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The Montserrat mountain is one of the most spectacular natural parks and spiritual spots in Catalonia and is situated 50 kilometers from Barcelona. It’s not a surprise that cultural tourists, nature lovers, pilgrims, hikers, alpinists and speleologists all come to visit Montserrat. Here’s the list of the most important things to see and do during your trip to Montserrat.
If you plan to come to Montserrat from Barcelona, it’s easy to do it by public transport. All trains in the direction of Montserrat depart from Barcelona’s Plaza España. Later, to reach the mountain’s main observation platform, you have to choose between the two interesting options that would add some more colorful impressions to your trip. The first possibility is to take an impressive 5-minute ride in a cable car. To catch it, you should get off the Barcelona’s train at the stop Aeri de Montserrat. The second possibility is to go up the mountain by the train Cremallera, for which you should get off the Barcelona’s train at the stop Monistrol de Montserrat. The ride will last around 15 minutes. If you want to experience both the Cremallera and the cable car, you can always buy a combined ticket.
The Black Virgin of Montserrat is a patron of Catalonia, and people all over the world come to worship here and see this miracle-working sculpture. According to legend, it was discovered by the shepherds of the region in the 9th century; they suddenly noticed a bright shining light which indicated them the place of the Santa Cova (Holy Cave of Montserrat), where the statue was hidden. When the shepherds wanted to move the Black Virgin to the nearby village of Manresa, it became so heavy that they considered it as a sign to leave the statue on the mountain. The Black Virgin is one of the exceptional Madonna’s wooden images of a totally black color. It has a mystic healing power and protects people from the negative energy. It is situated in the Basilica of Montserrat, and can be visited for free.
The Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat has always had a mighty status during all the historical periods of Catalonia and is still in force. You can easily enter its Basilica, but the other sacred spaces of the monastery are closed for the public or have a special schedule. The first notion of the Abbey dates back to the 9th century; however, the solid expansion of the complex was done in 1025. There are numerous legends about the life of the Benedictine monks — for example, they had to give the most austere wows, like a vow to stay forever on the top of the mountain in seclusion, silence and poverty. The ancient building of the Abbey was almost totally demolished by the Napoleonic troops, who tried to find the Holy Grail in the walls of the Abbey. The building that can be witnessed nowadays is the result of the 19th century renovation. During Franco’s dictatorship, Montserrat’s Abbey became a symbol of opposition to that leading political power. It was the only place to offer religious services native in Catalan despite the official ban of this language and many anti-nationalist leaders were sheltered behind this monastery walls.
The Museum of Monserrat boasts a huge collection of artistic masterpieces from the 13th to the 20th centuries. Here you can see works by El Greco, Caravaggio, Berruguete, plus paintings by the French impressionists Pissarro, Degas, Monet and 20th century geniuses like Dali, Picasso, and Rusiñol. The museum also hosts relics of antique Egyptian art along with icons and jewelry of the 15th-20th centuries. The design of the museum building deserves a special attention too, as it was done by Puig i Cadafalch, a famous Catalan architect of art nouveau epoch.
Inside the audiovisual room, you will find a curious exposition devoted to the history and legends of the Montserrat mountain park, the Black Virgin miracle power and the Benedictine Abbey. Here, you can get a more in-depth and structured overview of Montserrat’s sacred role and mighty status in Catalonia through the archive images and videos.
From the main observation platform where the Benedictine Abbey is situated, you can continue your adventures taking one of the two funiculars. Funicular de la Santa Cova goes to the Holy Cave, where the Black Virgin was discovered. There you may visit a chapel and a picturesque Rosari Monumental, a park of religious sculptures created by the key architects of the Catalan modernism. Among them are works by Gaudi, Puig i Cadafalch and Llimona. Funicular de Sant Joan will bring you higher to the other observation platform. There you will find the other hiking routes which lead to the most tallest mountain peaks (e.g., Sant Jeroni) and a tourist walk towards the Chapel of Sant Joan.
If it’s not your first visit to Montserrat, it is worth it to visit the monastery of Santa Cecilia. Only 5 minutes by car from the Benedictine Abbey, it is interesting from the architectural and historical points of view. It is an old Roman Church dating back to the 11th century, which had a huge restoration in the early 20th century by a grand modernist architect Puig i Cadafalch. If you enjoy modern art, don’t skip the church’s interior! The interiors have been recently redesigned by a world famous abstract artist Sean Scully, and since June 2015, his imaginative works have been open to the public. His large-scale geometrical paintings of vibrant colors together with the ancient stone walls of the church create a rare and unusual atmosphere.
Montserrat is also a big magnet for people interested in speleology. There are guided tours to the Caves of Salnitre, which can be accessed from the nearby city Collbató. Visitors are shown the underground area of the initial 500 meters only, as the rest of the territories are closed to the public. There, you may witness the formation of stalactites and the mysterious underground architecture with several caves. Keep in mind that you would meet some obstacles on your way; for example, the way to the legendary La Sala del Pozo del Diablo (Cave of the Devil’s Well) goes down the narrowest and steepest steps. You should read all the useful information at the web and check the exact hours of the tours (they depend on the weather conditions) be sure that you’re fully prepared.
If you are not up to visiting museums and queuing in lines with hordes of foreign tourists, just come to Montserrat to walk or hike among the stunning rocky peaks. It is a huge natural park where you can find numerous routes of various complexity levels. You can breathe fresh mountain air, enjoy the spectacular views of Catalonia from the stunning heights, and train your imagination trying to guess what kind of creature the nearest peak resembles more: is it a cat, an Egypt mummy or a monkey? It seems that all these rocky stones have some artistic concept and were polished with a giant saw — not a surprise, then, that Montserrat from Catalan can be translated as ‘a sawed mountain.’ The landscape is a miracle and mystery of nature, which is definitely worth a visit.