Joan Sala i Ferrer, also known as Serrallonga (1594 –1634) was a Catalan outlaw endured in people’s collective memory as a legend for robbing the rich and helping the poor and fighting against the injustice and tyranny of the king of Spain. Thus, in popular culture he was considered a sort of Catalan Robin Hood, widely remembered in early ballads which depicted his figure as an archetypal hero or a cruel bandit.
He was born in a family of landowners in the town of Viladrau, Osona. He married a neighbouring well off heiress and had two children. He carried a normal life until the moment that, by mistake, he was accused of a robbery and he had to run away to avoid being sent to prison and hid in the mountains he knew so well.
Those were times of deep economic crisis and endemic illness in Catalonia. Serrallonga had to join a gang of bandits to survive in the mountains and he soon became the head of this gang that attacked royal carriages of rich people and tax collectors.
In the XVII century Catalonia was divided in two parties: those rich and noble people who were in favour of King Philip IV, who represented the central power, and on the other side, landowners and small farmers, with a deep root in traditions, that refused to pay taxes to the “foreign king”.
Attacking and stealing the money from the rich made Serrallonga arouse the sympathy of the vast majority of Catalan people who supported and helped him.
Serrallonga was finally captured by the king’s soldiers and sent to Barcelona, where after being tortured he was executed.
It is said that Serrallonga was the first to proudly cry in favour of the land and against the invaders, and for that reason he is one of the best well known Catalan heroes. People of all ages remember and praise his figure as a symbol of opposition to Spanish central power.
The phenomenon of bandits in Catalonia started in the 16th century and it was said to be closely linked to nobility and clergy. We learn from historical documents and even from the “Quixote” that such bandits as famous as Serrallonga belonged to well-off peasantry. However, they would commit crimes without a hint of hesitation because their task was to impose the authority of the noblemen and clergymen. In return, these protected the bandits from the persecution of the kings’ men.