Time to do some exploring! Monsterrat is a “must see” in Barcelona. I chose it as it combined breathtaking scenery of the mountain beaks of Mount Monsterrat, as well as wanting a cultural experience and to learn more about the history of the Royal Basilica and Monastery of Monsterrat, a popular pilgrim destination, famous for its vast Royal Basilica, “Black Madonna” statue of the Virgin Mary and spectacular mountain views. I booked a half day tour with Viator, which departed Barcelona at 2pm, giving me the morning to do more sightseeing around Barcelona.
As I was after a cultural experience, I decided to go to the Cathedral of Barcelona, situated in Spain’s Gothic quarter, about a 15 minute walk from Placa Catalunya,where the Archbishop of Barcelona is seated. It was constructed in the 13th-15th centuries, with the bulk of the construction taking place in the 14th century. Its roof features gargoyles; a mixture of domestic and mythical animals. The church is dedicated to Eulalia, the co patron Saint of Barcelona.
It houses tombs of several saints, including Saint Raymond of Penyafort, Court Ramon Berenguer 1 and this third wife Almodis de la marche. The church underwent cleaning and restoration between 1968-1972. The intricate detail around the outdoor construction, in particular the gargoyles on the roof reflected the Gothic style of architecture and was just as impressive as the interior; hall style with high ceilings and laid out over five aisles with ornate stained glass windows. The choir stalls retained the Coat of Arms from the knights from the Order of the Golden Fleece and there was a side chapel of the Holy Sacrament and Holy Christ of Lepanto. Outside, there was a small courtyard with a little garden, including a small fountain.
After exploring the church and taking in as much of the amazing architecture as possible, I stopped off at a small cafe in the Gothic quarter for a quick lunch of empanadas; a pastry filled with meat for vegetables such as spinach and cheese, before heading over to the Hard Rock cafe in Placa Catalunya to meet the tour group for our tour to Monsterrat.
Our tour guide, Anna, met us at the Hard Rock Cafe and our group of seven boarded the air-conditioned Viator coach for a 2.5 hour drive to Monsterrat through the mountainside, past pretty villages on the way. Anna, our tour guide was very knowledgeable and provided us with in-depth commentary along the way; about Monsterrat’s history and the two key landmarks; the Monastery of Monsterrat and the Royal Basilica. As our coach ascended the mountains, we gazed out the windows and enjoyed the breathtaking views of the landscapes.
Upon arrival, we briefly stopped by small stalls selling farmers produce such as handmade soaps, cheeses and local honeys, where I bought some small jars of local honey. We were then given free time to explore all of the imposing landmarks. At the entrance, there were a series of small personal items such as baby’s clothes, books and even a wedding dress, which Anna explained that people had donated as offerings as part of their prayers of thanks-for example, if they prayed that they could give birth to a child and then they did, they might donate an article of their child’s clothing in thanks.
Inside the Basilica was phenomenal-with ornate candles,marbles, stained glass windows, mosaic tiles and lattice work on the ceilings, chapels and decorations and also a museum, displaying artworks by many famous artists including Picasso, El Greco and Dali and Anna, our very informative tour-guide explained the significance of each of the monuments inside.
Monsterrat is also famous for the Black Madonna statue; a statue of the Virgin Mary, which has made Monsterrat a famous pilgrim destination and it has been there since 718. It is a small wooden statue housed in a small room. As I exited the Black Madonna chamber and hallways and headed down the path, there were many brightly coloured devotional candles lit in her honour.
The Benedictine Monastery is also there, where I learned about the daily life of the Benedictine monks. There was also a large gift shop where you could buy souvenirs, including wild honey, handmade soaps and candles. Our tour ended as the sun was setting and enabled us to take beautiful photographs of the shades of dusty pink, orange, purple, grey and eventually midnight blue, as the sun set behind the mountainside.
The famous Escalonia boys choir also performs recitals there, however, unfortunately we had missed the time that they performed, however, Anna did play us a CD of their performance in the coach trip back to Barcelona and it was glorious gazing at the sunset and listening to the choir as our coach wound its way down the mountainside on the way back to Barcelona.
By the time we arrived back in Barcelona, it was dark, chilly and I was starving and rationalized that after eating salads and doing a fair bit of walking, it was acceptable for me to have the paella I was craving.I entered a restaurant in Plaza Catalunya and ordered the deep fried squid and a vegetarian paella. The squid was fresh, crispy and delicious and the paella, which arrived, sizzling in a cast iron pan, was hot and flavoursome. It had been an incredible day; learning and absorbing the religious and cultural aspects of Catalonia, along with the breathtaking scenery of Monsterrat. Looking forward to more adventures tomorrow! xoxo.