This afternoon I made my first visit to Ulldecona, a town about 15km from home west of the Montsia mountains. In the valley north of the town there's an important site where paleolithic cave paintings were found. Like so many settlements in this area, this place has a history both ancient and modern. The area's paleolithic heritage is certainly promoted in the presentation of the town's identity, but there's more to it than that. Like nearby Alcanar, it's been a primary wealth creating place for centuries due to limestone quarries in the vicinity. These produce huge vivid scars in the local landscape.
It was a place won from the Moors in the fifteenth century, as one of the town elders told me in conversation, using whatever words we could find in common, after I photographed a former Dominican convent at the north end of the main street. The church and domestic buildings opposite were taken over for the use of the municipality in the mid nineteenth century and have had an interesting renovation in the late 20th century. The former is the Casa de Culture (library and performance space), the latter is the Casa de Ville (Ajuntament).
The Parish Church, dedicated to St Luke, sits in a square which has arcaded buildings on two sides which harbour bars and restaurants. Last weekend was the fiesta of our Lady of Sorrow & Love hereabouts, and banners proclaiming the mystery fluttered in the breeze throughout the town. I was thrilled as I stepped inside the church to hear the senior choir practicing in a grand side chapel - as if the main 14th century Valencian gothic nave and sanctuary were not enough liturgical space to manage! Religion in Spain may be on the back foot because of secularisation in the past few decades, but continues to strive vigorously to make its case to the world, unconcerned about being a minority pursuit. There's something which is both ancient and authentic about that.
From Ulldecona, I drove up to La Senia, and from there up the valley to the reservoir which bears the name of the town, but is in the valley leading to the village of Benifassa. Here the magnitude of the drought afflicting Spain takes on dramatic proportions. The bridge belonging to a hamlet submerged beneath a hundred metres of water after the dam was built is now plainly visible. This forested region exhibits a profound pale yellow scar in places where only blue water was visible until a few years ago.
From the road bridge which crosses the once submerged valley giving access to 'Poblat de Benifassa' - the main village, I saw a deer foraging for new vegetation on the valley floor a hundred metres below in the pale yellow monochrome desert of a waterless reservoir. A crisis for humans maybe, but be a small opportunity for animals meanwhile.
I wish there had been time to linger, but I had to return and get ready to go out for the evening, for a quiz session at the Vinaròs camp site, just 15 minutes walk from home. It's twenty years since I last took part in a quiz, when I was Rector of Halesowen. Once more tonight, I found myself part of the winning team, and again walked home - this time under a warm clear starry sky - with a bottle of Catalunyan wine as prize, laughing with incredulty at the sheer co-incidence of this occasion.