The Tortoise Route in Catalonia: Across the border from Perpignan to Barcelona

1. Fossil tortoises (Perpignan, Tautavel, Reynes, Amélie-les-Bains, Canet en Roussillon, etc.)

The Memoirs of the Geological Society of France by Albert Donnezan and Charles Depéret, published in 1890, describe: The Pliocene Animals of Roussillon (Palaeontology of France Volume 3).

‘There are over 200 million years of history of giant tortoises of the Pliocene period located in the vicinity of Perpignan (Roussillon France)’

From the 19th century to the present day, numerous discoveries of tortoise fossils of great scientific value to the world have been made.

A project to support the restoration of the last large tortoise specimen found in Perpignan in 2001 is taking place at the natural history museum in the city. 


2. Tortoises sculptures: St Génis des Fontaines, Port Vendres, Arles sur Tech, Barcelona, Girona, Sorède, etc.

3. Glass tortoise prints (Perpignan), accompanying glass workshops (St André)

4. Tortoise paintings: Barcelona, Figueres, Cadaqués, Collioure

5. Living tortoises: Espolla, Gariguella, Sorède, the Alberes Mountains, Rivieres l'Orline and la Ballaury.

6. Caves: Argeles sur Mer (Vallée de la Massane), Sorède (Vallée de Lavail)

7. Museums: Natural History Museum of Perpignan and Françoise Claustre Heritage House of Céret




Page under construction


Perpignan - Testudo Perpiniana


Discovered in 1885 at Serrat d’en Vaquer and dating from the middle of the Pliocene Period (200 million years ago), the most famous specimen of Testudo Perpiniana reached over 1.5 metres in length. It was found in a shallow depression full of bones, which included a portion of the cervical vertebrae with the tail and head intact. Encrusted in very hard limestone and clay, the tortoise died on the spot after retracting its head and limbs into its shell. Its breastplate measured nearly one metre and eight centimetres in width, but, despite belonging to a group of giant tortoises, its shell was smooth and without bumps, unlike the tortoises to which it could be compared today (the giant tortoises of the Seychelles or the Galapagos). Given the presence of many fragments of similar specimens in the region, it is possible to suggest that this tortoise lived in large groups.

Another specimen of the same species was discovered in 2001 during the archaeological excavation of the sports park at Moulin à Vent. We supported the project to restore this specimen.


Perpignan - The Ladies of France


In 2004, Patrick Loste, a local artist of Perpignan (born 20 September 1955) decorated the stained glass windows of the Ladies of France historical building where FNAC is located. He engraved 3 Hermann tortoises in addition to other animals of the local fauna.



Sorède - The Valley of the Tortoises


The Valley of the Tortoises opened its doors on 29 April 2000, inspired by the reading of the book ‘The Pliocene Animals of Roussillon’ by Charles Depéret and Albert Dennozan, which describes the presence of herds of giant tortoises in the region 250 million years ago. Aimed at the preservation of endemic species of the Eastern Pyrenees, this unique region accounts for 3 different species of tortoises within the territory. Francoise Malirach created a haven of peace within the Happy Valley, which today accounts for more than 500 chelonians.

Sorède - The Cave of the Tortoise, Lavail Valley

The ‘Tortoise Cave’ in the valley from Lavaill to Sorède owes its name to its unique shape. It is a shelter under rock. Stone flint and tortoise shaped objects discovered in the shelter have been handed over to the Museum of Archaeology of Céret, 19 km away from the Valley of the Tortoises.

St-Génis des Fontaines - The Cloister of St-Génis des Fontaines


The Benedictine abbey of St-Génis des Fontaines was built in 780 to honour Saint Génis, the martyr of Arles who died in the year 303. Destroyed and then rebuilt during the 9th century, it underwent continuous development during the Middle Ages with, for example, the construction of the cloister in the 13th century. This cloister holds a particular specificity regarding the polychrome marble. In fact, we find in this building, marble of different colours: the white colour of Céret, the rose colour of Villefranche de Conflent and the black colour of Baixas.

On one of the sculptures of the columns is a representation of the local fauna, with a trout, an owl, a rat and a tortoise. This tortoise is a freshwater tortoise, very likely a Mauremys leprosa, which still lives in some bodies of water throughout the region. Its presence in the gallery leading to the church results in many interpretations. First of all, the shell would represent the dome of the church, and the four limbs represent the galleries within. In addition, the tortoise symbolises the quiet strength, which is so dear to the monks, because, even though it moves with slowness, its strong shell allows it to withstand attacks. The image of the tortoise, therefore, refers to the safety of the cloister.


 St André

The magic of glass blowing is fully on display as they create glass tortoises of all colours. It is a truly a remarkable spectacle combining talent and emotion.




Port Vendres – The four tortoises of the obelisk


The obelisk of Port Vendres is the first monument of France built to the glory of Louis XVI. Begun in 1780, it was completed more than nine years later by the Perpignan architect Louis-Hiver Pons. The column, erected in white marble for Estagel and pink marble for Conflent, towers at 100 metres above sea level. Its base is supported by four marine tortoises, originally in bronze, represented here as animals of the cosmophere, meaning that they bear the weight of the world on their backs. At the top of the spire, a globe topped with a fleur de lys completes the symbolism.

Of this obelisk of Port Vendres, nothing remained after 1793, except for the four tortoises of molten bronze located on the corners of the neck between the column and the cube supporting the drapery, which had just been re-established (in December 1590).

Note that the tortoise is highly present in a myth that explains earthquakes as the movements made by the animal, which carried the earth on its back. In other cases, the shell of the tortoise represents the celestial heavens above and the flat surface of the Earth.


 Argeles sur Mer

The Cove of the Tortuga is a small granite shelter somewhere in the Valley of the Massane, near the hamlet of Pave. Archaeological excavations were carried out in 1957 and 1958 by Roger Gruau, and a part of the findings are currently exhibited at the Françoise Claustre Heritage Museum in Céret.


The first human occupation in the region dates from the final Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.


Objects from the Middle Bronze Age, as well as items from the Protohistoric Bronze Age and First Iron Age, have also been discovered and may be related to the necropolis near Pave. In the Middle Ages, it served as a temporary habitat.


The Tortoise Route was seen by Nicole Chabaud of Argeles sur Mer in 2014.




The painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) lived and painted in Collioure in the Eastern Pyrenees regularly between 1905 and 1914. During this time, he painted Bathers with a Turtle[32] Mr and Mrs Joseph Pultiser Jr. collection, Saint Louis Art Museum, United States).




Céret : Francoise Claustre Heritage Museum

The items found in the Tortoise Cave in the Valley of the Massane are preserved at the Françoise Claustre Heritage Museum at Céret.




Amélie les Bains

 Page under development




  Page under development



Arles sur Tech


Built at the beginning of the 12th century to serve the remote regions of the abbey, the church of Saint-Saviour of Arles sur Tech houses a waterfall at the bottom of which is a carved tortoise. Although the significance of this tortoise remains a mystery, it can be interpreted, as is the case in St-Génis, in different ways. The first refers, of course, to the presence of the Mauremys Leprosa in waterways around Arles in the Middle Ages. The tortoise was even sometimes consumed as a refined delicacy. In terms of symbolism, tortoises were already renowned throughout the world for embodying many myths, such as those previously explained, which suggest that its shell represents the heavens above and the breastplate represents the Earth.

Banyuls sur Mer


The leprous Annam Pond tortoise is found mainly to the west of the Mediterranean and on the border of Northwest Africa. It was discovered in 1912 by Schweigger who gave it its name due to infected sutures between the scales that he mistook for leprosy. In reality, it is not leprosy at all, even if it may sometimes seem so in stagnant or polluted water.

In order to obtain an optimum body temperature, the leprous Emydidae spends a large part of the day in the sun or in direct contact with warm bodies. Due to this characteristic, their vision and hearing are very finely tuned. It can detect the presence of a person more than twenty meters away. When encroached upon, it does not seek to bite but will angrily stand its ground and release a foul smelling liquid.

Within the region, the largest population of Emydidae leper tortoises is in Banyuls. One can easily count hundreds of individual tortoises.


Salvador Dali Museum page under development


Espolla / Garriguella

Centre for Reproduction, Protection and Conservation of the Hermann Tortoise of Alberes. It is a natural park of national interest created by the Catalan Ministry of the Environment. The centre is open to the public at Gariguella.




In Cadaqués, the local inhabitants have adorned the rocks of Cap de Creus with names relating to their similarity to animals, such as the rock of the eagle, the camel and the tortoise. This cape in South Catalonia is part of the Cap de Creus natural reserve, which includes a land area where the Hermann tortoise is found and a maritime area where, occasionally, one can spot a local green marine tortoise (Chelonia mydas) which sometimes get caught in fishing nets, as in the Pyrenees-Orientales region in the marine reserve of Cerbère and Banyuls-sur-Mer.

The Museum of Salvador Dalí and Gala at Portlligat, Cadaqués (Catalonia): lounge, fireplace, tortoise, carpet, archery, defence, tooth.



Made from Girona stone by the municipal architect Juan Gordillo and sculptors Joseph and Jordi Oliver Viver in 1945, the fountain known as ‘El nen de la tortuga’ (the child of the tortoise), is located in the Place de l’Indépendence. This location is the point of transition between the old city and the modern one.

Barcelone - The Sagrada Familia


The Nativity façade of the Sagrada Familia is the only façade to have been built under Gaudi’s direction in his lifetime. Located on the eastern side of the church, it is made up of four spires surrounding the tree of life: the cypress trees, a central door and two columns, one of which is supported by a land tortoise showing the direction of the mountain, and the other by a sea tortoise indicating the sea. It would seem that Gaudi attempted to reproduce some of the frequent symbolism from the Middle Ages, where the holy city of Jerusalem was represented by a tortoise mounted upon a column.

Barcelone - La Casa Batlló


Casa Batlló is one of the most well known architectural works of Gaudi and was classified as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. Its original façade was replaced between 1904 and 1906 by a surprising arrangement of stone, glass and ceramic, creating a wavy shaped roof in the form of a harlequin hat. The interior of the building is all the more surprising, as it looks like the inside of a marine animal.

We also find, on the level of what is known as the noble floor, a private hall recalling the underwater caves of Captain Nemo. Its underwater walls take on a wavy form while skylights take the shape of a tortoise shell.

Barcelone - The Miró Foundation

Joan Miró began his artistic explorations at a very young age. One of his first works, which is kept at the Miró Foundation, represents a tortoise, and was created in 1901. At that time Miró was only 8 years of age. The realism and the delicacy of the brush strokes are quite surprising for his young age. It remains unknown where he developed the inspiration to produce such works as proof of his artistic precocity.

Barcelone - Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter)


The Gothic Quarter is in the heart of Barcelona. Picasso and Joan Miró spent their youth here. The tortoise, accompanied by swallows, is beautifully sculpted upon the letter box in front of the Casa de l'Ardiaca (swallows, aquatic tortoise, stone, Barcelona, Gothic Quarter). The tortoise is, in fact, part of the fauna of Barcelona.

Barcelone - the tortoise fountain, Place Sepulveda.

Sculpted by Eduard Batiste Alentorn in 1915, click here