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Some 40 miles northwest of Barcelona, the rugged chalk cliffs of the Sierra de Montserrat (national park) tower over the Santa Maria Monastery, a national shrine for the Catalan people. As early as the Middle Ages, it developed into an important pilgrimage site after the legendary discovery of a statue of the Virgin Mary, and even today more than 750,000 believers every year still flock to see the “Moreneta” (“Black Madonna”), a foot-high figure of the Madonna and baby Jesus wrapped in a golden cloth. In 1808, Napoleon's troops burned nearly the whole place to the ground, and all that survived were the Romanesque church portal and the Gothic cloisters. But the entire monastery was rebuilt some 50 years later.

It is an important Benedictine monastery which became a center of the Renaixen?a – the rediscovery of the Catalan culture – during the 19th century. As well as the church, the printworks, goldsmiths' workshop and the library are all worth seeing. And no visitor should leave without trying the homemade cheese, honey and herb liqueur, known as ”Aromes de Montserrat”, sold by the monks.

© Berlitz Publishing/Apa Publications GmbH & Co KG, Singapore Branch, Singapore

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