Montsant - Spain



Located at the south of Catalonia, the Montsant is a mountain massif which has been considered holy through the ages, as its name reveals –literally holy mountain, in Catalan. During the early Medieval ages a tradition of eremitic life developed, which has lasted to the present day. During the period of the Muslim rule (7-11th centuries) the massif was named jabal al barakah, i.e. the blessed mountain. During the 12-14th centuries Montsant become the property of the Cistercian convent of Bonrepòs. From the 15th to the beginning of the 19th century (when the Spanish government took over all the properties of the Church) the Montsant was managed by the poweful and influential Carthusian of Scala Dei, i.e Ladder to God, from which this radical monastic order spread to all the Iberian kingdoms. During the 16th to the18th centuries the Montsant became one of the main eremitic centers of the Latin Christendom, attracting people from the entire Kingdom of Aragon, which extended from the eastern Iberian Peninsula until the southern Italian Peninsula and the islands in between, such as Sicily. During the 19th century, the decline of the eremitic life allowed a revival of local popular piety in a number of these hermitages, which became –and still are– religious centres for all the villages around the Montsant, which organise there pilgrimages and celebrations.


The natural heritage of Montsant is also very significant. The geomorphology is spectacular, including large cliffs of conglomerate rocks, pinnacles of many different shapes, caves and canyons, some of outstanding beauty, such as the canyon of the Montsant River. Vegetation is characterised by Mediterranean forests, mainly evergreen oak and dry oak forests and with some pine forests and pasturelands as transitional communities. Fauna is also rich, including populations of small predators such as Martes foina, Meles meles, Felis sylvestris, etc. Raptors include the endangered golden eagle and Bonelli eagle, in addition to several species of falcons. Numerous species of reptilians and invertebrates are present, including the much endangered river crab (Austropotamobius pallipes).


To ensure its protection, the Government of Catalonia declared Serra del Montsant as a Natural Park in 2002. Four years later, because of its notable fauna and flora values, it became part of the European Nature 2000 network.  


The Montsant combines, thus, significant natural, cultural and spiritual values. Its religious values were outstanding in the past and continue to some extent into the present, being widely recognised and celebrated by the local population. The Board of the Natural Park has already promoted a number of positive actions related to the non material values, especially around the most popular hermitages, but more initiatives could be developed, based on the experience of other protected areas with similar characteristics.