Just 50km North of Barcelona lays La Muntanya de Montserrat one of the most striking rock formations of all Catalunya. A spur of 10km by 5 km, this relatively small range amazes by its brusk 1000-meter rise, in steps of breathtaking vertical cliffs and strangely shaped rock towers. It is often said that all of the Catalan territory can be seen from El Mirador de San Jeroni, Montserrat’s 1236 meters culminant point, as well as the Baleares, the Pyrenees, Aragon and Valencia.
Perhaps the most recognizable feature of Montserrat is the Cavall Bernat, a fantastic rock needle dominating the view from below.
The Montserrat massif is composed of very dense conglomerate rock, created from an accumulation of river sediments that occurred some 38 million years ago. This material remained underwater for millions of years, where it acquired its high density, before being raised above the waters by tectonic forces and eroded into its present shapes.
Montserrat plays a very important part in the Catalan folklore and its toponomy has many links to the local history. Any visitor will quickly understand the reasons for this: the mountain has something eerie and mysterious to it that strikes the imagination and gives an aura of supernatural. This is particularly true in foggy weather, when rock towers are veiled and revealed as if the rock was in motion.
The story of human interaction with Montserrat goes back several hundred years. The principal legend attached to the area is La Virgen de Montserrat, also called La Moreneta, the patron saint of Catalunya. According to the story, in 880, a light led young herdsmen into a cave where they found a statue of a dark Virgin Mary. The local bishop tried to bring the statue to the nearby city of Manresa, but its weight was so great that they were not able to do it. The bishop interpreted this as a divine sign and gave orders for the construction of the hermitage of Santa Maria, which later became the Monastery of Montserrat.
Today, Montserrat is a classic outing for Catalans and foreign visitors. The Monastery attracts many, for spiritual reasons or just for the sights, and easy access by rack train, cable car, bus or car causes the place and its immediate surroundings to become very busy on sunny Sundays. Even if this activity can be somewhat of a burden, it is not difficult to find great, secluded areas in Monsterrat at any time of the year. There are many entry points to the massif, most of which are less crowded, and usually visited by the outdoor-oriented only. In particular, there is a lifetime of excellent quality climbing to be done on these conglomerate cliffs, which will be the theme of many upcoming posts.