Sort is the capital of the county of Pallars Sobira, the largest region in Catalonia. 6,666 people live in its 1,377 km2; with just 4.8 inhabitants per km2 it is one of the lowest population densities in the country. Some say it is precisely for this reason that we can today find one of the most valued cultural riches in the Pyrenees practically intact: Pallars Sobira’s Lombard Romanesque route. Built between the 11th and 12th centuries with a very personal Romanesque style marked by a Lombard influence, the churches had fresco murals on their interior walls which have managed to survive the passing of the centuries.

For better or for worse, these buildings are not well known. The dispersion of the churches across the territory and the lack of organised signs in the Vall de Boi makes visiting them difficult. However, taking our personal Romanesque tour in almost complete solitude gave us a sense of exclusivity and history we had never before experienced in the Catalan Pyrenees.

It is nearly impossible to list all the region’s historic buildings, but here what in our opinion the best (though far from being the only) route to see the most representative of the Pallars Sobira Lombard Romanesque churches:

1. Santa Maria Monastery in Gerri de la Sal. This monastery dates back to 807 and was built following the pattern of medieval monastic buildings. It was one of the richest monasteries in the Urgell bishopric, with a large estate that included the mining of salt and the salt lakes, which give the town its name (Sal). It is a highly recommendable visit.

To arrange visits: +34 667 70 1820 / monestirdegerri@gmail.com  /  How to get there: travel on the N-260 until you reach the village of Gerri (free public car park).

2. Sant Joan Romanesque Church in Isil. The ancient monastery of Sant Joan d’Isil, built on the banks of the Noguera Pallaresa River, is a Romanesque construction from the 12th century. It was probably built on the site of a former Benedictine monastery from 1095 and it was declared an Artistic Historic National Monument in 1951.

To arrange visits: +34 973 62 64 36 / ecomaneu@ecomuseu.com / How to get there: travel from Esterri d’Aneu on the C-13 until you reach Isil.

3. Sant Pau i Sant Pere Church and Romanesque Paintings, Esterri de Cardos.  Built in the 11th century, this is a building with Romanesque origins completed with a semi-circular apse in the Lombard Romanesque tradition. On the high altar there is a copy of the 12th century mural paintings. The originals are in the MNAC (Catalan National Art Museum) in Barcelona.

To arrange visits: +34 973 62 3184 / ajuntament@esterricardos.ddl.net / How to get there: from Llavorsi on the L-504 until you reach Ainet de Cardos, then towards Esterri de Cardos. The church is in the upper part of the village.

4. Sant Pere Monastery in Burgal. This Benedictine monastic building dating back to 859 is one of the most important examples of Catalan medieval monasteries. It is a restored building with three naves from the Lombard architecture of the 11th century. The murals have been reproduced and the originals can be seen at the MNAC in Barcelona.

How to get there: it is near the village of Escalo, next to the C-13, between Llavorsi and La Guingueta. It is located in front of the village and can only be reached on foot.

5. Santa Maria d’Aneu Church. This is the only monument which remains from the 9th century monastic buildings. It has wooden beam vaulting, crowned by a semi-circular apse and a wide presbytery arch. The paintings in the central apse, the only one of the three originals left, is one of the most important pictorial groups in the Catalan Romanesque style, owing to its artistic quality and the iconographic originality. The originals have been moved to the MNAC in Barcelona.

How to get there: leave Sort on the C-13 in the direction of Esterri d’Aneu. Before reaching Esterri, take the turn to the right that will take you to the church.

6. Sant Iscle i Santa Victoria Romanesque Church in Surp. This is a modest rural building with a single wooden nave ending in a semi-circular apse. Its tower, attached to the north-western side of the church, rises in two belfries, each crowned by blind arches and cornices. The interior mural decoration has been attributed to the Master of the Final Judgement from the Santa Maria church in Taüll. Its remains are distributed between the MNAC in Barcelona, the Urgell Diocese Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio.

To arrange visits: +34 973 62 0365/ ajuntament@rialp.ddl.net / How to get there: from Rialp head towards Llavorsi on the C-13 until you reach Surp.

7. Santa Maria Romanesque Church in Ribera de Cardos. This is a church with a bell tower attached to the main building. Only the cylindrical apse and the western façade remain from the original building. It is one of the most original examples of the Romanesque in Pallars Sobira.

To arrange visits: +34 973 62 31 22. / How to get there: travel from Llavorsi on the C-13, continue on the L-504 until you reach Ribera de Cardós.

Taking the entire tour including visits to all the churches can take a whole day. However, the visits can be done in parts on different days. The route is a good option to discover the whole valley as it passes through the most typical villages on the way to the Aigüestortes National Park and Sant Maurici Lake.

Following this short 1,000-year-old route helps us to understand a mystery which endures even today: how man could dominate the incredibly difficult and inhumane environment of the Pyrenees in the middle ages.

The route

There is no specifically marked out route to visit the Romanic churches of Pallars Sobirá; and therefore one can personalize one’s route, follow your own order and take as a long as you wish. However, we do recommend you start with Santa Maria de la Guerri de la Sal – name of the hamlet by a peaceful river – and then work towards Esterri d’Àneu.

It is highly worthwhile while there to take advantage and to visit all the area, and to explore this practically unknown treasure of the Pyrenees of Catalonia.

How to get there

Bus: There is a daily bus service from the bus station “Estación del Nord” in Barcelona to the village of Sort. It is a four and a half hour journey and the fare is €34.10. However, to see the route it is obligatory to move around by car as there is no frequent public transport service.

Car: From Barcelona: Leave Barcelona via the C-58 and C-16. Turn left on the C-25 following the signs to Lleida. Continue to the C-14 and N-260 going north until you reach Sort. It is a four hour drive and the highway toll is €2.15. 

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