Cartoixa de Escaladei
Distance from L’Hospitalet de l’Infant: 70 km
Type of activity: cultural, sight-seeing
Time required: half day
 
Cartoixa de Escaladei in the Priorat

Another famous Cistercian abbey worth visiting lies in the heart of the Priorat region.  A visit to this monastery is best combined with a Tour of Wine in this world-famous wine region (see suggested itinerary). The Priorat region in fact takes its name from seven villages in the center of today’s Priorat Comarca (Comarca = administrative unit of a Spanish province) that once belonged to the prior of the abbey of Escaladei. It lies at about 20 km to the north of Falset, guarded by the imposing cliffs of the Montsant massive. Right behind Escaladei is the Parque Natural Montsant, which is also worth a visit.
 
The monastery was founded under King Alfonso I (1073-1134) the Warrior of Aragón in 1194.  The choice of the site was not just due to its favorable location, protected by the Montsant mountain range: According to a legend, a shepherd’s dream of angels climbing to heaven on a ladder inspired the founding of the abbey in this spot. The monastery was named after this holy ladder and henceforth called Scala Dei (“ladder of God”). For centuries the monks made this countryside their home, honoring the Cistercian tradition of farming and wine making.
 
The first buildings,   including the church of St. Mary abd a cloister, were still built in a style in transition from Romanesque to Gothic. In the 14th and 15th   centuries other cloisters were added. The monastery continued to flourish and was famous, among other things, for the paintings that were produced there. Between the 16th and the 18th century the buildings were partly remodeled in the Baroque and Classicist style.
 
The monastery was closed down following the Ecclesiastical Confiscation Acts of Mendizábal in 1835. The monks all fled hastily, upon which the monastery was sacked and burned. What remained was a huge pile of rubble that subsequently served as building material for the houses of the village. Restoration work began only in 1989, more than 150 years after the destruction, and will last for many years to come. The greatest part of the monastery, including the three cloisters, is in ruins, with the exception of the main façade at the entrance and the church. The beauty of the remaining structures leaves one to surmise what this place must have looked like in its heyday. The special, dreamy atmosphere far away from modern civilization makes this place well worth visiting.