Over the centuries, the town walls served not just to repel attacks from outsiders but to control the local population. As with most walled communities, La Selva’s gates operated as toll barriers, controlling the flow of goods to and from the town.
Keywords: city walls, city gates, ancient times, Middle Ages, War of the Spanish Succession, 19th century.
Settlement at La Selva del Camp
The site of an Iberian settlement under the old town of La Selva was uncovered with the discovery of an Iberian silo under the Plaça de Sant Andreu. Though no continuation with any Roman settlement has been found, ample evidence in the rest of the municipal territory demonstrates this – for example, the Barranc de Sales (Sales Ravine) and Paretdelgada sites. Yet the first walled community dates to the thirteenth century and was far smaller than the current town.
The fourteenth-century walls
The walls that shape the current Old Town of La Selva date from the fourteenth century, when Peter IV of Aragon (1336–1387) granted permission to repair them. The gates offer access through the walls and are where the Town Council collected taxes on goods entering the town. Though at first, there were only two – the Portal d’Amunt (Top Gate) and the Portal d’Avall (Bottom Gate) – others were created over the centuries: the Arquebisbe (the Archbishop’s) at Les Pletes; Sant Antoni (Saint Anthony’s) in the Placeta de la Palma; and the Nou (New) or Mates in the Raval de Sant Pere.
The walls converted into dwellings
Over time, the walls became obsolete against new weapons and fell into disuse, prompting many inhabitants to insert windows, doors and balconies into them. Nevertheless, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the walls played a vital role in two singular events. After defeat in the War of Spanish Succession (1700–1715), the new Bourbon authorities wished to demolish the walls for non-payment of supplies to the troops. This did not eventuate, however, as the Council managed to pay the tax. Later, in the First Carlist War (1833–1840), the walls regained their defensive function against skirmishes from the supporters of Charles V, the pretender.
For over 850 years of history, the towers have been part of the walled town and their singularity has led to them being given popular nicknames. Notable is the Torre de la Batalla (Tower of the Battle), no longer extant, but documented in the first half of the fourteenth century. It overlooked the final stretch of the town’s irrigation channel, standing above the path that climbed the Puig d’en Cama. Another striking tower in the walled complex was the one called Les Clavegueres (the Sewers). Situated at the lowest part of the walled compound, this was where the town’s waste water poured out into the Torrent de Cassans stream. Evidence of constant renovations to the defences can be seen on one of its merlons, dated 1562. Lastly, the Torre del Baró or del Sol de la Vila (Baron’s or Sun Tower), known in the fourteenth century as the Torre d’en Beixa (Beixa’s Tower), is one of the most imposing in the complex due to its commanding position at the Portal d’Avall (Bottom Gate). Its more modern name, Baron’s Tower, comes from the attached house of the Barons de la Montoliva, from Vilallonga. Their relationship with La Selva can be seen with Pau de Magrinyà, who in 1723 became a town councillor.