EMPORDA and surroundings


Albons Bellcaire d’Empordà Foixà Fontclara La Bisbal d’Empordà
Canapost Casavells Corçà Clots de Sant Julià Canet Cruïlles Marenyà Matajudaïca Monells Palau-Sator Parlavà Pals Peratallada La Pera Púbol Rupià Sant Iscle d’Empordà Sant Julià de Boada Sant Sadurní de l’Heura La Tallada d’Empordà Tor Ullastret Ultramort Verges Vulpellac

Agullana Castell Sant Ferran fortress Dali's Museum Figueres Maçanet de Cabrenys Lladó Llers L'Escala Les Escaules Peralada Pont de Molins Riumors Sant Miquel de Fluvià Sant Tomàs de Fluvià La Vajol Vilabertran Viladamat Vilanova de la Muga Ventalló

Besalú Porqueres Banyoles Cervià de Ter Le Boulou Maureilles Céret Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines


“We have no knowledge of our legacy” Interview with Nik Duserm”

“We have no knowledge of our legacy” Interview with Nik Duserm”

Pau Subirós  20th  January 2016

Nik Duserm (1965) Tourist cultural guide. Offering tours with a different point of view, since 20 years ago. Hidden sites of the Empordà area what he names as the “discovery tours”. Lately his tours of the Spanish Civil War in Figueres have being a success with more than 30 people each time. We talk with him about his job, legacy, land and history.

20 years ago now. How was the beginning?

I was already on the tourism sector, working many time arranging activities for congresses and attending the members. I would take them to Dali’s Museum, Pals, etc… just escorting them to the sites. It is in 1996 when I realised that I would like to do more than this and being able to give some explanations during the visits. I started doing research, questioning the reason for one or another thing.

I understand that your tours are not the typical ones, having a lot of investigation behind. Theme tours like the one of Medieval Fears in Peratallada or the historical references to pirates on the coast. The Authentic Empordà name being used to promote some on the net. Is that kind of tours we are talking about?

This name of Authentic Empordà was more a try to label the tours. Better than using the less cultural name of Costa Brava, in fact I do not visit that much the coast. I do prefer inland sites to talk about Romanesque, Medieval, the Spanish Civil War….
I had better promote those sites that are less know instead of doing tours on villages or temples where there are already guiding tours and companies offering them like in Castelló d’Empúries or the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery. Having so much legacy around the around the area like beautiful Romanseque frescoes, how it comes that everybody end up visiting only Dali’s Museum and Girona? I love to do something different and through the research, I made each site a bit as if they were part of me.

I have the feeling that those tours at the same time become a bit like the first tourism that was more adventurous….

Yep. I like to call them “discovery tours”. Lateky I am visiting and ancient quary form the 2nd C bC near Peratallada. It is a great place. Because the land is private, the site is not promoted although the access is pretty easy. Each time I bring visitors they get surprised and excited, sometimes people from around here that have never being there.
I am happy to make visitors discover places that area hidden, that are out off the beaten track, and worth the visit. It is very exciting to bring, for example, friends from Figueres that don’t used to visit the Baix Empordà and get so fascinated about things down in there. We have no knowledge of our legacy. What is good in one way so it remains hidden, although it would be better valued if more people knew about it. 

Are those visits also interesting for foreigner visitors?

It is not easy to promote our own Empordà heritage to people coming from other countries, although I have being taking Australians and Americans to sites many people form here haven’t visited. Because I do explain the value and interest. I just tell them they will see something they don’t have at home. Although it is not that easy.

I suppose sometimes those sites, like for example churches, they are not known because the access is not that easy. How do you make it to include them in your tours?

Many time times there is a nice lady that has always being taking care of the temple or may be a family living on the village that won’t let the key to anyone unless they know they can trust on it. There has been some robberies lately, a sculpture form the 17th C. for example. Unfortunately, it is normal; there is no one there keeping an eye on the temple permanently. The Councils are trying to do something about it, although the problem they face us is those temples are property of the Church.

Well I cannot avoid comparing this situation with the French Roussillon on the other side of the Pyrenees.

Definitely, there it is much easier to visit many things in each village. There is always a person at the entrance that will charge you although you will be able to see the frescoes and cloisters. The access are much better, not like in here.

I guess this situation in the French side apart from promoting it helps to preserve the legacy. What do you find when you visit those churches in the Empordà?

One example, at the Baix Empordà there is an older monastery in Sant Miquel de Cruïlles. dated 11th C. One of the most important on the area, with some fantastic frescoes representing lions. It has being closed due to the restauration for 6 or 7 years. 
I used to take visitors there asking for the key to the neighbours. The temple was part of one of the Romanesque tours. Now it is impossible for me to access. It is much easier to ask a key to a neighbour than ask it to the administration. This does not happen on the French side. People here is very helpful, not so much the administration. 

Some things that come together in those buildings; cataloguing, preservation and the property of the site. Then it is a political reluctance?

I guess people in charge have not being visiting the sites valuing the situation and the area. I am not an archaeologist, although I notice many things. Now I discover that the skeletons in an old cemetery are appearing due to the rain and wind. You can see how someone has being kicking the bones away some days later. Sad. The ancient site has never being excavated. I have already told the town hall although I understand those bones are on a private land. Once an archaeologist told me that we have too much of everything and sometimes the value was not that worth it. Too many Roman villas. If one is lost, it does not matter. I do not agree.
Here in Figueres we lost two metal ‘bollards’ from the 18th C,that were placed at the entrance of the Gas Factory. Those were historical bollards. Also happened with the holes made by the shrapnel at the iron columns in the Plaça del Gra. Why the the holes are filled in at the same time the air raid shelter is open to the public, when they could be complementary? I do not know.

Looking for bullet hits at the Republican airfield  in Canet de la Tallada

Let’s talk about the Spanish Civil Wear tours in Figueres. It is one of your latest tours and that it is getting quite successful. Where the idea comes from?

The idea was from the head at the Tourist Office. She knew about my other tours related to the War in Llers, Agullana and La Vajol. Told me about the approaching opening of the air raid shelter to the public and that it could be a good idea to arrange a tour around Figueres. It was already on my list of things-to-be-done!

So how you get to prepare this tour?

This was a bit different since I do normally prepare a tour and offer it to my clients. In that case, there was already a support behind so I felt more motivated. I research through books, archives and people… I spend around four months to make it ready and I can tell you it is not finished, so much information to keep checking. Some people has been already twice at the tour commenting there were so many new stories in each one of the tours.

One after the other the tours scheduled have always been full. Do you think there is an increasing interest on these stories?

Yep, now is the time. Most people that suffer the War is not here any longer and many that suffer the post-war are already leaving us. I also think the War has been used for too long as a political tool, to divide society. A historian friend told me I should put content that is more political on the script of the visit. However, you find out that the first bombings made by the Fascists were in 1938. What about the previous years? Here was especially bloody. Probably what is important to understand at the end is that  what happened should not be repeated. It is not about to blame one side or the other during the visit, we all know who was the bad guy. Let’s make this interesting specially for younger generations. Many young people do not have a clue what happened during the War. 

Holes made by the shrapnel filled up during the restoration of the Plaça del Gra.
(Photos Nik Duserm) 

I would like to think that through the local history it is much better to explain it….

Exactly. In addition, it was pretty important in the city of Figueres. The proximity of the French border, the International Brigades, the master pieces arriving from El Pardo Museum, the last Republican Government gathering, there are plenty of histories…
That’s one of the reasons why when some little traces of the past are erased, like those shrapnel holes, it is sad.
I try mostly to explain those stories through anecdotes and curiosities that are more related to the common population. I think about Carrillo that just some days before the arrival of the National troops to Figueres, he was speaking up the barbarities made by the Franquist Moor troops expecting people to be cheered up and fight back. This is fine although I am sure he has his luggage ready to leave the country, while giving orders to a panicked population that were no presidents, neither politicians. They will find the border closed to them. It is important to talk about this people the ones like us that are no one, and not so much about Azaña or Companys presidents. I do feel closer to this common people. If there it was a war, things will not be that easy for me either. That is the reason why I try to explain the normal life of normal people during the tours. I do adapt it also the idea to the Medieval tours and others. I try not to talk so much about kings and nobility and more about what people did at their homes, how they lived… We need to approach history to common people and make it more humane. 

You said you have a list of tours to be made. Are there many of them?

Through the research of the Spanish Civil War tour in Figueres, I found a lot of material that I would like to explain. The post war for example with the prison of La Carbonera, the repression, the Catequística building… I would like also to do a tour about the Figueres freemasonry, or the Jewish quarter with no remains left although many interesting stories. I would like to explain about the history of gas in Figueres, with the old factory and the gas containers near the centre of the town, the first streets lights I how they saved on moon light nights turning them off.  Did you know that first gas used in Figueres came from Alaska?


Yep! Do you see? That is what I need your surprise expression. There are plenty of interesting and nice stories. Pity that lots of time is needed and those tours need preparation. I have in mind to offer in the future a tour about the ‘other Figueres’ because there is plenty of interesting things that we do not know yet.

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