Joan Sala, Serrallonga
Joan de Serrallonga, the most visible leader of Catalan banditry in the 16th and 17th centuries, a time when bandits were the focus of all regions, turned Les Guilleries into a perfect hideout against his enemies.
Joan Sala Ferrer, our famous bandit, was born in Viladrau on 21st April 1594 in an impoverished environment. He was the third of five siblings and his mother, named Joana, died at a very young age. Both his father and his older brother Antoni married two sisters from Tona. From the first marriage, three more children were born: Pere, Joan and Segimon, who also ended up being bandits.
His nickname is due to his marriage to Margarida Tallades, heiress of the farmhouse called Serrallonga de Querós, celebrated in 1618. Querós is an old village located in the municipality of Sant Hilari Sacalm, but is currently flooded by Sau reservoir.
Due to having a large family and to poverty, Joan Sala opted, with his brother Segimón, for becoming a bandit. In 1622, when Miquel Barfull was killed due to his claim to law, he moved towards banditry and began to form a gang with the famous bandits Jaume Masferrer (better known as “Tocasons”) and Jaume Melialta (better known as “el Fadrí de Sau”). This gang had more than 200 bandits and was a great bugbear for authorities after thousands of burglaries in farmhouses, kidnappings for which they demanded money, and robs on carriages in Les Guilleries massif, Collsacabra or routes taking goods from Barcelona to France.
Serrallonga, the main danger for authorities, had the help of important figures such as Castanyet’s priest, who promised Serrallonga to take care of his family after his death, Sant Pere de Rodes’ monks, or several figures who allowed him to stay in Roussillon and take shelter on the other side of the Pyrenees when his comrades were captured and executed.
In 1632, while returning from one of his escapes to Roussillon, Joan Sala kidnapped Joana la Massissa, a miller’s widow from Castelló d’Empúries, with whom he had a great love story. After 9 months in France, they decided to return to Catalonia and, due to the disappearance of the bandit’s gang, they lived in the Pyrenees for some time, living on petty theft and staying in old friends’ farmhouses.
Once in Les Guilleries, his life was in danger because the royal pressure was very powerful. On 31st October 1633, Serrallonga was captured by the viceroy’s troops at Mas Agustí de Santa Coloma, betrayed mainly by the heir of that home. He was taken by Lieutenant Montpalau and tortured together with Montredó’s bailiff. On 8th January, Serrallonga was sentenced to death. That same day, he was executed in Barcelona and his head was hung on the Portal de Sant Antoni (Barcelona). It is said that, that night, Serrallonga’s head disappeared and that his comrades buried him in Tavertet.
Nowadays, when we hear about Serrallonga’s courage, the people’s frustration with an authoritarian capitalist power comes to our mind, and that is why we realise Serrallonga has always been an ideal character for the Catalan people.