Life over the precipice. How did the city on a cliff and how it lives?
At 120 kilometers from Barcelona there is an amazing place: on a narrow rocky plateau, resembling the tail of a dragon, in two rows of houses are arranged. And this is not some castle or chinese wall. These are real houses where people live! All are built along one of the streets in a few meters from the cliff. It’s even amazing how they could fit into such a small area!
The town is named Castellfollit de la Roca. It’s built on a rock many centuries ago. Today it can be without exaggeration called a highlight of Spain, which is definitely worth a visit. Unless, of course, you have a fear of heights.
This is what the city on the cliff looks like when viewed from below.
The basalt rock on which this town is built is located in Catalonia, in the Natural Park of the province of Girona. Such an unusual shape of the rock was formed as a result of the collision of volcanic lava flows. And nature built this cliff in two stages: first, about 217,000 years ago, a volcanic eruption formed a kind of foundation for this rock, and much later (however, also very, very long ago) another eruption as if on purpose built walls, creating something like a narrow plateau.
Interesting fact: The area of La Garoccia is a natural park with 70 volcanoes. Most half of them are still active today, spewing streams of hot mud from time to time.
Godefroy Engelmann’s lithograph from a painting by J.-C. Langlois, 19th century.
The cliff is 50 meters high, and the area of the site on which this one single street with two rows of houses was built is only 670 square meters.
Considering that at the beginning of our millennium the seizure of foreign territories was quite usual, it was not surprising that this impregnable plateau was chosen for the foundation of the settlement. According to historians, the first documentary mention of this amazing town was found in manuscripts dating back to 1193. At that time Castellfollit de la Roca was already described as an impregnable fortress called Castellfollit, where people lived, even despite the rather limited space and impossibility to have fields, land and pasture in close proximity to the dwelling.
As a rule, the peasants living at the foot hid in the fortress in times of raids to protect their families from belligerent neighbors. But over time, many there built houses that appear to be “fused” with the cliff, increasing its height by at least two stories. This is due to the fact that all the houses are built from the same rock (basalt) as the rock itself. And on top of that, the backs of the houses are flush with the cliff, and sometimes even slightly hanging down.
Surprisingly, this small town, which some guidebooks even call a village, has many interesting sights. It has its own church (San Salvador), and its history dates back to the 13th century, when a chapel appeared here. During its existence, it has been destroyed many times and even rebuilt. At the end of the last century the church was completely rebuilt by the efforts of the townspeople.
Castellfollit de la Roca has everything for a comfortable life. It has its own school, kindergarten, cafes and bars, as well as its own sausage museum, which has been here for 27 years. And, of course, there is an excellent observation deck. Visitors can admire the surrounding countryside, including road bridges, low-lying cabins, and rivers.
View from the observation deck.
As for the city itself, it is about 800 years old and was originally built as a fortification. During its history, it has been destroyed many times by earthquakes and wars. However, its houses have preserved the appearance of the Middle Ages.
Because of constant reconstructions, we can see the church with a square bell tower and a roof decorated with small pilasters, which is characteristic of the late Renaissance. From 1657 onwards the church has the appearance that we can see today. This is perhaps the only weighty attraction of Castellfollit de la Roca, apart from the fact that as such it is a unique monument of architecture.
The inhabitants used the same basalt formed from lava as the building material. The roofs are covered with brown tiles. The spaces between the floors are decorated with ceramic décor and the cornices are covered with plaster. In general, the houses look cozy, elegant and permeated with the spirit of the European Middle Ages.
The balcony of one of the houses. Photo: Luis Tejero.
It is interesting that Castellfollit de la Roca, in which even now you can count only a little over a thousand inhabitants, is considered one of the first cities in Spain where telephone service was installed.
The alley of the city on a cliff.
Only few cities in the world have such an extreme location and planning. As noted by the locals, it is also characterized by a special climate, not inherent in Spain itself. This is due to the landscape, the presence of a lot of greenery and high humidity.
Because of the constant evaporation of the cliff and the town is in a haze, but in very hot and dry weather it can be seen in all its glory. Although life itself in it is not as beautiful as the nature and climate. It goes without saying that to get to this settlement is very difficult, because there is no public transport, you need to have your own car.
The ancient bridge is the only road that leads to the town.
Things are no better for gardeners. To grow their crops and harvest them, they have to make a huge detour to cross the large bridge that is located at the beginning of the plateau. It is the only link to the outside world that allows them to cross the river and reach the fertile valley at the foot of the cliff. That’s where people have planted gardens, vineyards and vegetable gardens.
People in different parts of the world have for centuries settled at high altitudes. Sometimes houses on mountains and cliffs were built purely out of necessity, taking into account the geographical features of the area, or such a location was chosen for safety reasons. But sometimes it was because of religious beliefs.