The 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 UNESCO “the 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.