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La Mussara (from the Arabic musâra, “promenade, place to walk”) is an unpopulated area, which, according to the RAE, means: “Desert, wasteland or unpopulated place, and especially one that once had a population.”

This uninhabited or depopulated village located in Vilaplana, in the Baix Camp, Tarragona, is located 990 meters above sea level and offers a spectacular view over the entire Camp de Tarragona.

Its origin is very ancient: it is already presented in an act of concord from the year 1173 between King Alfonso I the Chaste and the archbishop of Tarragona, when the nucleus was already populated, and its church is recorded in a bull of Celestine III from 1194. From a time prior to these dates, Saracen remains have been found, from which the place name Almussara comes.

However, the toponym appears written in the 13th century as Almuçora and Laumuçara, until reaching the Parish Visitor Book of 1738, in which the Mussara form is already adopted.

La Mussara was part of the Prades county since the county’s creation in 1324; the archbishop also collected half a tithe. The first demographic news is from 1497, when it had five fires, (in the Middle Ages, the fogage (focagium), was the census of the fires or homes, that is, by family or housing unit, for the collection of taxes) that They went to seven in 1515 and seventeen in 1553. In the 18th century, in 1708 it had fifteen houses, twelve in 1719 and fifteen again in 1763 and 1773.

As for the most important vestiges of the Mussara, we can see the remains of a Gothic church, after the Romanesque church of the 12th century, on whose ruins the current church was built, dedicated to San Salvador and enlarged in 1850, the year in which it was built. built the bell tower.

The interior is badly damaged by acts of vandalism, given the general state of abandonment it is the only building in the town that remains standing. Currently, after more than sixty years of abandonment, the building is in a state of ruin.

During the period of the war with the French (1808-1814), Mussara experienced a remarkable increase in population because its geographical location offered a good refuge, just as it happened in Siurana, and it welcomed refugees, especially from the Baix Camp area.

Thus, in the 19th century it had a very hesitant population, possibly due to the echo of the civil wars, which caused many Carlists to gather in the area (1872-1873), who decided to take refuge in the town’s farmhouses and its surroundings, as well as in a cave where they installed the so-called “Carlist hospital” to accommodate the wounded.

Regarding demographic evolution, in 1839 it had eighty-four inhabitants, two hundred and fourteen in 1842, one hundred and forty-six in 1844 and 323 in 1857, which remained practically stable until the end of the century, with 297 inhabitants counted in 1897. It is believed that the maximum population was achieved between the years 1857 and 1860 with 323 inhabitants.

Throughout the 20th century, the depopulation process was completed, which caused Mussara to be the first of the ten towns in the Prades mountains to remain uninhabited. Regarding demographic evolution, it had 291 inhabitants in 1900, one hundred and sixty-nine in 1920, ninety-four in 1940 and twelve in 1960.

The depopulation process was logical, since the surrounding lands, mostly covered with pines, holm oaks, scrubland and rocky areas, had always had a reputation for being arid and the place for being poor.

In 1922, construction of the highway began, which, instead of giving life to the town, helped accelerate its depopulation and the number of inhabitants progressively decreased.

In 1958 there were still thirty-seven de jure inhabitants in the town, those who were registered and 231 in fact, but the following year all the houses in the town and the farmhouses were permanently abandoned, although in some farmhouses there were still temporary tenants.

One of the main factors that led to the final abandonment of the Mussara was the action of Dalmau, who, known as “the millionaire”, began a process of speculation in the entire area of ​​​​the town, systematically buying all its houses and farmhouses and proposing a possible redevelopment.

The former inhabitants, with the money they got from the sale, settled outside the town; The redevelopment project was a failure, and the Mussara was permanently abandoned in the 1960s. The last to leave was Pere Abelló, owner of the Abelló farmhouse.

Emigration, however, is attributed to the lack of water, the poor quality of the land and not having the essential elements of modernity: electricity, telephone, communications between farmhouses or a doctor within reach.

It should be noted that people did not go to Barcelona or Tarragona, but to agricultural environments (Vilaplana, Albiol, Aleixar, Alforja), in order to work in farmhouses or open small shops. Another destination was Reus, the closest city. As is reasonable due to the topographic proximity and human relationship, Vilaplana was the town that received the largest number of emigrant families from the Mussara.

As a result of this depopulation, on January 10, 1961, a decree from the Ministry of the Interior incorporated the term of Mussara into that of Vilaplana. In Mussara there were twenty-three houses including the church and only nine were aligned with the intention of forming a street; That is why only Calle de la Roca, at the easternmost end of the town, the street in front of La Bassa, Calle de la Iglesia, Calle Mayor and the square are mentioned.

As for the current state, only the church bell tower remains standing, which has its walls propped up. The twenty houses that made up the town are demolished. Apart from the solitary bell tower, also characteristic of this uninhabited town is the small natural reservoir that is located in front of the remains of some of the town’s houses and where, when it rains, the water is retained.

It should be noted that recently the Vilaplana City Council has tidied up the place, cleaned the cemetery and there are still flowers on the few existing graves. In front of what remains of each house a sign has been placed with the corresponding name of the family that lived there.

So, the numbers of the following houses have been identified: Cal Po, Cal Gendret, Cal Febrorenc, Ca l’Estavenet, Cal Pere Rafael, Ca l’Agustenc, Ca la Mont-rala, Ca l’Andreu, Ca el Estudiante, Cal Piano, Cal Pataca, Cal Rafael, Cal Marc, Cal Cassoles, Cal Gravat, Ca la Tiana, Ca la Pulga, Ca l’Esteve, Cal Corraló, Cal Ferrer and the Chalet de las Airasses. In front of the town, on a hill, are the remains of the chalet refuge of the Airasses, built in 1926 by Ciriac Bonet, who gave it to the Excursionist Center of Catalonia; it is currently protected as a Cultural Property of Local Interest.

Currently we also find another shelter built in the early nineties where Cal Ferrer previously stood, 300 meters from the old town centre, which enhances the tourist aspect of an isolated area, far from the city and surrounded by nature.

Mountain tourism, and the point of interest represented by the presence of the Mussara, has promoted the creation of natural viewpoints and the signage of the different houses, paths and elements of the old town.

Many people also go up to see this magnificent town, located in a location with exceptional views, and to go hiking, since there are many routes that connect with other towns and that pass through this place.

The town of Mussara, despite being in ruins, has the power to leave no visitor indifferent who comes for the first time. The newcomers are shocked by a lot of conditions that surprise them and, in addition, generate a strange complicity with whoever discovers it.

This connection is multiple and very direct: the fascination with that space lies both in its geographical location and its abrupt and wild natural environment and in the vision of the built remains of a material past that invites us to think about what life would be like in an environment so inhospitable rural area, located at 980 meters above sea level.

Through the collapsed buildings and farmhouses scattered throughout its area, the traveler soon realizes that the town hides a very unique and particular immaterial and human past.

La Mussara invites strangers, as it did with the men and women who have inhabited it throughout the centuries, to contemplate, from afar, the sea that cuts the horizon. In the middle, the people of Musar could imagine what was happening and how people lived in the towns of Camp de Tarragona that they saw, and we see, from the Airasses cliff and from their town, which was a privileged viewpoint. The landscape that can be seen today from those cliffs conquers and captivates everyone’s sensitivity.

The most visible remains of the core force us to mentally reconstruct what its heritage must have been like, tangible and intangible, lived and used on a daily basis by the people who lived in that place or, rather, who survived in that mountain land.

The last inhabitants left around 1960, and, with their departure, its spaces, farmhouses and lived-in buildings lost their strength and vitality, but not their personality and their historical legacy, created over the centuries. The adverse weather and harsh living conditions forced its inhabitants to leave rural life for a less difficult and more beneficial one in every possible way.

In Mussara, nature, historically, has set the limits of what its inhabitants could do. The books that describe the town centuries ago point out the dedication that its people had to the land and the forest, their main sources of subsistence.

That whole environment was very arid to work in, the people worked in the lands of the Mussara, due to its shallowness or hardness, it was like scratching the skin and the bone, its people dedicated themselves, over the centuries, to producing wheat and legumes, to have flocks of sheep, goats, cows and swarms, highlighting the cultivation of potatoes and the hunting of rabbits, partridges and some hares.

In addition, they obtained wood for construction and firewood as fuel, also the dedication to charcoal, and with the arrival of snow it often left them isolated and turned it into a luxury commodity to sell in the cities.

The history of Mussara must be linked to the past of many other nearby centers that helped link its roots to the written history of Campo de Tarragona. This is demonstrated by its documented medieval origins with a name of Arab origin, the mark left by the passage of a Carlist leader or the construction of a church that was the mirror of its religious sentiment.

Twenty-three collapsed buildings remain from that past, the church and a row of houses, which outlined something similar to its Main Street and led to the Airasses cliff, seven more buildings were in the Cinglallons, and another seven, scattered throughout the core . In front of the only street that these houses formed is a unique pond that was also the animals’ watering hole.

More isolated and demolished are the remains of an old hiker’s refuge, the Airasses chalet, promoted by the businessman Ciríac Bonet y Escarrer (1871-1934), built in 1926 by the architect Domènec Sugranyes Gras (Reus, 1878 – Barcelona, 1938) and property of the Excursionist Center of Catalonia.

The power of seduction that the Mussara had for hikers from all over grew progressively. However, this study focuses on investigating the history of one of the main buildings of the village, the church of Sant Salvador, which unfortunately is in a very precarious state of conservation.

Old photographs show a construction with a strong presence in the core due to its considerable dimensions. Arranged next to it is the cemetery, which was well protected, cared for and closed.

Regarding the history of the town, there are valuable studies that have carefully followed the onomastics, the links with other places with Arabic names, their presence in regional literature, the demographic evolution or some social facts or characters, but all of them find documentation lacking. lost, especially just after the Civil War.

This lack is also noticeable when following the artistic biography of the church. Its local festival was celebrated on August 6, San Salvador’s Day. The archaeological excavation work carried out by the Catalan Institute of Classical Archeology in 2018 on behalf of the Vilaplana City Council and under the auspices of the Tarragona Provincial Council has clarified what the primitive medieval church, ancestor of the current one, was like.

In fact, in the course of the excavation and subsequent documentary research, data and material evidence have appeared that refer to the building from the medieval, baroque and contemporary periods. The church adapted to the passage of time, to the needs of its growing population and to the liturgical services it had to provide to its parish. Both the dimensions of the temple and the space allocated to house the cemetery demonstrate the appreciation that the people of Mussara had for their church.

Some old photographs recovered and the documentation investigated in the Archdiocesan Historical Archive of Tarragona, carefully describe objects and spaces of worship in the building. And, certainly, the image that comes from the church was that of a very present place in the lives of the men and women of that mountain town.

Archaeological and documentary remains act as narrators of the strengths and weaknesses of past societies, which can serve to humanize and incorporate values ​​of loyalty, respect and nobility in current societies. And the Mussara brings an impressive and wise lesson in silent strength to everyone who visits it.

We know that el pueblo de la Mussara exists, como mínimo, desde 1173, gracias a una carta del rey Alfonso I al archobispo de Tarragona que comienza así: “Ildefonsus, by the grace of God, King of Aragon, Count of Barcelona and Marquis of the province; We salute all the people from the mountain itself to Tarracona, from Montereyal, from Zamuszarra, from Albiol, from Alexar, from all these places.

This date, in 1173, is very close to 1154, the year of the Siurana dam by Bertran de Castellet and the moment in which the emirate of Xibrana, the last Muslim kingdom of Catalonia, whose territory included Mussara, fell.

It would be expected that this incipient population at the site of “Zamuszarra” would already have a church or place of worship from the first moment, but it was not until 1194 when we found a first written reference that assures us of its existence, in the aforementioned Bull. of Celestine III. Except for this brief reference, very little written documentation is preserved about the Mussara church.

In fact, we can only talk about some pastoral visits, mentioned above, in which we can find some news about the state of the building and other information. This means that the substantiated historical knowledge we have basically comes from archaeological excavation and the analysis of wall structures.

These data have allowed us to define a clear evolutionary line, although without being able to specify with certainty the absolute dates of the different moments that have been defined. Both the wall with the belfry bell tower and the pointed arch indicate the existence of a medieval building.

Archaeological excavations have revealed the terminal part of the southern façade and the beginning of the apse, as well as the beginning of a second arch, the triumphal arch. It would be a church, canonically oriented towards the east, with a simple nave and a semicircular head.

Its dimensions can be determined from the wall with the belfry bell tower and the projection that can be made of the apse, which would have a radius of 2.4 meters. A building is drawn that would be, externally, just over 20 meters long by 7.4 meters wide. It has an almost rectangular plan, since the west façade is slightly slanted.

The interior of the building has a single nave that measures 14.5 meters long by about 5.1 meters wide. The apse is semicircular, but with a slightly trapezoidal entrance. We know an arc and the start of a second, which has allowed us to determine the rhythm of the arcs and deduce that there would be four of them. The roof would be a simple double-sloped roof. Its maximum interior height, which can be determined thanks to the preserved arch, would be about 4.4 meters, while the exterior, up to the crest of the roof, would be approximately 5 meters. The side walls would be about 3.5 meters high.

The walls, made of unworked stone masonry tied with mud, are approximately 1.1 meters thick. On the western façade there would be a belfry bell tower, with two eyes and about 4 meters wide by about 3 meters high. Currently, the imposts at the beginning of the arches are visible, and this has made it possible to determine that the openings where the bells would be hung measured 1 meter wide by 2.3 meters high. A small segment of the south wall has been preserved right next to the base of the bell tower inside the current church, and there you can see the negative of the back of an arch that, by force, must correspond to the original door.

If we take into account the width that this arch would have had, it can be stated that the medieval door would be located right in front of the current door, exactly in the middle of the second bay. This is a very common situation in Romanesque churches, since, in fact, most have the entrance door in the lower third of the long side.

During the excavations, a small sector of the pavement was detected, made with irregular flat stone slabs placed on a bed of mortar. It should be noted, however, that this pavement corresponds to the final moment of this church, just before it was demolished in the 18th century. The original medieval pavement may have been at a lower level.

Throughout the 18th century, in line with the demographic evolution of the Principality, the population of La Mussara grew, while improvements in agricultural techniques would lead to a significant economic improvement in the different communities of Camp de Tarragona. At this time the liquor industry began to gain importance, to the point that the extent of vineyard cultivation was increasing. In fact, in Vilaplana it covers more than 40% of the entire municipal territory.

In Mussara, due to its orographic location, the vineyard, if it was there, must have been there only in token form, but it surely also benefited from this economic strength. This would explain the demographic increase that is documented in the different censuses.

Thus, we went from the 22 inhabitants (among the people of the town and the farmhouses) in the year 1497 to the 77 documented in the year 1763. With this increase in population, the medieval church, let us remember that it was designed for about 20-30 people. , had become small. This need to be able to accommodate more parishioners will be accompanied by the growth of economic capacity, something that made it possible to face the construction of a new church, which is, with some changes, the one we can currently see.

This economic growth was going to be, if not stopped, at least slowed down at the end of the 18th century, at which time there was the so-called Rebomborio del Bread (1789), a popular revolt due to the scarcity and increase in the price of bread, and the Great War. (1793-1795), between the kingdom of Spain and revolutionary France, which, despite its brevity, will be very burdensome for the Principality. But these events should have had little influence on Mussara, since it was precisely during this period that the medieval church was demolished and a new one was built.

No contract has been preserved nor are we aware of any other document that tells us when it was decided to carry out the construction of the new building. However, we have a date for this, preserved in a voussoir reused in the bull’s eye of the façade.

Everything suggests that this stone would be placed on the original façade of the new building and that it would indicate the year of consecration of the new temple. It would be later, in a renovation of the façade that we will discuss below, that this inscription would be moved and relocated to its current position as a reminder.

The new church, following the liturgical precepts of the time, should present the entrance portal on the short side, so that one, upon entering, would always be facing the altar. Because the place of the door had to be forcibly kept in the original place, since it was facing the space that served as a plaza, there was no other option but to rotate the church 90° because its orientation, instead of being the canonical west -east, out south-north.

The building responds to a fin-de-siècle late Baroque aesthetic, with a floor plan that obeys completely functional canons, taking advantage of what had been built in other periods in order to save money.

Thus, to build the new building, a good part of the medieval church was demolished, but some elements were respected, probably due to economy of work. The west façade, that of the belfry bell tower, was saved, as it formed part of the abbey, and part of the south façade, which served to configure the short side of the new church. The third arch of the medieval nave, which was partitioned, was also preserved. The rest was completely destroyed.

The preserved medieval walls will be used for the new construction, providing significant savings in both work time and materials, and were increased until they reached the desired level. On the outside of the eastern façade, just at the height of the first line of internal pillars, there is a small buttress made to counteract the lateral thrust of the vault.

The church was planned as a central nave and two side naves, very small in size, which were riveted to the supports of the building and housed the side altars, and with a deep semicircular apse flanked by two small sacristies. They were ships that were at the same height as the central one.

As in other churches of the Tarragona archdiocese, a late decision was made to opt for the visual connection of its interior, typical of hall-plan temples. It is a very widespread model in the area of ​​current Priorat or in towns in Baix Camp such as Borges del Campo or Vinyols. In a small space like that of the Mussara, perspective and depth were gained and made it more compact and unitary.

In fact, the plan is a rectangle divided into three sections, a transept with arms that do not protrude from the nave, and without a dome, and with a roof resolved with a barrel turn in the presbytery and edge turns in the rest, including the chapel. Fonda, which would be built later, in the mid-19th century.

Most of the publications made about La Mussara refer to unusual events of all kinds, from magical ceremonies to mysterious disappearances, through visions of strange beings that do not seem to be from our world, or the enigmatic, thick dark fog that in an instant invades and surrounds people.

Chroniclers say that this is due to the fact that Almussara is an epicenter that generates extraordinary phenomena. We must keep in mind that an abandoned town always causes chills. The first sinister question that comes to mind is: why did its inhabitants suddenly abandon it? Then, an even more dangerous question arises: what if this place really isn’t completely abandoned? And if someone lives here… but you can’t see them? I am not going to delve into so much literature written during the last decades on this topic.