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Romanesque treasures attract travelers to Catalonia

Two new but historic hotels add another reason to visit
Barcelona, Spain – Barcelona is one of Spain’s most popular destinations, and it's and an ideal jumping-off point to explore the fascinating region of Catalonia. A treasure trove of Romanesque art and architecture, Catalonia contains more than 2,000 Romanesque monuments: churches and monasteries, castles and fortified houses, renovated manor houses and unusual buildings like the Jewish milwàs as well as bridges, mills and civic buildings. Priceless mural paintings, illuminated manuscripts, sculptures and altar decorations have been carefully preserved.

The Catalan Department of Tourism has identified six rutas that allow visitors to experience this rich Romanesque heritage and travelers can find them on the Tourist Office of Spain’s web site Now two recently-opened, four-star boutique hotels: the Duquesa de Cardona in Barcelona and the Bremon Hotel in Cardona allow travelers to live in refined 19th century style – with all the latest modern comforts – and experience this rich Romanesque heritage.

The first stop on the Romanesque ruta should be the Catalan Museum of Art atop Barcelona’s Montjuïc – reopened last December – which gives visitors an overview of the region’s history a thousand years ago. Romanesque art was the first artistic movement to spread internationally across Europe. Appearing during the Middle Ages around 1000 A.D. – an age of prosperity and euphoria as various European nationalities were taking shape – the movement blended Roman architecture with Carolingian art. Romanesque was an original, vigorous style that lasted well into the 13th century.

The museum has the world’s greatest display of these works including the most emblematic pieces – the mural paintings – which are exceptional and considered unique in the world. Some magnificent 12th century frescos from a number of the region’s Catalan churches are displayed here on replicated vaulted ceilings. Wooden altarpieces, stone sculptures and metal and enamel work from the 11th to the 13th centuries are exhibited here.

Barcelona’s most important Romanesque monument is the 11th century church of Sant Pau del Camp. Inside, a 13th century cloister with triple-lobed arches is the only one of its kind in the region. The Church of Sant Pere de les Puelles still retains part of the 10th century Greek cross structure and its belfry is Romanesque.

Romanesque routes in Catalonia
The Catalan Department of Tourism suggests these six main Romanesque routes:

• La Seu d’Urgell to La Tossa de Montbui via the Segry Valley – In the well-sited town of La Seu d’Urgell, the magnificent 12th century Santa Maria cathedral is the region’s most outstanding example of Italian-style Romanesque architecture and the 11th century Sant Pere i Sant Miguel has an excellent museum.

• The Vall d’Aran to Lleida via Pallars and Ribagorça – The Romanesque churches in the Vall de Boí – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – blend harmoniously into the majestic mountain scenery. Dominating Lleida is a large ruined fort taken from the Moors in 1149 and within its walls is La Seu Vella, constructed in the Romanesque-Gothic transition style.

• Penedès to “New Catalonia” via the monasteries of the Cistercians – The “Cistercian triangle” monasteries: Poblet, Santes Creus and Vallbona de les Monges helped consolidate Catalonia’s power after the defeat of the Moors. Resting place of kings, Poblet was the most important and Santes Creus – built in the Romanesque-Gothic transition style – the prettiest.

• Cerdanya to Barcelona via the Llobregat and Cardener valleys – The 13th century Cardona castle – now a parador – belonged to one of Catalonia’s most important noble lineages who are buried next door in the early 11th century church Esglesia de Sant Vicenç considered a masterpiece of early Romanesque architecture.

• Pyrenees to Barcelona via Ripollès, Osona and Vallès - Called the “cradle of Catalonia,” Ripoll has the Monestir de Santa Maria (888 A.D.), the power base of the House of Barcelona’s founder. In Vic, a 150-foot tower from the 11th century rises over this country town known for its market days and the Museu Episcopal has one of the world’s most extensive Romanesque sculpture collections.

• The Empordà and Garrotxa to Selva via Girona – Travelers enter the magnificent medieval town of Besalú across a fortified bridge and come to two lovely Romanesque churches: Sant Vicenç and Sant Pere and a mivah, a ritual Jewish bath from 1264. The Torre de Carlemany in Girona is one of the most beautiful bell towers in all of Catalonia. Magnificently situated overlooking the sea, the former Benedictine monastery Sant Pere de Rodes is architecturally significant.

Two new Barcelona hotels in historic buildings
Overlooking Barcelona’s waterfront on the maritime promenade and right on the edge of the Barri Gòtic, the city’s atmospheric medieval quarter, the four-star Duquesa de Cardona opened earlier this year. Since the 16th century, the property has belonged to the Cardona family and the present building – designed in an eclectic style with neoclassical inspiration – dates from 1850.

The intimate 44-room hostelry boasts a roof-top pool and solarium with sweeping views of the city from the harbor to the foothills of Montjuïc. The vaulted ceilings, towering columns and frescoed walls of the elegant lobby and adjoining restaurant make a grand impression. Original artwork and contemporary furnishings in an elegant palate of terracotta and pale ochre decorate the well-proportioned rooms that are equipped with flat screen TV and high speed Internet.

And just 50 minutes from Barcelona, Cardona is an excellent base for travelers to delve into the region’s Romanesque sites. Right in the heart of the city’s medieval district, the four-star Bremon Hotel (opened in June) is fashioned out of a 19th century elementary school. Guests enter this 19-room boutique property through etched glass doors. In the Les Monges Restaurant where framed photographs of former students line the terra cotta walls, regional dishes made from seasonal products like this fall’s mushrooms are featured. Stylish contemporary furniture and original etchings by well-known Spanish artists decorate the rooms which have all the latest amenities including flat screen satellite television and broadband Internet connection.

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