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Day Trip to Montserrat
It's easy to get to the Montserrat Benedictine monastery by yourself. You don't need a tour. Montserrat ("serrated mountain") is an hour's journey by FGC train from Barcelona's Placa d'Espanya station. Take the R5 line in the direction of Manresa. The train departs about every hour. Click here for more information about the FGC train line.
After the train you can decide to either take the Aeri cable car, a 5-minute ride (disembark at the "Aeri" stop) or the Cremallera (rack railway), a 15-minute ride (take the "Monistrol" stop, which is after the Aeri stop). The cable car ride provides breathtaking views but it is standing room only. If you have a fear of heights, the rack railway is a better alternative. In the Placa Espanya station, there are machines where you can buy a combined ticket for either train plus cable car or train plus rack railway. Check for combined ticket fares for 2014 (from Barcelona it is on zone 4 when looking for single or return tickets).
If you are starting your journey from a town SOUTH of Barcelona and using the Renfe (Rodalies) commuter train, please see the Footnote (1) below. Note that you also can go directly from the airport to Montserrat without going all the way into the city of Barcelona: From the airport take the R2 train to Bellvitge station, from there quick walk outside to RENFE train Gornal station to catch the R5 train to Montserrat. (In March 2016 one could only buy the RENFE ticket at the station's machine with cash or a credit card with a "code" -- so bring cash if you don't have one).
From the plaza in front of the monastery, you can find 2 Funiculars. The Funicular of Sant Joan carries visitors up to the mountains above the monastery. There are several walking paths of different lengths and spectacular scenic beauty. For more information on the walking paths, click here. To see a virtual reality tour of the Funicular Sant Joan, click here.
The Funicular of Santa Cova carries visitors down to the sacred cove where the original sacred statue of the Black Virgin, supposedly carved by Saint Luke, was found in 890. The iron railings around the cove were designed by Antoni Gaudi. To see a virtual reality tour of the Funicular Santa Cova, click here.
You can buy a ticket for the funiculars when you arrive at Montserrat or purchase it as part of a combined ticket (the "Trans Montserrat") at both the Placa Espanya and Placa Catalunya FGC offices. Either way it is the same price, unless you also plan to take a separate funicular to the Santa Cova, in which case you should buy the "TransMontserrat" ticket at Placa Espanya or Placa Catalunya. Also, if you plan to take the funicular up and then walk down, a better option is to skip the "Trans" ticket and buy your one-way funicular ticket at the monastery). The information booth right outside the station at the monastery has a list and map of six hikes. The "two hour hike" to the farthest point, Sant Jeroni (three hours if you take periodic viewing and rest stops) gives you the most breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and the Pyrenees and is highly recommended, though not for those with fear of heights.
There is a well-stocked cafeteria at Montserrat for lunch and a coffee bar.
For a more complete visit that includes lunch and admission to the art museum, consider the TotMontserrat ticket.
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Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey ( www.abadiamontserrat.cat) and basilica located in the Montserrat mountain, which is called Monistrol de Montserrat. The site is located 38 km from Barcelona. From afar, the mountain looks very strange because of its rock formations. The monastery started as the Hermitage of Santa Maria, the Mother of Christ, in 1025. Very soon there were stories of miracles worked by St. Mary the Virgin of Montserrat, and pilgrimages started to the site. A bigger Romanesque chapel was built to be able to receive more pilgrims. It became one of the best known shrines in the Christian world and the most prestigious shrine in Catalonia. In the Napoleonic wars of 1811 and 1812, the French destroyed most of the abbey, but the statue of Our Lady was saved because it was hidden somewhere in the mountain.
The rebuilding of the abbey started slowly after the Napoleonic wars and has continued to the present. Today the mountain of Montserrat is a place of worship to God and a place where many pilgrims go, and is the most famous religious site in Catalonia. For people of other religions, it is said that the mountain is a source of great energy, one of the best in Europe, and people flock to it for the experience.
The statue of the Virgin is called “La Moreneta” because of the black color of her face. The statue is a wooden Romanesque statue from the end of the 12th century. The varnish on the statue has oxidized and because of the effect of candle smoke and the smoke of lamps, the appearance is now black. The Virgin has a crown of diadems and has a ball in her hand. On her lap is a statue of Jesus Christ. He also has a crown and His hand is making a sign of blessing, while the other hand is holding a pine cone. Many women in Spain are named Montserrat and she is revered all over the world. One of the men who accompanied Columbus in the New World was a former monk from Montserrat and he started her veneration in the Americas.
La Moreneta is housed in a small alcove accessible from a corridor and staircase on the right side of the abbey. If you want to see La Moreneta, the 12th or 13th century Romanesque statue that mysteriously replaced the 9th century statue found by shepherds in the Santa Cova, you may have to wait in line for an hour, especially on a Sunday. You will only get a few seconds to look at it as the next tourist pushes in line behind you. The best way to view La Morenata is to arrive at the abbey by 9 am. There are no crowds at this time and the abbey is calm and peaceful.
When one goes to the basilica, one sees a beautifully designed atrium floor, which was designed by Father Benet Martinez. There is a medallion in the center and there is an inscription around it with a message that only those baptized and born in the water like fish can understand the meaning of the fish of the Eucharist. People of many faiths and children like to balance themselves on one foot on this atrium floor, as it is a custom from way back.
The basilica has a neo-Plateresque design (a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance) and was built in 1900. When one enters the basilica, one can see the statue of La Moreneta in the alcove above the altar. To see it close up, one has to go through the portico on the right side of the basilica. This portico has beautiful designs in sgraffiti. There is usually a long line of pilgrims who want to see La Moreneta. One has to go through the Angel Door, which has designs of many angel musicians adorning it. Then one goes up many steps until one reaches the Shrine of the Virgin and Child and sees La Moreneta. The ceiling above the statue has beautiful mosaics designed by Josep Obiols and were produced by Santiago Padrós in 1947. Everywhere one sees beautiful designs contributed by Catalan and other artists.
After seeing the basilica, one can go and see the museum, which surprises you with its quality and quantity. The museum is in a building across from the basilica and it is built underground, comprising of two stories. This was built by the architect Josep Puig I Cadafalch in 1929. There are many works of art donated by rich Catalans. There are archeology pieces from the Bible lands, gold and silver work from the 15th -20th centuries, and beautiful paintings from masters such as Caravaggio, El Greco, Sisley, Dali, and many Catalan artists from the early 20th century. There are also many paintings done by many artists with the subject of Saint Mary of Montserrat. This museum is among one of the best private museums in Spain.
TEMPORARY NOTE: As of May 2014, many of the masterpieces have been loaned to another location, and so there's no Impressionists or Caravaggio on display, among other promised art on the signs outside. One you pay and get inside, you read and see that the museum has put out replacements from its vast collection to provide different viewpoints, but many of the big names are gone. Just be aware before you decide to spend time here, and hopefully someone can remove this paragraph when the art returns.
One can have lunch at the Hotel Abat Cisneros, and the hotel is where many pilgrims stay. They also have the Montserrat Boy’s Choir ( www.escolania.cat), which usually performs at 1 pm and 7 pm from Monday to Thursday, at noon on Friday and at 11 am (Mass) and 6:45 pm on Sundays. You can check their website for holidays and concerts outside Montserrat. The boys who perform in the choir live in a separate part of the monastery and go to school there. They say that there are about 80 monks who live in the monastery today.
In one of the gift stores, they have a whole section about angels. Many people collect angels since they think they give good luck. Many of the little angel figurines are made of white ceramic and others have a gold patina.
There are many cats who live on the monastery grounds and the tourists love to feed these very tame cats. The visit to Montserrat is very memorable and the views of the monastery and surrounding mountain are breathtaking. Really a very beautiful place.
Additional information - Every year there's an out of service period for overhaul of both funiculars lasting a few weeks. This period is different for each funicular and varies from year to year so keep an eye on the year's schedule. During those times, expect long and hilly walks up to about an hour to get to either Sant Joan or La Santa Cova. Take a picnic lunch with you to eat at the top especially if nice weather as there are no shops or toilets at the top of the mountain. Also good walking footwear is recommended. Beautiful views though!
Dress warmly. Montserrat is on top of a mountain and many times there is a strong wind. Bring a warm coat.
Footnote (1): If you are starting your daytrip from a town south of Barcelona and riding the Renfe (Rodalies) commuter train, you can connect to the FGC R5 train without entering Barcelona. The Rodalies R2 train and the FGC R5 train connect at Gornal station. Please refer to the train maps linked here. Rodalies train map and FGC train map.