The first information we have of Montgo dates back to 1330. We know that in the early Middle Ages some of the Montgo lands were cultivated by owners who were probably mostly, if not all, non-residents of the parish of Empuries.
It is possible that when the monastery of nuns of Vilanera was founded (near the present road from l’Escala to Albons) in 1328, the nuns received land in Montgo, which they extended by buying more land. These nuns probably sub let the land to farmers in the Empuries neighbourhood. Gradually, with the decline of the monastery, the land was abandoned during the 15th and 16th centuries. We do not know if they were totally or partially abandoned.
During the 16th C there was a noticeable development in fishing activity by fishermen from Begur, Estartit, Torroella, Empuries and possibly from Roses, which continued into the 17th C. The wealth of the fishing grounds of Montgo and its surroundings explains the appearance, at the end of the 16th C and at the beginning of the 17th C, of two or three ‘fishermen’s’ shops not managed directly by the owners (none of whom were from the municipality of Empuries) connected to fishing and coral activities. It is likely that there was also a certain amount of business activity in the Port of Montgo (the extraction and loading of limestone by the merchant ships is documented), given that it was a reasonable port of refuge for ships.
We know that from 1587 the construction of the defence tower started on top of the mountain of Montgo and that it was finished with a garrison in 1599. The artillery was not available until 1601. The garrison consisted of two soldiers. One of them was a gunner and the other one the commander of the tower. At the beginning of the 17th C some episodes with pirate ships were documented without any direct impact on the artillery tower. The garrison was documented at the tower until at least 1653.
The fact that Montgo is the jurisdictional boundary of the county of Empuries with the magistracy of Girona (under royal jurisdiction) has meant that historically, Montgo has been the scene of endless disputes (not always peaceful) and legal conflicts, which started in 1579 and did not end until 1758, between the inhabitants of Empuries and the Port of l’Escala, which belong to the county of Empuries, and those of Torroella de Montgri, the royal town belonging to the magistracy of Girona.
From the second half of the 17th C there was an increase and recovery of the cultivated land in Montgo (basically grapevine and cereal, and from the 19th C also corn and forage) through establishments set up by representatives of the county of Empuries for settlers who landed at the Port of L’Escala from the second half of the 17th C. Finallly, at the beginning of the 18th C crops covered all the land that could be cultivated in lower Montgo and also the area in the north which goes as far as Illa Mateua.
The Sureda family, who currently own the Illa Mateua Campsite, came to l’Escala around 1670 from the Selva District (the male line) and from Madremanya (a charming and picturesque village near Girona) the female line. The first land they purchased in Montgo in 1674 was a vineyard. Later on, over the following 25 years they became the largest landowners in Montgo. They cultivated the vineyard and grew cereals, alternating this activity with fishing and coastal shipping trade.
This family, during the last quarter of the 17th C, had several confrontations with the municipal authorities of Torroella de Montgri over issues concerning jurisdictional boundaries both on land and at sea. Specifically Francesc Sureda was caught fishing without a licence in the jurisdictional seas of Torroella, for which he was fined on several occasions as he kept doing it. He was one of the leaders and instigators of the uprising that took place in l’Escala in 1697 because he refused to pay fishing taxes to the relevant authorities.
Returning to more recent history, we could say that the Illa Mateua Campsite was set up in 1958 when the heir of the Sureda family, Martí Sureda Farrés, maternal grandfather of this story, leased the land now occupied by the campsite (in which there were cultivated vines and corn) to a subsidiary of the General Society of Water of Barcelona, created to exploit establishments which met the needs of the camping public.
In 1966 my father obtained permits and built his own campsite, which already had the name Illa Mateua, but the then municipal authorities, surprisingly, denied him permission to open. The land and now the facilities, had to continue being leased to the same company that ran a neighbouring establishment engaged in the same business.
It was not until 1988 that the Illa Mateua Campsite saw light, very modestly, with the name Montgo Mar, which was changed the following year to avoid confusion with nearby businesses. The new name was Paradis, and this lasted until 2003. From 2004 and taking advantage of a new direction in campsite management, two crucial decisions were made. The first one, to do justice to history and give back the name to the campsite which my father originally gave it, that he worked on so hard to make his dream come true, and which the short sighted municipal authorities at that time did not authorise.
The second, to do justice to the society surrounding us, that allows us to, with their trust, continue working to keep meeting new challenges every day; especially with the most underprivileged of this society devoting 1% of all revenue from the campsite to those charities which aim to help those who most need it. This commitment has been registered in an affidavit detailing the charities to which, at the end of every season, we make our contribution to solidarity. In this agreement we also declare ourselves an anti bullfighting campsite and strong advocates of the protection of not only people, but also the proper treatment of animals, and a friendly and sustainable relationship with nature that surrounds us.
It is with this philosophical commitment that the Guillem-Sureda-Trías family manage the Illa Mateua Campsite with such pleasure and will be attentive to all proposals submitted by our clients and friends, so that we can improve and adapt this campsite to the new trends and demands of today’s society.
Martí Guillem i Sureda, Managing Director