NAPOLEON AND CATALONIA
Under this title, Peralada Library recalls the bicentenary of the Napoleonic invasion of Catalonia and its repercussion on neighbouring towns, such as Figueres, Roses and Girona, and others not so nearby, such as Barcelona and Tortosa. It does so through an exhibition of documents, engravings and manuscripts of exceptional importance, complemented by pieces from the museum, such as weapons, glass objects and the coin collection. Material from the Library of the Counts of Peralada, the last members of the Rocabertí dynasty, and from the collection acquired by Miquel Mateu after 1923, today preserved in the Peralada Library and Archive.
Of course, the lead character in the story is Napoleon, who after signing the “Treaty of Fontainebleau” (1807), whereby the Spanish crown allowed French troops passage to invade Portugal, acted in betrayal and occupied the fortifications of Barcelona and Figueres, events that caused a feeling of rebellion among the Catalan population and set in motion the future war.
Both the biography of the principal instigator of this uprising on the Iberian peninsula and the various reactions, against or in favour, the ones known as the afrancesados (pro-French), have been reflected in numerous books, from which we can display rare and curious examples in the exhibition about the “Peninsular War”. Of note are the iconographic elements such as the engraved portraits of Napoleon and maps of different sieges, and contemporary documents such as decrees and edicts.
The fortresses at Figueres and Roses, considered strategic to ensure supplies and provisions due to the location on the road to France by land and by sea, were occupied. Among others, the “Piano della Fortezza di Figueras” (1811), by the Napoleonic general and Italian engineer, “Camillo Vacani”, completes the documentation relating to the castle at Figueres, of which the original “Plan of the Fortress of San Fernando that is constructed …” (Zermeño, 1753) is of note.
The story of the siege of Roses, which began in November 1808, is told through a handwritten diary showing in close detail the state of the fortress after the army entered and what life was like during the siege, which lasted barely a month. On 6 December, the Spanish left the Citadel of Roses as prisoners en route to France.
In the midst of this situation, the town of Peralada was forced by decree to provide supplies to the garrison occupying the stronghold of Figueres and Roses, to which it had to supply all types of stores and provisions; specifying the obligation also to supply the wine made by the Carmelite community of Peralada known as “vi de pahir”, which is a piece of information that is of the utmost importance as it is the first documentation of the making of wine at the Carme Convent in Peralada. It also shows the effects of the conflict on leading figures of the time, such as a member of the Avinyó family, who was imprisoned and who died in France.
Another of the central figures in the exhibition is Álvarez de Castro, military governor of the stronghold in Girona, who experienced the siege of the city by the French army. Both the siege of Girona and the imprisonment and death of the general in the castle at Figueres – some sources point to strange circumstances, alleging a possible poisoning, others make reference to natural causes – are reflected in the exhibition with the studies of contemporary soldiers and close collaborators, such as Haro, Monfort, Francesc Satué, Blas de Fournàs, Marsengo and Guillelmo Minali, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians such as Grahit and Pla y Cargol.
The afrancesados cannot go without a mention. with major figures such as Tomàs Puig and Josep Garriga. Another figure were the bandits who spied for the French army, as in the case of the bloody Boquica, who betrayed the intermediary, Captain Narcís Massanas, from Sant Feliu de Guíxols, who he handed in and who was subsequently tried and shot. Other uncontrolled individuals acted at whim, taking justice into their own hands, one of the documented victims of whom was the rector of the Vilamalla parish.
The chaos and the destruction of the area caused by the Napoleonic invasion took years to rectify.
Inés Padrosa Gorgot