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Visiting Monestir de Pedralbes

While it may be relatively unknown to many, the Reial Monestir de Santa Maria de Pedralbes remains a true medieval gem worth discovering. Located far from the bustling city center, this beautiful cloister is considered the world’s largest Gothic cloister. It’s a place for silence, peace, and reflection.

During my studies, I worked as a guide and cashier at the Monestir de Pedralbes, allowing me to closely experience this museum. Today, I’d love to take you on a journey to this fantastic Gothic monastery and introduce you to this magical space and my favorite spots.

History of the Monestir de Pedralbes

We can’t start our tour without learning a bit about the history of this Gothic monastery. It was built under the command of Queen Elisenda de Montcada, a deeply religious woman. In 1326, Elisenda purchased this land in Pedralbes, west of the old town of Sarrià, to build a monastery. Completed in 1327, it initially housed fourteen nuns from the Order of the Poor Clares. The original name, Petras Albas (‘white stones’), relates to the color of the stones used in the monastery’s construction.

After becoming a widow, Queen Elisenda moved into a palace adjacent to the monastery in early 1328 (which no longer exists). From there, she continued her efforts to protect the monastery, through donations and ensuring it was under the protection of the Consell de Cent. She died in 1364 in the monastery, as per her last wishes, and was buried there. The community eventually grew to forty nuns.

Thanks to the queen’s favor, the monastery secured a solid economic position. However, in medieval Catalonia, women couldn’t assume such high levels of responsibility, like managing their properties. That’s why a second Franciscan monastery, known as the “conventet,” was built alongside, with the Franciscans handling the administration and serving as spiritual leaders for the nuns. The conventet still exists but is now owned by the Godia family and is not open to visitors.

The monastery experienced both fame and difficult years, like during wars and confiscation processes. In 1931, the monastery was declared a historical and artistic monument. Part of the Monestir de Pedralbes became a museum in the late 20th century, hosting the highly popular Thyssen Bornemisza exhibition. The museum is now part of the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, an entity managing and opening dozens of city attractions to the public.

Monastery and part of the church in the back
Monastery and part of the church in the back

Who Lived in the Monestir de Pedralbes?

The nuns inhabiting the Monestir de Pedralbes were from the Order of the Poor Clares and led a life of austerity, with prayer being of utmost importance, along with caring for the monastery. They were not allowed contact with the outside world, so everything was done within the monastery walls. Under the royal protection of the Consell de Cent, it quickly became a stronghold for Catalan noble families, who readily sent their family women to the monastery. This further elevated the monastery’s fame and importance.

The Pedralbes monastery has also sheltered many nuns from lower social classes throughout its history. However, life in the monastery wasn’t entirely equal for everyone. A nun’s position within the monastery’s society was determined by the dowry she brought in. Thus, it was common for most abbesses to be from noble families, while the more laborious or unpleasant tasks (such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for the sick) were carried out by nuns from lower classes.

Rich or poor, life was tough in the monastery. Once entered, all obligations and demands of the community and the abbess had to be met.

Tour of the Monestir de Pedralbes

The Monestir de Pedralbes, as the name suggests, is located in the Pedralbes district of Barcelona. Among the houses of the well-to-do stands this Gothic monastery. The entrance to the Monestir itself is almost hidden, and you have to look for it behind an old stone arch at Carrer del Bisbe Català / Avinguda d’Esplugues. The alleyway behind the arch leads to the monastery and church, which used to serve as the entrance gate.

After purchasing your ticket, you can enter the Monestir. First, notice the bell next to the entrance, which was formerly used by couples in love to give a large basket of eggs to the Poor Clares in exchange for a divine blessing before getting married. You can still do this, but now at the corner of Carrer Montevideo, where the nuns currently reside.

Inside the monastery, the first thing that strikes you is the patio with its beautiful Gothic arches. The broken tiles on the floor are a result of the French War (1808-1814), when Napoleon’s French troops invaded the monastery and, after driving out the nuns, converted it into a military barracks. The French horses and weapons permanently damaged these floor tiles.

The first room to catch your attention is the Capella de Sant Miquel. The paintings in this chapel were made by Ferrer Bassa, considered the Catalan Giotto. Influenced by the Italian Gothic style, these paintings depict various religious scenes.

Another notable element on the ground floor is the tomb of Queen Elisenda. Interestingly, this tomb has two faces: on the church corner, an image of Elisenda dressed as a queen, and on the monastery side, Elisenda depicted as a widow.

You can freely walk around the monastery and stand in the middle of the garden to view the well and plants. Did you know that the Monestir de Pedralbes is considered the world’s largest Gothic cloister?

The first room you encounter on the tour displays medieval artworks. The theme of the exhibition is naturally religion in the Middle Ages. Keep in mind that this room, known as “El Dormitori” (‘the bedroom’), was where all the nuns slept.

After touring the room, you’ll reach the upper floor, where you can admire the monastery from above. Pay attention to the small spaces where nuns used to pray and spend their daytime.

Downstairs, you can visit the kitchen and dining room, among the most impressive sections. Can you imagine the nuns eating and cooking here?

Equally impressive is the old hospital, where the sick were cared for. This hospital could be sealed off from the rest of the monastery to prevent epidemics from spreading among the nuns.

The tour ends with a visit to the Sala Capitular, used for important meetings of the religious community.

You can take a final stroll around the monastery to enjoy the tranquility before returning to the streets. This monastery is an ideal space to escape from the city and to rest and meditate.

I personally loved working here. The security’s stories about their night watches and the sounds they occasionally heard were fascinating. It was also special to see all the closed spaces that are only visible to employees. There were even rumors of secret passages to the Franciscan monastery, but whether that’s true or not remains unknown to me.

Practical Information

  • Where: Baixada del Monestir, 9
  • Metro: Reina Elisenda (L6)
  • When: Open April to September from 10:00 to 17:00 (Saturdays until 19:00 and Sundays until 20:00). From October to March from 10:00 to 14:00. Saturdays and Sundays until 17:00. Note: the museum is always closed on Mondays.
  • Price: Entry costs €5 (free for children under 16) and grants access to multiple museums of the Museu d’Història de Barcelona.

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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