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An hour outside of Barcelona is the impressive multi-peaked mountain range known as Montserrat. Within its dramatic, rocky mountain tops hides the Benedictine Monestir de Montserrat, a monastery popular with visitors from all over the world. Everyone from pilgrims and culture lovers to hikers and speleologists love the spot thanks to the gorgeous hiking terrain and beautiful abbey village built into the mountain and to top it all off, it is an easy day trip from Barcelona. Today, Montserrat is often used to refer to both Montserrat mountain and Montserrat Abbey.
The History of Montserrat
The mountain of Montserrat is thought to have been of religious significance since pre-Christian times when the Romans built a temple on the mountain to worship Venus. Montserrat’s monastery was founded in 1025 and legend says that the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, a venerated statue of the Madonna and Child, was found 880. The monastery was built around the statue. In 1811 and 1812 the monastery was damaged, plundered and partially burned by Napoleon’s troops, destroying much of its treasures. In the 1830s the monastery was abandoned due to anticlerical legislation but began to rebuilt from 1858. During the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, many Benedictine monks were killed. Today, a community of 55 monks who live at the abbey. During Franco’s dictatorship, Montserrat Abbey became a symbol of opposition to the leading political power and was the only place to offer religious services in Catalan despite the official ban of the language. Many anti-nationalist leaders took shelter in the abbey.
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What to Do in Montserrat
The summit of Montserrat stands at 1,236 metres high and offers stunning views of Catalonia and its lush terrain. One of the best ways to experience these views is a cable car ride. If you’re coming to Montserrat as part of a trip to Barcelona, you can come via public transport by catching a train to the bottom of the mountain and then getting the cable car (the Aeri de Montserrat). In the cable car, which takes you to the abbey of Montserrat, you’ll see the village of Monistrol, the River Llobregat and a stunning valley. For those fearful of heights or unsure about cable cars, the other option is the Montserrat rack railway, known as the “Cremallera“. The train ride from Monistrol (the stop at the bottom of the mountain) to the abbey is 20 minutes.
Once you arrive at the monastery, there are two funicular railways. The Sant Joan funicular railway takes you on a steep journey from the monastery up to the peak of the mountain. It gives you an aerial view of the monastery and the opportunity to get views of the other side of the mountain and more of Catalunya. For those interested in hiking Montserrat, the top of the mountain also marks the beginning of a variety of walks. The Santa Cova Funicular is another railway that leaves from the monastery. This funicular ride, however, takes you partway down the mountain to the beginning of a walk that will lead to the cave chapel known as Santa Cova. It is here that the image of the Virgin Mary was reportedly seen by shepherds around 880. While you can walk directly from the monastery to the cave, the walk from the Santa Cova funicular station to the cave is far less strenuous. All four forms of transport offer amazing views of the landscapes and surrounding towns although you cannot see Barcelona, the closest city.
Catalonia’s renowned Benedictine Abbey encompasses two blocks. On one side there is a basilica and monastery-related buildings and on the other, there are pilgrim facilities and information for travellers. It houses the Virgin of Montserrat, also known as La Moreneta, a wooden statue that most visitors come to the abbey to see. In 1844 La Moreneta as declared to be the patron saint of Catalonia. You can also explore the basilica, with its marbled floors and Art Nouveau frescoes.
Another must-see is the Biblical Museum, or the Museum of Montserrat. Founded in 1963, the museum contains an impressive collection of world-renowned artworks. It is home to the works of Catalan artists, Modernist sculptures and ancient Middle Eastern paintings. There are paintings by Dali, Monet, El Greco and a single piece from Italian artist Caravaggio. It is one of the most visited museums in Spain.
On the path the connects the Montserrat Monastery to the Santa Cova there are a group of sculptures known as the Monumental Holy Rosary of Montserrat. They were built between 1896 and 1916 by many prestigious artists including the architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi drew a lot of inspiration from his visits to Montserrat and the works at Montserrat are considered to represent the most important outdoor Modernista religious site in Catalonia.
While there are some accommodation options in Montserrat, most people come as part of a day tour. If you would be interested in seeing this important religious site or hiking the wonderful mountain landscape, take a look at our Barcelona City Explored and Discover Spain tour which both visit Montserrat and the abbey.
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