The Monistrol de Montserrat (Monastery of Montserrat) is one of the most famous attractions in Spain, it is visited by many tourists. It is an ancient Benedictine abbey. Alongside to its religious significance, the monastery is surrounded by an amazing landscape due to it’s location on a beautiful mountain close to Barcelona. The name “Montserrat” means “saw mountain” (a visit to the place will easily explain why). The abbey is situated on the highest mountain of the region.
There is also a national park in the area, so one can combine the visit to the monastery with a nice mountain trip. There, you can admire the interesting stone textures which are characteristics of Catalonia, go up the mountain by a cable car and visit the breathtaking Catalan countryside that is different from such urban areas as Barcelona.
History of Montserrat
The Monastery of Montserrat has a long and fascinating history which started approximately in 800 CE when a group of young shepherds saw a bright light descending from the sky to the mountains. Simultaneously, they heard angels songs which filled the shepherds’ heat with great joy (for additional information – History of Barcelona).
Amazed by this experience, the young boys ran home quickly and told the hallucinatory experience to their parents. Their parents were skeptical at the beginning but finally decided to believe what the generally trustworthy children said and went to the mountain to see what it was all about. There, the parents witness the same events, so finally they declared that this was a sign from the heaven.
After a priest had seen the revelation, some religious persons investigated the cave where it took place and found there a statue of Virgin Mary (named as Black Madonna-La Moreneta). From that moment the site has become an important pilgrimage place. The cave was sanctified and was named as the Holy Cave of Montserrat (Santa Cova de Montserrat). The site is also referred as the Holy Grotto.
Throughout the centuries the monastery and monks who lived there were disturbed many times, for example by the army of Napoleon or during the Spanish Civil War.
Today the monastery still serves as an important pilgrimage site for Christian believers but it is visited by many other curious tourists.
What do you see in Montserrat?
The way to get to the Montserrat is quite an attraction by itself. The most experiential route (from Barcelona) includes a train and a cable car with amazing views, or a train and a rack railway. For more thorough information about the means of transportation to the monastery, check out our page Getting to the Monastery of Montserrat.
The church of the Monastery of Montserrat is a dim and ornate basilica from the 16th century. Above the main altar you can see the Black Madonna statue.
Besides this, one can visit a museum where works of such Spanish modern artists as Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso are exhibited. A farmers’ market also takes place there, where you can buy agricultural products that were made locally. In addition, every Sunday afternoon a Sardana dance is performed in Plaça de Santa Maria.
Once you have reached the monastery, there are two funiculars that can take you further along the touristic route. A funicular is a cable railway that has a pair of vehicles similar to a tram, that takes people up and down a slope. When one of the vehicles slides down the railway, the other one counterbalance it and climbs up.
Santa Cova Funicular
This funicular will take you slightly down the mountain, to a point where you walk to the cave of “Santa Cova”. This is the cave where according to the tales, the statue of the Black Madonna was found. The cave can also be accessed by foot without using the funicular, it’s a 20 minutes walk but some people choose the funicular instead of walking because the walk is quite strenuous.
There are exhibitions about the legend of the cave and about funiculars in the lower station of the funicular. Unfortunately, the funicular is not accessible for wheelchairs.
Sant Joan Funicular
This funicular will take you even further up the hill to a good viewpoint at the peak of the mountain. From there you can admire the birds-eye views that include the whole monastery from above, the montserrat mountains from another side and on a clear day even the views of Catalunya. This is also an entry point to walks to the natural park. There is a nature museum close to the funicular station.
It is possible to purchase combined tickets for the funiculars and the Cremallera which is one of the means of getting up to the monastery.
Another popular attraction in the abbey is the boys’ choir of the basilica which performs Gregorian songs typical in the Catalan region. Every day at 13:00 they perform for free (exceptions are Christmas, July and other feasts, for additional information – Public Holidays in Barcelona). In the last few years the choir has become very popular and has recorded more than 100 albums, all of them are very successful.
The Environment of the Monastery
Besides the abbey, Montserrat is also famous for the great hiking possibilities. On the mountain tours you can see unique plants, animals and rocks. Moreover you can also admire the islands of Ibiza and Majorca from a great distance.
It is recommended to inform yourself before the tour about the actual possibilities. One can do that at the local tourist office. There are at least three great options: the tour to an observation point, the tour to the cave of the monastery and the tour to the Torrent de la Font Seca and Camí de Les Bateries. The difficulty level of these routes is variant.
If you would like to take a pleasant walk in the area of the monastery but you are not an impassioned trekker, there are two easy and not too difficult routes. Those who are keen on trekking and hiking can choose from other, more difficult options.