The Monestir de Pedralbes is a 14th century convent which was founded by Queen Elisenda for the nuns of the Order of Saint Clare in 1326. It is located in Sarrià which today is considered just another Barcelona neighborhood, but which at that time was quite far from the city center. It is set within medieval walls and gateways which shut out the noise of the city and make it feel like its own small village.
Construction began in 1326 and was completed in just thirteen months. The name “pedralbes” comes from the words Petras Albas, Latin for “white stones”, which were used in the construction of the building. On May 3, 1327 the nuns officially took up residence in the monastery. Later on they were joined by servants and gardeners, who also lived on the grounds.
The building is considered a good example of Catalan Gothic architecture due to the fact that it was built in just one year, so it does not incorporate other styles. The three-storey cloister is considered the highlight of the convent, as are the gardens. Even better, it doesn´t get nearly as many visitors as some of the other sights in Barcelona which means that those who decide to stop here will be able to tour the grounds and take photos in relative peace.
If you follow the recommended route which goes anticlockwise through the convent the first thing you will see is a small chapel dedicated to Sant Miguel (Saint Michael). Its frescoes were painted by Ferrer Bassa and depict scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary. Curiously, scratched into one of the paintings (on the right side, between Saint Francis and Clare) is what some consider to be Barcelona´s earliest graffiti. The words “Joan no m’oblides” (John, don’t forget me) are clearly visible, and are said to have been written by a young nun who was unhappy with her life in the convent.
The next room contains the tomb of Queen Elisenda, who died in 1364. The tomb is made of marble and has one very unique feature, which is that the sarcophagus is double-sided. On one side Queen Elisenda is represented as a window in mourning and on the other side as a queen.
Continuing on there are several utility rooms, the day cells of the nuns and a staircase which leads to the second floor. The second floor can also be visited but the third floor is closed to the public. This part of the convent is particularly interesting as it gives the visitors insight into the lives of the nuns living in the convent during the past centuries.
There is also a museum located in the former dormitory of the monastery. It contains religious art as well as artifacts from the monastery, some of which date back to the 14th century. Some of the most spectacular pieces of the museum include paintings from the 16th and 17th century, including the Triptych of the Epiphany from the Della Robbia workshop, the Rocabertí retable and the Flemish Diptych of the Vigo Lactans and the Pieta.
The garden is large and adds to the sense of peacefulness that visitors immediately feel upon entering the convent. There are large palm trees and plenty of shade, so it is an ideal place to stop and take a break. In the middle of the courtyard there is a Renaissance fountain which adds to tranquility. The gardens are especially refreshing in summer and a great escape from the heat and humidity of the city center.
The nuns of the order of Saint Clare still reside here, although their living quarters are now in an adjacent building which is not open to the public. Even so, you may see them walking through the convent as they go about their day to day business, and some lucky visitors have reported overhearing their choir practice as they stroll through the monastery.
If you´re ready for a bite to eat after touring the convent be sure to stop at El Mató de Pedralbes, a restaurant which is just across the street. It´s named for the mató (a type of cottage cheese) that was traditional prepared by the nuns. The restaurant offers traditional Catalan food at a very reasonable price, including a set lunch menu during the week.
Address: Baixada del Monestir, 9, Barcelona
Phone: 93 256 34 34
Hours: October 1 to March 30, Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 2pm, Sundays 10am to 8pm
April 1 to September 30, Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sundays 10am to 8pm
Price: €7 (includes an audioguide)
How to Arrive: Ferrocarriles de la Generalitat - U6 Reina Elisenda
Bus - 75, 22, 63, 6, and 78
Barcelona Tourist Bus- blue route (north)