châteaux en Espagne (bâtir, faire des) (The origin)

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by HaHa08, Sep 1, 2011.

  1. HaHa08

    HaHa08 Senior Member

    The first of all, I don't speak French, but due to I'm going France this weekend, I have been looking for some words which could help me to get my bearings during my visit.

    Well, looking for the common names of the heritage buildings (like castle=château, cathedral=cathédrale or city hall=mairie) I've discovered this expression in the WR entry of castle/château "châteaux en Espagne (bâtir, faire des)" which is translated as "build castles in the air/sky" (English) and "Construir castillos en las nubes" (Spanish), that means have impossible dreams/ambitions/desires.

    The English and Spanish idioms show the difficulty of realize the dreams comparing it with build a big building in the air, where nothing can be placed because it would fall by its weight.

    However, viewing the difference between the English and Spanish idiom against the French one, I can't imagine the origin of this last. At first, I suppose it could come from the Franco-Spanish War (in the middles of 17th century), but this has no sense because that time the winners of the war were the French and its allies...

    Therefore, I would like if some French native can explain me the origin of their idiom. Why "build castles in Spain" and no " Italy"? or "...England?"

    To tell the truth, this idoms got me very intrigued.

    Thanks in advance and I'll be so grateful if the answer are in English, bacaues as I say above, I don't speak French...:eek:
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2011
  2. xmarabout

    xmarabout Senior Member

    French - Belgium
    Well the expression "construire/bâtir des châteaux en Espagne" seems to come from a book written during the XIIIth Century: Roman de la Rose. At that time it Spain was ruled by Muslims and there were no castles built in the countryside in Spain (to avoid a capture by the Muslims). So, for catholic lords, it is an impossible dream to build a castle in Spain.
  3. HaHa08

    HaHa08 Senior Member

    Thank you for the explanation. Now it takes sense :)
  4. L'irlandais

    L'irlandais Senior Member

    Dreyeckland/Alsace region
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Hello HaHa08,
    I agree that the meaning of this figure of speech is clear - similar to building castles in the air.

    I'm surprised there hasn't been an etymological discussion on this already. I have no wish to contradict a french native speaker, but it seems to me than the expression has it's origins much earlier in French history. By the time Guillaume de Lorris' used this phrase (around 1235) the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula was all but over, bar the shouting. (Although Granada had to wait another 250 years to be free, after the 1249 liberation of Portugal.)
    The notion itself can be found in "La chanson de Roland" composed around 1098-1100. It appears that Charlemagne offered landless knights domains (mostly forests) controlled by his enemies the Saracens in Spain as early as 788AD. To gain control of their "rightful" lands the knights would have to drive off the King's enemies. So at that time (788) it was not possible for a knight to build anything in Spain. By 1235 castles were being built to protect the expanding frontier, as the Moors retreated.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2011
  5. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Some information can be found in the following threads:
    build castles in Spain
    (English Only)
    Châteaux en Espagne
    (Español-Français, with a link to the useful site expressio)

    The following remarks by Littré substantiate much of what has already been said (unsurprisingly ;)):
  6. HaHa08

    HaHa08 Senior Member

    Hi everyone!

    I've turned some days ago from France, a beautiful country with a splendid landscape and a great heritage. When I turned, I checked again this thread and I've been reading about the different ideas/sources that you mention.

    The 'Roman de la Rose' idea seemed me very correct, but after reading about the 'Reconquista' it don't seems me right due to in the 13th century Spain has a lot of castles in the northern half (you can see in this animated image the reconquered terrain in different years). As the image confirms, in the 12th century the north of Spain belong to the Christians and there are castles, like the sited in Peñafiel (Valladolid) which had been builded before the 13th century.

    In relation with the other idea, the related with Charlemagne, now seems more reasonable because in the 8th century the north of Spain, specially the side which make frontier with France was already populated by the Muslims...

    But, in general, I have the idea of the origin of the phrase, and both of them are related with the same, the 'Reconquista' and gain terrain to teh Mulims; therefore, the general origin is fouinded, at least in my opinion.

    Kind Regards!
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2011
  7. Wynn Mathieson

    Wynn Mathieson Senior Member

    Castell-nedd Port Talbot
    English - United Kingdom

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