Poblet
Distance from L’Hospitalet de l’Infant: 75 km
Type of activity: cultural, sight-seeing
Time required: half day
 
Poblet
 
Located at the feet of the Prades Mountains, the Royal Abbey of Santa Maria de Poblet wasfounded in 1151 by Cistercian monks on lands conquered from the Arabs. This monastery was the first of three sister monasteries, known as the Cistercian triangle which also includes Santa Maria de Vallbona and Santes Creus.  Poblet was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
 
Santa María de Poblet is one of the largest and most complete Cistercian abbeys in Europe. It is a unique artistic achievement and one of the most perfect expressions of Cistercian style. It shows a unique blend of architectural forms generally reserved for distinct applications. During its history it has served as a fortress, and as a royal residence and pantheon.
 
North of the church lie several monastic buildings which include the great cloister with its fountain, chapter room, the monks’ dormitory, parlor and its annex, closed cloister, library, calefactory, refectory and kitchen. The former lay brothers' buildings are   to the west and the infirmary to the north. The monastery also includes private buildings - gatehouse and guest house to the west, the abbot's residence to the south, the prior's lodgings to the north - as well as workshops  - the kiln to the north-west, an oil mill to the south. The  organization of common spaces is mirrored by the organization of the space for the dead, i.e. one cemetery for monks, one for lay brothers, and one for the laity.
 
Poblet is also a fortress, impressive in its massive size. The abbey was transformed into a stronghold by Peter IV the Ceremonious, King of Aragón (1336-87) during the War of Castile. It was he who had the 608m of interior walls built. These walls are an excellent example of 14th-century military architecture.
 
Finally, Poblet was also a royal residence, directly linked to the history of the houses of Barcelona, Aragón and Castile. The monastery was founded by Raimond Berenguér IV (1113 –1162), the saintly Count of Barcelona, to colonize reconquered lands. Later it was considered a symbolic monument of the dynasty. Around 1349 Peter IV decided to do more than fortify Poblet. In the abbey church he had Jaime Cascalls and Jorge de Deu, masters of royal works, build a sumptuous burial place, using a completely new principle: two enormous sarcophagi resting on surbased arches. The sarcophagi served as sepultures for several kings of the houses of Catalonia and Aragón, identified by their recumbent statues: Alfonso II the Chaste, John I and John II on the southern side, James I the Conqueror, Peter IV and Ferdinand I on the northern side. Several queens are buried alongside their spouses. During its history Poblet war not only the burial site but also the residence of living kings. In 1397 Martin I commissioned the architect Arnau Bagues to transform the former lay brothers' building into a palace. Although the project was never completed, royal chambers were built for royal visitors on the east side.

Important events in the history of Spain have left their mark in Poblet. The King of Aragón, Alfonso V the Magnanimous (1396-1458), King of Aragón, Mallorca, Valencia, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and Naples and Count of Barcelona - one of the most prominent figures of the early Renaissance -  had the Chapel of St George built in 1452 to commemorate the victory at Naples in 1442. The Golden Gate was completed on the occasion of a visit by the Catholic Kings and restored during the visit of Philip II.  
During the reign of Isabella II of Spain (1830-1904) the monastery suffered severe damages during the First Carlist War in 1833 and was closed down as a result of the Ecclesiastical Confiscation Act of Mendizábal in 1835. On 24 July of the same year the monastery was plundered by government representatives and unruly mobs. During the events all valuable paintings and furniture were removed and dispersed and parts of the monastery were destroyed by fire.
 
In the years that followed Poblet fell into disrepair and ruin. The tombs of the rulers of the Kingdom of Aragón were desecrated and the remains were transferred and kept for a while in the Cathedral of Tarragona. The symbolic value of Poblet in the cultural heritage of Spain was revived in the 20th century, when king Alfonso XIII (1886-1941) visited the disused monastery in 1926 and when his burial site was transferred there in 1952.  The monastery was re-founded in 1940 by Italian monks of the same order, who started the rebuilding process. Close to the entrance of the church one building has been kept in a ruined state as a reminder of past destruction.