The history of the Capcir

The word Capcir is thought to come from caput circii, meaning the head of the cers. The cers was the north wind – the Tramontane. So the Capcir was the region facing the north wind. This name may have been given to the area by the neighbouring people of Conflent and Cerdagne, who have always considered Capcir to be the archetypal cold region. The area is also known as the “little European Siberia”.

The Capcir lies on the northernmost part of the department of the Pyrénées Orientales and is the highest cultivated plateau in Europe. It faces North-South and the geographical conditions on the plateau mean the climate differs from the other surrounding plateaus and valleys.

It is the highest point on the upper valley of the River Aude and dominated by the majestic peaks of the Péric (2820m) and the Madres. The Capcir lies on the old Via Francisca Superior running between Alet and Llivia, and was once the border area between the two old counties of Cerdagne and Carcassonne, as well as between France and Spain, up until the Treaty of Pyrenees in 1659.

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The Capcir lay on the ancient Via Francisca Superiore running from Alet to Llivia, and in the time of the Visigoths it was part of the County of Razès (Pagus Reddensis), one of the six pagus making up the Roussillon, whose capital was Ruscino (near Perpignan). To the south lay the Pagus Confluentis (Conflent) and the Pagus Livensis (Llivia).

The political situation in the Capcir was confused. It was part of the Cerdagne and a dependency of the Count of Razès, who was also the Count of Conflent. Furthermore, whilst the Capcir was part of the County of Cerdagne, spiritually it was still part of the diocese of Narbonne (in 1106 the Archbishop of Narbonne consecrated the altar in the church in Les Angles).

In 1117 the County of Cerdagne passed under the control of the Counts of Barcelona, who already ruled over all of Catalonia. This is how the Capcir subsequently became a possession of the Kings of Aragon. King Alfonso fortified the border lying to the North, building several castles at the mountain passes.

In 1181 the King of Aragon authorised the Abbot of Saint Michel de Cuixà to build fortresses on his lands, and the castle at Les Angles was subsequent created in the following century.
From 1162 to 1659 the Capcir was a dependency of the Kingdom of Majorca, then of Aragon, and finally of Spain, along with all other Catalan lands.
The Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed in 1659, marking the end of the war between France and Spain. France offered to give the places it held in Catalonia back to Spain, but did not relinquish the Roussillon.

The chapel at Villeneuve

The chapel at Villeneuve de Formiguères (Nostra Senyora de Vila Nova) was built in 1735, and was a place of aplec (pilgrimage) where goigs (songs in honour of the Virgin Mary) were sung. According to legend it was built when a bull discovered a statue of the Madonna. A cold, clear spring rises near the chapel that is said to have therapeutic qualities for eye diseases. The chapel at Villeneuve is considered as the Capcir hermitage. In the past the local inhabitants often used to go there as part of processions.


The narcissus is a magnificent flower with a suave and subtle scent. In the month of May the meadows are carpeted in narcissi, and the countless little stars on an immense green backdrop look like a snowy embroidery.


Lupine is an ornamental plant that looks like monkshood except the flowers do not touch. It grows on the embankment, hills, clearings, and forests here in the Capcir. It is a protected plant.