Monestir de Montserrat
Monistrol de Montserrat
Plaça de la Creu s/n, 08199 Monistrol de Montserrat
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+34 93 877 7777
3 reviews of Monestir de Montserrat in English
It's hard to know where to start in describing Montserrat: there's so much history, religion and geology all bound up together. But, suffice to say, it makes a stunning day out from the bustle of Barcelona.
Essentially, Montserrat itself - the 'jagged mountain' - is a spectacular rock formation rising to around 4,000ft, 40 miles or so north of Barcelona, occupying a stunning position overlooking the Llobregat river valley.
The religious history begins in the early middle ages, when (according to the myth - only recorded in the 13th century) a statue of the Virgin and child was discovered in a cave near the site by shepherds around 880AD, along with accompanying visions of the Virgin herself.
Supposedly carved by St Luke, the statue is in a late Byzantine style, suggesting a rather later date (probably 12th century). No matter: by the 9th century, the mountain was home to several shrines, and a major place of pilgrimage. In the 11th century, a monastery was founded, and expanded continuously until the present grand Basilica was built on the site in 1592. The shrine has always been something of a national place of pilgrimage to the Catalans, who rebuilt the site after it was destroyed by Napoleon's troops in the late 18th century.
Further restoration took place after the Spanish Civil War, but it was the construction of the cable car and funicular railway that helped pave the way for the present mass tourism - now joined by streams of tourist coaches from the nearby Costa Blanca, as well as pilgrim tours from all over the Catholic world.
Today, the shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, who come to visit the shrine, see the statue, listen to the famous boys' choir (the Escolonia), or just set out to hike the various mountain paths around the mountain massif. Even for those not of a religious bent, the views are amazing, with much of natural interest: the mountain provides a micro-climate for all sorts of rare wildlife.
What to see
The first thing is the mountain itself: the rock formations are spectacular, and the views and scenery don't disappoint: from the top of the Sant Joan funicular, you can see all the way to the coast, and both cable-car and rack railway provide stunning views.
The sprawl of the monastery complex itself, however, can come as something of a shock: as well as the church (the original basilica rather spoiled by an ugly 20th century frontage) and the monastery, the site has several large hotels; the funicular, rack-railway and cable-car stations; shops, museums, and lots of parking for the inevitable coach parties, much of it built on a staggeringly ugly artificial platform, supported on metal girders. And in summer, and on Sundays in particular, the site can be almost full to bursting with visitors.
The Abbey church itself - a mixture of late Gothic and classical styles - is impressive in a gloomy sort of way, however, and is appropriately lavishly decorated. The statue itself is located high up above the main altar, reached by a passage on the right hand side of the church, passing chapels which display the monastery's undoubted wealth. Times of the Mass are listed on the Abbey website.
There is an impressive collection of religious art and devotional objects, if that's your thing, and an audio-visual display providing information about the religious and natural history of the site.
For an alternative approach, you could walk to the various hermitages access from the Sant Joan cable car summit station, for which sensible footwear is needed. The Santa Cova funicular takes you down the mountain to reach another, more level footpath, to the shrine and cave where the stature was allegedly first found.
The site has several shops, selling everything from food items to souvenirs and the usual religious objects - although, to be fair, the quality is rather better than at some religious shrines.
There are several bars and cafeterias, all of which are a bit pricey, of patchy quality, and often overwhelmed by numbers in the summer. (Some of these close in winter). You may wish instead to bring your own picnic and drinks, and the site has several water fountains dotted around if a can of coke at €1.50 a go seems a raw deal.
Similar queues can be expected in high season to climb the stairway to see the statue of the Madonna itself; you can wait up to 40 minutes. Alternatively, a visit off season will be repaid by virtually no queues at all, although the site can get very cold and windy in winter (remember it is over 3,500ft up).
The monastery complex can be accessed by road, the Aeri de Montserrat cable car, or by the Montserrat rack railway (cremallera in Spanish - literally 'zip railway').
Both rack railway and the cable car can be reached by the FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya) suburban train service from Barcelona's Plaça d'Espanya station, which provides two trains an hour (one direct, one changing at Olesa de Montserrat).
From the monastery site at the top of the mountain, are the two funiculars: the Funicular de Sant Joan goes up to the top of the mountain, and provides access to excellent walks (of varying difficulty) to several hermitages, while the Funicular de Santa Cova descends to a path leading to the shrine at the cave where the statue of the Virgin was allegedly found.
You can buy inclusive tickets to the site from any FGC station: the cheaper one provides a return train journey (about an hour each way), travel on either the cable car or rack railway (but not both) and unlimited rides on the funiculars. A more expensive ticket also provides access to the museums.
There's a free road 'train' to help infirm people around the various attractions on the main site, which is rather hilly and is 0.5km from the coach park to the church (further from the car parks).
It's always worth remembering that it will several degrees colder at the top than in Barcelona - with the possibility of snow in winter. If you plan on doing any walking while you are there, the usual protective footwear, sensible clothing, hat and water will pay dividends, especially in summer.
A temple/monastery set high in the Montserrat mountains, a beautiful, peaceful place. It is possible to make a day trip from Barcelona, by train and a mountain train. You can visit the monastery or take a hike in the mountains. The views are stunning, and all the place is very relaxing.
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Places nearby Monestir de Montserrat
Museo de Montserrat Monasterio de Montserrat, Monistrol de Montserrat
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