A new link was added Wednesday to old connections between the Central Coast’s Hearst Castle and the castles of Spain. An informal pact signed in the Assembly Room of the former San Simeon estate of media magnate William Randolph Hearst is intended to foster cross-cultural cooperation between what’s formally known as Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument and Catalonia in the northeastern portion of Spain.
Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, has the constitutional status of a nationality. The area has about a dozen castles; its largest city is Barcelona.
The agreement is an unofficial promise to jointly draft a more binding document with specific actions in it, according to Nick Franco, superintendent of the State Parks district that includes Hearst Castle. The pact adds specificity to an original sisterhood agreement signed by members of the California Senate and Catalonia Parliament in 1986.
One of that document’s signers was Parliament member Doña Flora Sanabra Villarroya, who also attended Wednesday’s ceremony.
The new agreement was signed by several representatives of Spanish history groups, Franco and other State Parks officials.
At the signing ceremony, nearly two dozen members of the Catalan delegation listened to tenor Stephen Mullan sing arias and pianist Elda Laro play Beethoven and Chopin on an early-1900s Wurlitzer Apollo grand piano. Some guests seemed transported by the setting, immersing themselves in the huge Assembly Room’s remarkable acoustics and history.
One aim of the new agreement is to promote a tie that already binds California and Catalonia: Catalan explorer-discoverer Gaspar de Portolá. His 1769 expedition of coastal California with Father Junipero Serra included an encampment in the San Simeon area.
Before Wednesday’s ceremony, Hearst Castle Museum Director Hoyt Fields took four members of the Catalan Parliament on a brief walkabout, focusing on some of the estate’s Spanish artworks.
Fields highlighted the 16th Century Spanish ceiling in the Morning Room. The elaborately carved wooden ceiling is undergoing a $1 million restoration, funded in part by the Friends of Hearst Castle.
When Fields mentioned that little is known about the ceiling’s history, Ramon Baiget and others in the Catalan delegation discussed their thoughts about the ceiling’s possibly Moorish provenance.
Baiget said that he and his associates were “overwhelmed by Hearst Castle. In pictures, it seems so much smaller.”
“I feel at home here. This is precisely what a good castle should be,” he said. With art from Spain, Italy, France and other countries on display, he continued, “it has all the flavors of Europe.”