Reial Monestir de Santes Creus

Top choice in Catalonia

On approaching this majestic monastery, an atmosphere of awe descends in broad Plaça de Sant Bernat Calbó: its mix of architectural styles spans seven centuries, including an ornamental 18th-century fountain. Behind the monastery's Romanesque-Gothic facade lie a 14th-century Gothic sandstone cloister (note the carved elephant and monkey on the 12th-century lavabo), a 12th-century chapter house whose ceiling ripples with rib-shaped vaults, a church begun in the 12th century, and royal apartments for the comtes-reis (count-kings; rulers of the joint state of Catalonia and Aragón).

The church is a lofty Gothic structure in the French tradition, with a couple of royal tombs; the north side of the transept has rare examples of Cistercian stained glass dating to the 13th century. Cistercian monks arrived here in 1160; from then on the monastery developed as a major centre of learning and a launch pad for the repopulation of the surrounding territory. Audiovisual presentations (Catalan, Spanish, English and more) give background info.

The monastery is 15km northeast of Valls and well signposted.

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