My well-known affinity for sacred architecture did not translate into significant appreciation of Poblet Monastery. The World Heritage inscription mentions majestic architecture on more than one occasion and uses the word “important” with a variety of emphatic modifiers to describe its place in the history of Catalonia. I saw an impressive enough complex with little that was truly extraordinary. The historical context stayed beyond me.
This was largely a function of the constraints of the visit. You can freely wander around the territory inside the outer walls of the monastery, but getting inside the main part of the complex is possible only roughly once an hour in the company of a guide. The tour is conducted in either Spanish or Catalan. If you indicate at the reception that you do not speak the language, you get a small booklet with explanations instead. Then, during the tour, you are allowed to explore on your own and not follow the guided group. Sounds like a pretty good deal for someone who dislikes crowds until you realize that the booklet throws historical facts at you and mentions key features of every space you see without tying it into a coherent picture. I am left wondering whether an ability to understand the tour guide would be key to get more value out of the visit.
That being said, there are certainly some interesting features at Poblet Monastery that can be observed without any guidance. The most obvious of them is the unusual façade of the main church, with a cluster of decorations on an otherwise blank wide wall.
The photographer at that point stands on Plaça Major, the wide main square of the complex which is accessible at no charge. Technically, you are inside the monastery when you are here. But the real visit starts only once you step through the gates of the innermost enclosure, which contains the church, the cloisters, and the monastic rooms.
First, you are shown to the cloisters. In my view, they are not as impressive as the ones I have seen earlier that same day in Tarragona. Plus, you are not allowed to step onto the central garden. But there is some intricate stonework and plasterwork all around.
At some point, you can proceed to the main church. Its most memorable feature are elevated marble royal tombs that I unfortunately did not photograph all that well.
A couple of other shots in the church.
Beyond the church you walk through a number of spaces, this hall being among the more impressive ones.
The library appears – as is often the case – one of the most impressive rooms in the complex, but you can only look at it through a glass door.
You also step out onto an upper terrace and get a different perspective of the monastery towers.
On a stairway back to the ground level, the handrail is an iron-wrought many-legged dragon. Its sinuous body and legs are in this perspective.
And here is an attempt to capture the dragon’s head.
When you are done with the tour, you leave via Plaça Major again so that you can get another good look at that façade.
Poblet is about an hour and a half drive from Barcelona, or 40 minutes from Tarragona. The tour of the monastery lasts about 45 minutes. If you time your arrival to quarter of an hour before the next scheduled tour, you may be able to see all there is to see in about an hour. Two hours is the most you’ll need for the visit.