In Catalan, “Montserrat” means “jagged mountain.” Montserrat is a mountain peak that is slightly separate from the chain of Pyrenees mountains. According to legend, in ancient times, angels lived atop the mountain. When they were bored, the angels began to create sculptures from the cliffs. Accordingly, the mountain peaks resemble hand-made statues that keep guard over the cave entrances. Here, every “angel’s creation” has a name corresponding to its shape: “God’s Finger,” “Elephant’s Head,” and “Camel.”
The mountain is surrounded by the National Park of Catalonia, which offers special touristic routes and signs that provide brief explanations of the pathways. This same place, situated at an altitude of 700 meters above sea level, is also home to a monastery for men. As the true religious center of Catalonia, Montserrat is widely known for its statue of the Virgin of Monserrat, also called “La Virgen Negra.” Locals say that this image inspires women to experience the joys of motherhood. The monastery was built almost 1000 years ago, but it is still active, with several dozen monks living there and spending their days in prayer and peasants’ chores. Just like one thousand years ago, the central cathedral holds Masses (Catholic church services), although, unfortunately, the original monastery building has not been preserved. In fact, all the buildings here have been destroyed multiple times. The buildings were reconstructed entirely only in the 19th-20th centuries, when Antoni Gaudi, the greatest architect of Catalonia, participated in the reconstruction of the monastery.
The monastery located on the Montserrat mountain
Cable car of the Montserrat mountain
Montserrat mountain and the monastery are not the only sites to see here, however. There is so much to explore, including an altar designed by Gaudi, a throne chair made of pure silver, and the statue of the Madonna that is famous throughout Spain. Every day at 13:00, all visitors are welcome to enjoy the performance by the boys’ choir, a group that enjoys extreme popularity among aficionados of organ music and chorales from Barcelona and other towns in Catalonia. There has been a music school on Montserrat since the 13th century, and it is now considered the oldest school in Europe that is still functioning.
Of course, like any other medieval monastery, Montserrat features a library with a catalogue of more than 400 ancient books and manuscripts that have been collected by the parish monks since the 14th century. Unfortunately, access to these documents is limited to famous male scholars only. However, some items are displayed frequently in the local museum along with the results of archaeological excavations around the complex, including art objects, sculptures, and icons. The museum gallery also features the works of El Greco, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and many other renowned painters. From time to time, visitors can see the exhibitions of original works by Monserrat monks who also love the fine arts.
When visiting, don’t forget the souvenirs: the monastery offers great bakery products and digestive liqueurs, medallions, prayer beads, engravings, and lithography from the monks’ own printing house, as well as other religious fixtures. Earlier, ceramic objects also were made inside the monastery. Today, the monks no longer make pottery, but visitors are sure to find plenty of interesting items in the small shops on the complex. A market with farmers’ fresh produce is also open every day. Here, you can always buy honey, cheese, fig bread, and other homemade products.
How to get to Montserrat mountain by car, bus, or train
- ПTrains depart from Plaza Espanya every hour from the R5 line. From Plaza Espanya, you should buy a ticket to Aeri de Montserrat station. It takes approximately 1 hour to get there, where a cable car with funicular departs for the top of the mountain every 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can climb up to the monastery following one of the pedestrian routes. Another option is to travel to the top by funicular and walk down by foot. You also can arrive at Monistrol de Montserrat station and travel along the jagged railway by “cremallera,” a special train that travels up the mountain.
- Should you prefer to travel by bus, the Autocars Julia departs from the train station of Sants at 9:15 am, Monday-Friday. The fee is just 5.10 euros.
- Those travelling by car can take advantage of a guarded parking lot next to Montserrat. Parking for half an hour is free of charge; afterward, a fee of 6.50 euros is charged for the whole day.
The monastery’s working hours are 7:00 am – 20:30, and tickets cost 7 euros. You also can stay at the top of the mountain in one of the two hotels located there: Abat Cisneros (a 3-star hotel) is located in a historical building that connects with the monastery, and Abat Marcet is a more modern building that features all the amenities a traveller might need. Another option is to stop in the village of Monistrol de Montserrat to stay at the small hostels of La Barca or Guilleumes.
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