Catalonia’s spiritual heart is a spectacularly rugged location, Montserrat is many things: a mountain, a shrine, a monastery and a defining symbol of Catalán identity and spirituality. The complex is made up of the monastery, a museum and a lunar landscape that was declared a national park in 1987.
I visited the area in 2010, whilst camping in the Costa Brava / Barcelona; Montserrat is around 30 mins drive from Barcelona or from many resorts in the Costa Brava, and is certainly worth the trip. I wouldn’t consider myself religious, but you can’t help feel a sense of that spirituality touch you.
The legend of La Moreneta
The lofty position of the ninth-century Benedictine monastery makes it an arresting sight, perched high against a bedrock of fluted buttresses. Here the legend surrounding La Moreneta (‘the little dark one’), the venerated smoke-blackened statue of the Virgin, continues to attract thousands of visitors annually. According to legend the statue, supposedly brought to Barcelona by St. Peter in AD 50 and hidden in a cave, was found in this area in AD 880. When it was discovered by shepherds, they tried to take it to the nearby town of Manresa. However, on reaching the site where the monastery now stands, they could get no farther, and a chapel was built in the Virgin’s name. This subsequently developed into the monastery.
The Plaça de la Creu is the main entry point to the monastery. It was named after a huge cross designed by the sculptor Joseph Subirachs (born 1927), and bears the question ‘Who is God?’ engraved in various languages. Plaça de Santa María, a long esplanade designed by Puig i Cadafalch (1876-1956), is the huge focal point of the complex and leads you to the threshold of the monastery. Today around 80 Benedictine monks live here. The legendary Virgin is now housed inside the basilica. Built in the 16th century and restored in the 19th century, it is approached through a splendid courtyard. Inside, the statue is enthroned in a silver altarpiece in the ‘holy room’, reached up a staircase above the high altar. Montserrat is also a great place to walk around, with various chapels, 13 hermitages and some great views of the valley below.
And don’t miss Montserrat’s famous boys’ choir, L’Escolania, one of the oldest in Europe.
Despite being one of the most famous Spanish artists, Joan Miro does not have the same profile in Barcelona as figures such as Picasso or Salvador Dali. Instead Miro let his art do the talking. Today visitors can sample this for themselves at the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona, which holds the biggest collection of his work in the world.
Thinking of going on a camping holiday near Barcelona in 2013? Miro’s foundation is one more place to visit to add to your itinenary.
Miro was born in Montroig del Camp, a town south of the city, in 1893 and lived in the Catalan capital for many years; Miro also spent long periods of time in Paris, Palma de Majorca and Normandy. He was not part of the circle who frequented Barcelona’s Els Quatre Gats (the four cats), the café where Picasso made his home from time to time. Nor was he part of the happenings at the Hotel Ritz (now renamed Hotel Palace) with Dali. The Surrealist master once led a horse up to his room and ordered a group of contortionists to perform.
The foundation, opened in 1975, commands a panoramic view over the city from Montjuic, the mountain that looms large over Barcelona and was the setting for the 1992 Summer Olympics. It has 217 paintings, 178 sculptures and over 8,000 drawings. But true to Miro’s original ideal, it also exhibits other modern artists. Visit http://www.fundaciomiro-bcn.org