Spencer Douglas, Oregon State University, ALBA Summer ’15:
A quick drive outside the city of Barcelona, Montserrat has been a popular destination for both monks and tourists alike. Famous for its ‘serrated’ look, the mountain stands tall and disparate among the northern Catalonian hillsides where a Benedictine abbey looms over wandering tourists and meandering monks. The popularity stems from the world-famous Black Madonna, one of only four in all of Europe.
Make sure to arrive early, as the monks will close the heavy wooden doors at promptly 10:30. If you are lucky enough to make it in, you are greeted immediately with ornate hanging lamps, 19th century tombs, magnificent wall-sized oil paintings, and of course La Maroneta, or statue of Virgin Mary. Many days of the year you can also hear the prestigious boys choir, L’Escolania, which performs at exactly 1pm and is a unique experience for many travelers. No wonder Santa María de Montserrat is one of the few monasteries that have a waiting list for hopeful monks.
After a stroll through the winding streets there are many options for exploring the beauty of the mountain. Two funiculars will carry you either up the mountain or down. The trip above offers amazing panoramic views of the surrounding countryside as well as more than 10km of walking trails for the more adventurous. Descending the mountain will lead you to one of the only remaining chapels, where La Maroneta was allegedly found—either around the year 50 AD or 880 AD depending on which legend you prefer.
On your way to the lower chapel you pass by numerous historical sculptures that show off Catalonia’s impressive addiction to modernisme and neo-gótic design. One in particular is a fan favorite, “The First Mystery of Glory”, designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudí. This sculpture sets itself apart from the others with its unique mosaic and depiction of the resurrection of Jesus, both common themes of Gaudí. The lower path from the monastery to the famous Holy Cave is something any aficionado of architecture, history, or art should not miss.
To finish off the journey you can stop at the small town, Monistrol, at the base of the mountain, which offers a selection of restaurants ranging from small cafés to fancier establishments that serve traditional Catalan cuisine. Overall the trip to Montserrat is sure to please groups of all ages or sizes without breaking the bank. And since it is only an hour away from Barcelona you will have plenty of time for a quick siesta before enjoying the endless nightlife Barcelona provides.