Poblet Monastery. The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet is a place of great significance to Catalan and even Spanish history.
The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet
The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet is located in the province of Tarragona and in the region of Cuenca del Barberá. Most know it by its shorter name Monasterio de Poblet (Poblet Monastery).
This Cistercian style architectural ensemble has experienced periods of great splendor and decline over its nearly one thousand year history. According to the book of precepts entitled Rule of Saint Benedict, a monastery could only be founded on sites that met certain conditions: it must be isolated, have an abundance of water, and the surrounding land must be extensive enough for the monastery’s agriculture to guarantee its sustainability. All these requirements were carefully considered when Poblet Monastery was founded. Sometime around 1150, the Count of Barcelona Ramon Berenguer IV approved the building site for the monastery, a location that seems made to order. The monastery sits in the center of a scenic setting that is home to over 50 natural springs along with lush poplar groves (the name Poblet is derived from the Latin word for poplar grove: populetum).
The monastery held the royal Aragon mausoleum until the final years of the House of Aragon. After this period of maximum opulence Poblet began to decline. Later, expensive modifications and works to extend the monastic ensemble were carried out. The work was so costly that it outraged the monks and prompted them to turn against the abbot. By the 19th century, the approval of a set of decrees known as the desamortización de Mendizábal lead to the expropriation of Spanish monastic properties. Poblet Monastery was soon left abandoned. It was not until about 1930 that sponsorship known as the Patronato de Poblet was created in an effort to recover what was left of the building and the artwork that had not been sacked. In 1940, Saint Benedict monks once again resided in the monastery.
Poblet’s intriguing history has left a visible architectural impact on the structure. Observers can behold an evolution of styles that reflects the monastery’s changing condition over the centuries, from its period of splendor that lasted from the 12th to the 14th centuries, until its definitive renovation in the 20th century. Poblet displays a rich sampling of Spanish religious architecture that capture every age of the monastery’s dramatic past.
Poblet Monastery has been accredited as a World Heritage Site since 1991 together with the monasteries of Guadalupe, El Escorial, San Millán de Yuso, and San Millán de Suso. The emblematic value that Catalans place on El Poblet was made particularly evident in the 1990´s when the Catalan bank financed the building of a traditionally and masterfully crafted 15 ton organ to be placed within the monastery’s centuries-old walls. The organ, containing 3,000 pipes, was built by one of the world’s most prestigious companies in organ-making.
Visitors may also stay in the guest quarters managed here by monks. There are two types of accommodation arrangements: the internal option, in which the guest must follow the schedule and routine of the local community, and the external option, which offers visitors a little more flexibility.
Poblet Monastery has evolved with the times to achieve a high level of sustainability in terms of its management of hydraulic energy which earned the facility an award from the European Renewable Energies Federation. The federation granted the prize considering the monastery management’s effective ability to economize and optimize water consumption along with its sustainable photovoltaic and wind electricity facilities. Solar panels are not used, as these would compromise the architectural aesthetic of the building.
The monastery also organizes activities such as “El cielo de Poblet”, in which visitors first have dinner and then enjoy a guided tour of the star-filled night sky, a particularly exciting experience in this secluded area isolated from electric light interference.
In summary, Poblet Monastery is a place of great significance to Catalan and even Spanish history. It is also a valuable display of historic religious art and architecture and it is an admirable example of practical and efficient environmental sustainability. This attractive monastery with a fascinating past is definitely a worthwhile place to visit for a weekend if you plan on being in Tarragona.