Tue. Sep 17th, 2019

‘Master and Commander’ on the Costa Brava | Culture


A 38-gun frigate, amphibious attacks, defense in extremis of a coastal fortification against the offensive of a French column, gunfire, explosions, the smell of gunpowder, screams, and in the midst of a heroic and determined English navy captain, capable of much courage and great ingenuity. No, we are not in a novel by Patrick O'Brian from the series of Captain Jack Aubrey and the naturalist and spy Stephen Maturin, the adventures that inspired the film Master and Commander,but in a historical episode happened right here, in the Castell de la Trinitat de Roses (Girona).

In November 1808, the Scottish Thomas Cochrane, at the time one of the boldest captains of the English navy anchored his fast and powerful frigate Imperieuse, of 1,064 tons, in the Bay of Roses and definitely joined the defense of the Castell de la Trinitat, which was being attacked by the French artillery in the framework of the war of Spanish independence. The episode and Lord Cochrane — see the vibrant biography Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860), by Robert Harvey (Edhasa, 2002) - one of the most sensational characters in the history of the Napoleonic wars - and not only: his incredible adventures are extended as admiral of the Chilean fleet, in the independence of Brazil and in the fight for that of the Greeks as a Byron of the sea - they are now remembered in the musealization of the Castell de la Trinitat, which opens on Saturday with an open day.

The musealization of the fortress and the creation of a center for its interpretation, with the aim of valuing this fundamental construction of the Catalan military heritage, is a project developed by the Didpatri group (Didactics of heritage, comprehensive museology and new technologies) from the University of Barcelona, ​​with the direction of the professor of history Xavier Hernàndez. The intervention has been to install a series of modules, metal cubes that allow you to look at the history of the castle during the tour through it through objects, maps, photos, audiovisuals and dioramas, some very impressive, which reproduce spaces, scenes and characters from the past of the fortress.

The historian Xavier Hernàndez (second from the left), next to the statue of Cochrane and the technicians who have worked in its foundry.


The historian Xavier Hernàndez (second from the left), next to the statue of Cochrane and the technicians who have worked in its foundry.

It stands out for its meaning the realistic life-size bronze sculpture of Cochrane himself, made from portraits and engravings of the time and which is the work of the sculptor Mar Hernández Pongiluppi. In the sculpture, located at the entrance to the patio of the revellín, as if challenging the invaders to advance, Cochrane appears as he was: tall, definitely handsome, with an aquiline nose, somewhat crooked by the splinter detached by a cannon shot and which broke his septum nasal during the siege of the castle. It has a predatory look lost on the horizon. Not in vain did Napoleon himself call him "le loup de mer", the wolf of the sea.

The Castell de la Trinitat, with splendid views over the Bay of Roses, popularly known as that of the Poncella or the Botó de Roses, was projected by Carlos V's military engineer and artillery captain Luis Pizaño and finished in 1551 “The fortress”, explains Xavier Hernández, went through many vicissitudes, wars and sieges that we have tried to remember in the musealization. ”Among the scenographies, a 17th-century powder magazine stands out with life-size figures of soldiers.

Didpatri technicians have thrown the rest in the last military episode of the castle, precisely in which Cochrane participated decisively. As decisively as it was he who flew the fortress, undermining it so that the French could not use it. "The main audiovisual, on a screen of 11 meters, is dedicated to that last battle, which devastated the castle; in the filmed scenes there are groups of historical reconstruction that even carry guns."

Cochrane claimed that the Catalans were excellent guerrilla troops "for their turbulent nature, their predisposition to discontent and sedition and their ability to endure."

In fact, the last battle of the castle was not military but architectural, in 2002, and the fortress lost it when a discussed restoration was carried out in which original elements were discarded and the reinforced concrete was used massively, largely changing the physiognomy of the building . "The royal monument was very demolished and the rehabilitation followed modern criteria little in keeping with the history, so the museology of the place presented very important challenges," says Hernández. "We solve it with those metal cubes, of four cubic meters each, distributed throughout the enclosure and containing scenographies and audiovisuals, and adding the installation of other outdoor evocative artifacts, such as the small artillery piece, the falconete" .

Hernandez acknowledges that Cochrane was in addition to a hero, praised by Walter Scott, a contradictory man, of an almost pathological rebellion before the authority, who had them with the establishment naval of his country, and even went to jail (for the financial scandal of the London Stock Exchange). From an aristocratic family with military and sailors in their ranks, Cochrane took the alternative as a young lieutenant at the hands of Nelson himself, with whom he has been compared. His first command was that of Speedy, a small brig of 14 guns with which he did wonders. The adventures of Cochrane are so similar to those of Jack Aubrey — just like the Speedy to Sophie—, which one almost seems to hear accompanied by the music of Locatelli and Boccherini.

The author of Cochrane's sculpture, Mar Hernàndez Pongiluppi, retouching the piece.


The author of Cochrane's sculpture, Mar Hernàndez Pongiluppi, retouching the piece.

Cochrane tactics, maneuvers and fighting inspired those of O'Brian's Aubrey: always attack, camouflage the ship under identity and a false flag, launch a lantern on a barrel by the stern to evade the persecutions ...

In 1801 Cochrane starred in one of his great feats, the capture of Fallow deer a powerful Spanish frigate that quadrupled in size by Speedy. In 1808, with the Imperieuse, he mocked the French batteries of Barcelona, ​​landed in Mataró to fly part of the roads and destroy enemy cannons, and surrendered attacking her from the sea the fortress of Montgat. With his frigate he brought the French upside down along the coast, performing real command actions avant la lettre, and praising the Catalans, who formed, he considered, excellent guerrilla troops "for their turbulent nature, their predisposition to discontent and sedition and their ability to endure."

In Roses, along with their landed sailors, Irish mercenaries and Spanish troops among which were miquelets Catalans, defended the Castell de la Trinitat, making some displays of almost suicidal value, until the ship had to retreat, but not before flying the fortress while the French entered.

Cochrane, who would experience other sensational episodes such as the capture of the Spanish frigate Emerald during the Chilean independence war (he was wounded twice and ended up directing the assault sitting in a canyon), he is the model of the great popular heroes of the naval adventure novel: CS Forester and Patrick O'Brian were inspired to create respectively Horatio Hornblower (who gave life in the cinema Gregory Peck) and Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe). We must not forget Cochrane's influence on another of the most famous adventure novels and seafaring writers, Captain Frederick Marryat, who served as a young man with the hero in the Imperieuse, He fought alongside him in the Castell de la Trinitat. Marryat evoked years later "the beautiful precision of our shots and the courage of our captain, who infected all men on board," and said that when he remembered, his pulse accelerated. The same thing it feels today to look out over the Bay of Roses, to the bronze look of Cochrane. How Neruda sang it (Cochrane de Chile, 1970), great sailor fan: "Admiral, your eyes open out of the sea every day! / With your invulnerable splendor the thin hemisphere is illuminated!"

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