Vall de Boí – Romanesque Churches

Vall de Boí – Romanesque Churches

Romanesque Churches of Vall de Boí -Catalonia's fantastic Romanesque ArtThe Vall de Boí is a beautiful valley in Catalonia (in Spain) that leads to Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. One of the things the Vall de Boí is famous for is Catalan Romanesque Churches. The area is blocked off by steep mountains on both sides, that are dotted with small villages, each one with it’s own unique Romanesque church from the 11th- 12th centuries. They are all incredibly well preserved and they have been designated a site of Outstanding Universal Value by UNESCO. If you are interested in Romanesque art, you should definitely visit them all.

This area is the homeland of my lovely husband Marc’s Catalan family, so I was expecting to be most interested in family, food and mountains. However, these churches are all so unique and beautiful that we ended up exploring quite a few of them. I especially loved that you can climb up all the church towers to see the views (and the bells!)

Vall de Boí Romanesque Churches Map

Catalan Romanesque Churches of Vall de Boí

The Romanesque Churches of Vall de Boí include the following 9 churches (plus the Romanesque Centre located in d’Erill la Vall)
– Sant Joan de Boí
– Sant Climent de Taüll
– Santa Maria de Taüll
– Santa Eulàlia d’Erill la Vall
– Sant Feliu de Barruera
– Santa Maria de Cardet
– L’Assumpció de Cóll
– Nativitat de Durro
– Sant Quirc de Durro

There is no other place in Europe that has such a well preserved group of 12th Century Churches full of Romanesque-style artwork so close together. The images in the various murals give historians clues about the lives of the villagers who lived here in medieval times.

According to UNESCOthe Romanesque art of these Pyrenean villages played a vital role in the movement for the restoration of Catalan nationality and identity in the early 20th century.” This area certainly has a strong Catalan (rather than Spanish) identity. We saw plenty of Catalan flags and yellow ribbons. Many of the artifacts and some of the murals have been removed to Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) in Barcelona. However you can still see reproductions of everything in the churches of the Vall de Boí.

Vall de Boí Romanesque Churches – Practicalities

Tickets:
It costs €2 to visit most of the churches (apart from Sant Climent de Taüll, which is €5) Or, there are quite a few variations of combined tickets. It is €7 to visit 3 churches, €10 to visit everything. They also give a 20% discount to concessions if you purchase one of the combined tickets.

Opening hours:
The opening times for all the churches can be slightly confusing. Some are only open in the morning, some are only open in the afternoon, most of them close for a couple of hours at lunchtime. Check the times before you visit to make sure you’re not disappointed. Unfortunately the churches in Cardet and Cóll are only open at weekends in July and August. 

Sant Joan de Boí

I really loved the Sant Joan de Boí church. The Village of Boí is high up in the Pyrenees so the views around the church (and the village) are spectacular. It is easy to climb up the bell tower (which is in the Lombard Romanesque style.) Two stories have been preserved, and the top section of the tower was added later. This is where I learned the word “apse” which describes the semi-circular arched vaults which are often used as altars. I have to admit, for a moment I was very confused – I thought my mum was taking about ‘apps’ for mobile phones! 

Once you go inside, you’ll see fragments of a famous collection of paintings from the 12th century that include some awesome mythical animals. The originals, the Paintings from Sant Joan in Boí, have been moved to the MNAC, but you can look at the reproductions inside the  church. There are also some really interesting panels telling the story of how these artworks were “discovered” by outsiders and the process used to remove (and preserve) them.

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For me, the best part was climbing the ladder-like stairs up the bell tower. I loved seeing the bells up close, and the views of the Pyrenees are fantastic.

Sant Climent de Taüll

If you drive up the road a small way from Boí, you’ll reach the next village of Taüll. The first church, Sant Climent de Taüll is at the entrance to the village, next to a huge car park. It is a pretty impressive church; It was built in 1123, with three apses and a six storied bell tower.

Sant Climent de Taüll – Video Mapping

The main mural that decorates the largest apse was painted by the Master of Taüll, an unknown 11th century artist. This work is super famous as it is considered to be one of the best examples of Romanesque art in Catalonia. The original has been removed and preserved in the MNAC. However the church uses “video mapping” to show how the mural would have looked in the past, and how much of it has been preserved. They basically use a projector to display how the art would have looked in situ. If you possibly can, try to visit during one of the times when they show the video mapping, if not, you can see a video of it here.

The Tower on Sant Climent de Taüll has six stories which you can climb up. The ladders up are very steep, but if you have some energy, do go up. The views are fantastic.

Santa Maria de Taüll

Just a short walk through the village will bring you to the next church, Santa Maria de Taüll, which was consecrated in the same year as Sant Climent, in 1123. The architecture of the church is similar to Sant Climent, with three apses, although the tower is slightly shorter and located in the center of the nave.

This church also has a mural, this one is of Mary and baby Jesus. As with the other artwork, the original mural was removed and is now in MNAC.

Once again, it is really fun to climb up the bell tower to see the views, and the details on the bells.

Once you have left this church, watch out for a small icecream stand. They sell SUCH good icecream. We tried creme caramel flavour and it was perfect!

Santa Eulàlia d’Erill la Vall

The next church we explored was the opposite side of the Valley in Erill la Vall. 

The Santa Eulàlia church is another one with an impressive tower. It is six stories high with double windows on all four sides – great for views of the Pyrenees. 

Pretty good views eh!?

Santa Eulàlia Church is famous for a set of 12th century sculptures called El Davallament. The original sculptures have been split up. Half of them are on display in the Episcopal Museum of Vic and the others are in MNAC. Still they look best all together above the alter.

I really liked looking at the other artworks and sculptures. It is a bit of a shame that most originals have been removed, but it is still fun to see them.

 

Centre del Romanic de la Vall de Boí

Just around the corner from this church is the CRVB museum. There were a lot of interactive displays with slightly cringy videos to explain the history of the area. I found the content fascinating, but I wasn’t a big fan of the way it is displayed. Still if you are interested in history, it is worth a visit.

Sant Feliu de Barruera

The next pretty church is right by the road in the village of Barruera at the base of the valley. This one is from the 13th Century with a single nave and a semicircular apse. Sant Feliu church seemed the most used by locals. While we were there, people were setting up for a festival the following day. 

If you climb up the stairs by the entrance you can get a good view of the inside of the church. This then leads to the stairs of the bell tower.

As always, you can get up close to the bells and see the pretty views from up high in the bell tower.

Cardet

We stayed in a pretty hamlet called Cardet that juts out above the valley. I wandered down the road one morning to take a photo back up at Cardet. Can you see all the buildings up high?

Santa Maria de Cardet

Well, Cardet may be small, but it had its own church, Santa Maria de Cardet. Apparently this church has a really cool crypt, but it is only open on weekends during the summer months. Both our mums were sad not to be able to visit it properly, but it was nice seeing the outside. 

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Santa Maria de Cóll

The next village along the valley from Cardet is Cóll. We did try to take a peek at the Santa Maria de Cóll, but like Cardet, this church is only open during weekends in July and August. 

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There are two more churches that Marc and I did not visit, La Nativitat de Durro and Sant Quirc de Durro. However our parents did take a peek at them and my mum said they were the best of all, perched up high. I might add a couple of photos of those later if my mum doesn’t mind me sharing them.

I am happy to admit, that initially we only visited these churches to keep our mums happy (our mums seemed to LOVE them, and we wanted to spend some time with our parents.) Hiking is still the best part of our trip, but the artwork (and towers) of these churches was a close second. If you’d like to read more about these fascinating landmarks, have a peek at this pdf with lots more information about them all.

Romanesque Churches of Vall de Boí - Have a look at some gorgeous Romanesque Art Romanesque Churches of Vall de Boí -Catalonia's fantastic Romanesque Art Romanesque Churches of Vall de Boí - Climb the church towers to see the Pyrenees

51 thoughts on “Vall de Boí – Romanesque Churches

  1. WOW!! Super cool. What an amazing adventure to see such incredible buildings from yesteryear.

    Do they still worship in these churches? I’ll bet that’s neat.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    1. I am pretty sure I saw the hours posted for locals to go to mass. On our last day there was a funeral being held in the church in Cardet, so they are definitely still in use.

    1. Oooh if you go back, this region is about 3.5 hours from Barcelona. It’s pretty close, but maybe slightly too far for a day trip!

    1. Thanks Anna (and you’re very welcome!) I LOVED the setting of those two in particular. Plus, I really liked the ice-cream in Taüll…

  2. What a treat having those beautifully-preserved old churches amidst that gorgeous scenery. I’m especially drawn to the Sant Climent church and that awesome view. The video mapping sounds really cool.

    1. I have to admit, I was not really interested in video mapping when the ticket lady mentioned it (I didn’t really know what she meant) It was really cool to see the art come alive like that though!

    1. Just about! I have been using Duolingo to study basic Spanish, so I can understand a little, but I’m so nervous when I attempt to speak.

      Most locals speak Catalan to each other but they often have a bit of French and English (and of course Castilian Spanish.) The ladies in the ticket offices mostly spoke English, so that part was fine. We managed, but the more Spanish/Catalan you learn the more you’ll be able to interact with locals.

    1. Yes! Cracking is a great way to describe them. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone use that as a descriptor in Canada. I might have to use it more to see if people will understand me here. 😀

    1. Marc’s mum is from this area, but she didn’t live there for nearly 40 years(!) It was really cool that she got to have so many reunions while we explored. I loved hearing her stories about the area and finding out how much it has changed since she was a child.

  3. Watch a shame so much of the original artwork has been removed. It’s says much about it’s quality and value, but it seems wrong not to be able to see it in the situ.

    Still laughing about the idea of the churches having apps for talking to God.

    1. Lol my first thought was it was some kind of app to tell her about the history. But she doesn’t have a smartphone! 🤣🤣🤣

      It is a huge shame about the artwork’s removal, but it is also pretty interesting.

      In other parts of Spain these kinds of murals were sold off to private collectors (often abroad.) They had a hard time moving these ones in the 1920s as the locals were very vocal about not allowing them to be taken. It’s part of the reason the Catalan people woke up to their own national identity. They started to push for reforms and protections for historical sites like these, but then also started to push for reforms for Catalan people in general. It’s still a hot topic now as we saw flags, ribbons and messages about Catalan Independence all over this region.

      It’s a very complicated topic and I am not an expert at all. That is why I didn’t mention much about it in the main blog.

      1. I hadn’t realised that was one of the driving forces. Fascinating and, as you stay, a story that is far from over. I love Barcelona but haven’t really explored Catalonia much beyond there. Would love to–especially after reading this.

  4. I love the the look and history of these ancient churches. They are works of art in themselves! The are all so interesting, but my favorite might be Sant Feliu de Barruera, with the single nave and bell-tower. Taking note for an upcoming trip to the Catalan region.

    1. Oooh yay Jackie you will LOVE the whole region. Do you know where you are heading already? If I can give you advice to help you plan i’d be happy to help. 😀

  5. Such pretty churches in all these villages. Aren’t you glad you kept your mums happy and visited these, otherwise you would have missed out on these little gems. I would love to visit Catalan next time I go to Spain. Graçias.

    1. Oooh I am so chuffed that you like it Hannah. We’ll have to swap as I would like to visit the museum now, and you can visit the churches. 😀

  6. These are such beautiful churches, so much character. It’s nice to see a church that’s a little rough around the edges too as opposed to perfectly pristine – they’re definitely unlike any church I’ve stepped foot in. The towns alone look so pretty though!

    1. Thanks Rachel! Yeah I had never seen artwork quite like this either. I can see why the locals are so proud of it all.

  7. This looks like such a cool place. I have not read about it before so it was definitely a great addition to my churches to visit list 🙂

    1. Yes I think so. Most of the time they are open for tourism, but they almost all posted times when you could visit for services.

  8. Wow, what a great tip! I love visiting such old buildings and these ancient paintings look amazing. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Wow, this looks like such a beautiful area to visit. The stunning valley and picturesque villages with mountain backdrop look picture perfect. The churches look amazing to explore and love that you can go inside and up the towers as well to get more incredible views 🙂

  9. Seems Spain has a disproportionate no. of churches with bell towers that you can climb! We spent a week in the western part of the country in December and climbed up SO MANY that it kind of became our exercise routine for the week, haha! But none had quite the views that you’ve got here. Especially love Sant Joan de Boí – looks so magical framed against the mountains in the background.

  10. You’re right! Such beautiful views of the Pyrenees Mountains! Your post is inspiring me to learn more about the history of Catalonia. I used to work in a historic synagogue / museum, and I love learning all the stories that a building can tell about the history and context a space. (That being said, ‘historic’ in NYC means from the 1800s. Europe is a bit of a different scale for structures that are still standing!)

  11. Oh my gosh, what an amazing treasure these churches are! It sounds like perhaps they were preserved so well because of their somewhat remote surroundings. The artwork really is stunning and I especially love the arches in the Sant Joan de Boí. It’s cool that you’re allowed to go up the bell towers and check out the panoramic views, too. The mountains in this area are amazing!

    On a side note, have you been to Andorra? I see that it’s nearby and I’m always intrigued by Europe’s smallest countries. Would love to know what it’s like if you have!

  12. Wow such beautiful Romanesque churches! We’ve been to Catalonia several times but never heard of the Vall de Boí. Now we have to go there next time. And probably also visit Andorra since it’s so close!

  13. What a lovely destination with such beautifully-preserved old churches along with a scenery to admire. Sant Climent church and that awesome view must be a favourite among the crowds.

  14. Oh wow, what a nice place! I’ve traveled across Catalonia before but never heard of this region. I always like to visit historic churches/mosques/temples while traveling and Romanesque architecture is absolutely beautiful.

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