Mérens to Banyuls on the Pyrenean Way (GR10)
Cet article est également disponible en: French
[extract from If you only walk long enough – exploring the Pyrénees]
Panissars, between Las Illas and the Col d’Ullat
At Panissars, I climb up from the path to frontier post no 567. The trees have been cut back here and the view encompasses both the French and the Spanish sides of the watershed. To the north, badly maintained stone terracing cuts through the pale green rows of vines. The fortress of Bellegarde on a promontory dominates the scene, hiding the modern frontier town of Le Perthus from view. To the south, the Mediterranean oaks and pines cascade down the hillside towards the coast and disappear into the haze.
The hillcrest itself is an astonishing memorial to the passage of time. The most immediately obvious remains are those of an 11th-century priory, but underneath them archaeological excavations in the 1980s discovered the base of a massive stone structure. It is here that the Roman general Pompey decided to commemorate the capture of 876 Spanish towns in the 1st century BC by erecting a monument. Known as the Trophée de Pompée and mentioned by many classical authors, only the foundations now remain. But the most impressive vestige of the past is neither the priory nor the monument. It is the ruts engraved into the solid rock by the passage of thousands of wooden cartwheels over tens of centuries.
I see carts laden with stone crawling up the slope, the reluctant oxen wheezing from the effort. Masons are trimming the blocks to shape and the more skilled among them are carving the hundreds of names which will feature on the sides of the monument. Roman soldiers, stationed at the checkpoint between the two provinces, look on indifferently, bored. Their thoughts stray to the potential delights of Narbo Martius, the capital of southern Gaul, LXV miles away. Well-dressed merchants on horseback make out that they really have paid all the necessary dues, then slither on down the slope, destination Tarragona. As yet there are no ruts in the rock surface.
This is an extract from If You Only Walk Long Enough, available from Amazon. See details and reviews. Une édition française intitulée Les Pyrénées tout en marchant sur le GR10 est aussi disponible.