There are studies that say that Banyoles is one of the towns with most quality of life in Catalonia, but we do not need any survey to confirm that our town is a good place to be. In fact, it would seem that people have been thinking the same at least for the last 80,000 years, to judge from the oldest archaeological remains that have been found here, the famous jaw of Banyoles. The next people to come to the same conclusion were the farmers and livestock breeders who settled at La Draga, close to the Lake, about 7,000 years ago, during the Neolithic. They left lots of objects there that allow us to travel back in time and imagine how people lived in the swampy terrain created by the Lake of Banyoles and the smaller pools around it. It is not very likely that those early inhabitants were aware that they were living in a special place.
That unique pride that the inhabitants of Banyoles feel about their town would not emerge for some time to come. The foundations of present-day Banyoles were not built until the 9th century: the monastery of Sant Esteve and the irrigation canals, built by a community of Benedictine monks who settled there, drawn by the Lake. Those canals would later give rise to Banyoles’ unique urban layout and its distinctive character, with mills, vegetable gardens and factories that would use the water they provide. The town continued to grow around the monastery and within the walls, which were completed in the 15th century. One stretch with Gothic reminiscences style still remains. The arcaded main square and narrow streets formed a compact urban core criss-crossed with canals of varying length.
With such a powerful natural feature as the Lake and its unique layout, when could we say that the inhabitants of Banyoles started to realise that their town was something special? Today, Banyoles is a bustling town where a local pride is clearly perceptible, the pride of living in Banyoles. As Jaume Farriol says in Banyoles vora el llac, “Everybody thinks that their town is the best place to live. The people from Banyoles are no exception, obviously. However, in our case, there’s a difference that stands out immediately: Banyoles really is the best place to live”.
Banyoles is neither on the coast nor in the mountains; it doesn’t aspire to be like Girona, the provincial capital; it doesn’t envy the attractions of neighbouring regions. The people of Banyoles know that they hold the jewel in the crown, the Lake, but they also know that their town is much more than this magnet that draws sportspeople, strollers, tourists and families by the hundreds to row, walk, run and swim in the Lake. If you want proof, you only have to look at the long list of sports professionals who have chosen our town to live here all year round, and also those who visit it to take part in the many sports events that are organised during the year.
What makes us different is the combination of a unique natural area and a culturally vibrant, car-free centre, packed with iconic shops, historic buildings, vegetable gardens, canals and washing places. In short, what makes us different is a very particular combination of words: of Banyoles, which is applied not only to all those tangible aspects –the pesqueres or fisheries of Banyoles, the regattas of Banyoles, the market of Banyoles, the Main Square of Banyoles, the xuixo (cream-filled pastry) of Banyoles, the shops of Banyoles, the bicycles of Banyoles–, but also the intangible aspects –the monster of Banyoles, the mist of Banyoles, the traditions of Banyoles or the accent of Banyoles, among others.
And of all the intangibles of Banyoles, there is one that runs through all the others. Yes, it’s true, Banyoles has sport, health, peace and quiet, and history, but above all it has a special talent, that sometimes verges on eccentricity. Professional, artistic, craft and personal talents that have produced a list of people with some well-known names, but also anonymous people who help give Banyoles that distinctive character: the character of Banyoles.