ferdinand II who married Isabella of Castille, forming what would became Spain. There is plenty of information about it in Wikipedia. However, that Catalonia is not what Jack or Stephen would have had in mind, actually, it would have meant different things to each.

Jack Aubrey's Catalonia

Jack would have seen Catalonia from the sea, the name itself or the politics of the region would have meant very little to him. Any point in its coast could be reached in about a day from [Port Mahon]. The [Pyrenees] cut the region in two, an impassable barrier to road traffic in the winter months, a tough road in the best of times. That meant that a lot of the supplies for Napoleon's army in Spain had to go by sea. With the large ports blockaded by the larger ships of the fleet, there was still a large number of small vessels for the taking. A regular coastal trading boat could carry the equivalent of 5 to 10 oxcarts and with a local, knowledgeable crew, it could sail close to the coast, ready to find refuge in any cove or in the shallow waters were a larger ship could not venture.

The coast where the Pyrenees sink into the Mediterranean is rough with plenty of coves carved from high cliffs. The remains of lookout towers are still there today in the highest points throughout the coast. They had been there since Roman times. For the locals, whether British ships at war or pirates, in tough times the lookout would be there to watch any approach by a possible hostile vessel to signal the nearby boats to seek refuge and the townspeople to be ready to defend the town. Smugglers had used those same coves until the borders had been dropped in between the countries of the European Union and are still used by traffickers crossing from Northern Africa or ships well off-shore.

Flat country lies on each side of the Pyrenees, the coast on the French side has plenty of salt water lagoons, the main cities are well inland, where the terrain is solid. [Collioure] lies right in the edge in between the salt marshes and the steep mountain roads, the high walls of the old fort still reach the edge of the water, one of the towers is now the bell tower of the church and, further inland, the shape of a more modern star-shaped fort, still in use by the French Army, can all be clearly seen in this view in Google Maps. The coast to the north, now a series of well developed beach side towns, was mostly wasteland in those days with briny water not good for crops, shallow water not good for sailing, with the occasional high ground with a few houses around a church. Boats sailing that stretch of the coast had little chance of finding any protection, most of the rivers are too shallow to enter looking for protection.

Sète further north along the coast, was a very important port for the small trading traffic of supplies. The Canal du Midi, crossing all of France from the Bay of Biscay, passing through major cities as Bordeaux, Tolouse, Carcassonne and Beziers ends in the lagoon and pours into the Mediterranean at that point, the exit for all the produce of a large, well irrigated region inland and many industrial cities. In between Sète and Collioure, there are few places to take cover and no support to be expected from inland defenses.

On the Spanish side, Llançá is the first good place to land a cargo, the small fort, now gone, in the tip that now protects the marina providing a good, though not very strong defense. The road inland to Figueres is quite easy on the beasts and open all year round though it is an easy place to fall to ambushes.

The best port, though, would be Roses, on the other side of the [Cap de Creus]. Sailing around [Cap de Creus] is dangerous, the wind is often strong and the coast quite unforgiving. The satellite picture shows plenty of boats which is normal nowadays when you can lower the sails and escape the lee-shore on diesel power. Still, wrecks and fatalities still occur to this day. The map shows very few place names because few places are accessible. The easternmost tip has a lighthouse nowadays and is where The Light at the Edge of the World was filmed. Port Lligat, near Cadaqués, is where Salvador Dalí used to live.

[Roses] had been a good port since Greek times. The Trinidad fort, briefly held by [Thomas Cochrane] in 1808 and now being rebuilt to house a museum, after the French blew it when they had to abandon it, used to provide a very good defense, perched high over the eastern end of the port, the city itself, down in the valley well protected on the other end by a star-shaped fort. There, a wide, flat and easy road goes inland to Figueres and from there you can go south to Girona, Barcelona and Tarragona, the big capitals of the Catalonian provinces, the last two main ports, all well defended and then to the rest of Spain.

Catalonia traditionally ended in the River Ebro a natural boundary. The delta of the Ebro river has always spilled into the sea, but a couple of coastal defenses had made that profile more extreme, a clearly defined triangular wedge with straight borders. Before them, maps done at different times showed it with different shapes. Without local knowledge, a ship would not have ventured through the always shifting sand banks of the delta. The river could be sailed up to and past Saragossa.

Except for a short stretch of lowlands immediately to the south of Roses, all the coast of Catalonia was populated and more or less defended, with watchtowers in the higher points and lots of places to take shelter, forts of various sizes, small towns, fishing villages. With good weather and the horizon free of enemy vessels, the boats would leave early in the morning, always keeping an eye on the horizon for any approaching sails, ready to take hide in any of the innumerable coves. Many of the coves could hide a not so small ship, as the [Sophie] found out when encountering the [Cacafuego].

There is hardly a place on the coast where you could stay unobserved for long. The news of a prowling ship would spread in no time. For a population that has always been harassed by vessels carrying flags of all colors, it didn't much matter which side you were on, even watering from shore would be risky. The best would be to keep moving, always ahead of the news of your presence, leaving the area when the coastal traffic opts to remain sheltered until you are gone and then drop again at random at any other point to start again. Most of the boats, being of little value themselves, would be not good as prizes, they would have their cargo hauled on board, if valuable, eaten or sunk otherwise and when a larger prize is captured, all the cargo could be shipped to Mahon with a single crew. This same routine could well be maintained well beyond Catalonia, to the south-west up to Gibraltar.

None of these activities would significantly alter the course of a war, but just like Cochrane's holding the Trinidad fort for a few weeks forced the French to divert a few thousand troops, the continuous harassment of the coastal traffic precluded its use by the French, forcing all supply lines to run overland over long and poor roads, further exposed to the attacks by the partisans.

Stephen Maturin's Catalonia

There are two different aspects to his view of Catalonia. As half-Catalonian, there would be the view of en Estève Maturín i Domanova his name in Catalonian and those of the politico and intelligence agent.

( ... )

Personal tools