The Serrated Mountains of the Black Virgin

Montserrat is a jagged mountain spanning the comarcas of Bages, Anoia and Baix Llobregat. The name literally translated as "Serrated Montain" and the range is a prominent feature not only of the Catalan skyline but also of the regions culture and traditions. The range is home to a Benedictine abbey and the Monastery of Montserrat, which houses the iconic Black Virgin.

The name comes from the word mont (mountain) and serra (mountain range). This in turn derives from the latin word for a saw blade and describes the visual impact of the range.

In heraldic representations, Montserrat appears as a cluster of golden mountains on a red background with a golden saw above them. The Caribbean island of Montserrat was given its name by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and also has an extensive jagged mountain range.

As a title of the Virgin Mary, Montserrat is also often used as a female Christian name, which is normally abbreviated to Montse.

Geography and Geology

Montserrat is an oddly-shaped massif the rises up to the east of the River Llobregat to a maximum height of 1,236.4 at the summit. The other major peaks are el Cavall Bernat, les Agulles, el Serrat del Moro, el Montgròs, Sant Joan and la Palomera and the area was declared a nature park in 1987. 

Over thousands of years, isostatic and tectonic, changes in climate and erosion formed the harsh relief of the Montserrat range with its sheer walls and rounded peaks with tinges of rose-coloured clay. Inside the range, the karstic erosion of the limestone has created caves, chasms and watercourses.

Mediterranean woodland covers large parts of Montserrat, with high numbers of holm oaks. As far as the fauna is concerned, you can find birds such as crag martins, wallcreepers while overhead fly a variety of birds of prey, who compete with wild cats in the hunt for martens, squirrels, bats and other rodents. You'll also find wild boar and goats.

History and Culture

According to legend, the image of the Mare de Déu or Virgin Mary was discovered by some children around the year 880 close to the Santa Cova. Apart from the Monastery and Santa Cova, Montserrat has a good number of small churches and hermitages, such as Santa Cecília, Sant Benet, Sant Joan, Santa Magdalena, Sant Miquel and Sant Jeroni. 

The Mare de Déu de Montserrat, commonly known as "la Moreneta", is a Romanesque wooden sculpture and its black colour is a result of the degradation of the varnish over the passage of time.

The festival of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, patron saint of Catalonia, is on April 27th.

Amongst the various parts of the Monastery it is worth paying special attention to the chapter house, the neo-romanesque cloister and the refectory, all of which were renovated by architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1925.

The current Benedictine community is made up of eighty monks, who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict from the 6th century, and their main purpose is to maintain the mountain as a place of meeting and prayer.

Culture is also an important part of Montserrat and the Monastery has a library containing almost 300,000 books, a choir school considered the oldest children's singing school in Europe and a museum with works of art by painters of the calibre of el Greco, Picasso or Dalí as well as many other fascinating pieces, including ancient Egyptian relics, such as a mummy.

The Monastery of Montserrat is also home to publishing endeavours such as Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat and the magazine Serra d'Or.

Outdoor Activities

Because of its unique characteristics, Montserrat is the perfect place to pursue open air activities with rock climbing being clearly the most important although in recent years the via ferratas have grown in use. Similarly, Montserrat is the starting point for hiking routes.

Rock climbing: The zona de les Agulles on Montserrat is legendary among climbers because the number of routes of varying difficulty. The zone of Gorros and Sant Benet is one of the most popular and scaling Cavall Bernat is one of the best-known climbs on Montserrat. Other popular climbs are on the northern faces, for example El Serrat del Moro or La Paret de l'Aeri.

Via ferrata: The large faces and watercourses have resulted in the appearance of via ferratas, which are climbing routes provided with iron cables, rungs and hooks. La Via ferrada Teresina and el Joc de l'Oca are the most popular. Furthermore, given the abrupt changes in level and difficulty in getting up various parts of the range climbing aids can be found can be found in many areas.

Hiking: The many paths and tracks give walkers the chance to go on everything from from short excursions to long challenging hikes all around Montserrat. The starting points are the Monastery, Santa Cecília, Can Maçana and Collbató. You can climb Sant Jeroni from the Monastery (1 h 30 min) or do La Transmontserratina (from Can Maçana to the Monastery) in 7 hours. You can also walk the GR172 (a long-distance path), which crosses the northern side of Montserrat.

Getting to Montserrat

Road: You can reach Montserrat by road from Monistirol, Sant Salvador de Guardiola and El Bruc.

Ferrocarrils: You can also take a cable car from the Aeri de Montserrat station, which is on the Barcelona-Manresa line of the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) or take the Montserrat Rack Railway, which leaves from the neighbouring FGC station of Monistirol. There are also two funicalars, which also leave from Monistirol station, and will take you to the Hermitages of Sant Joan and La Santa Cova respectively.

Excursions: You can also book a day trip called the Montserrat Experience from Barcelona.

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