History and Heritage in the Priorat
Priorat county is to be found in southern Catalonia in North-eastern Spain. It is historically known as the area of "New Catalonia" which was once occupied by the Muslims until the 12th century. There are many historical remains, which take visitors back in time to the days of the Moorish fortress of Siurana, stronghold of the extensive caliphate of Cordoba.
The Christian re-conquest, launched by king Ramón Berenguer IV, brought with it the construction of churches and monasteries to spread the Christian faith once more to these lands. Siurana church is a good example of this period. It was built in the 12th century and is one of the few Romanesque churches to survive in southern Catalonia.
This introduction of the Christian faith has left us an important architectural legacy of which the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei is an important example. It was established towards the end of the 12th century, as a small community at first, but which soon grew and prospered. Over the following centuries the monastery was extended and reformed until it took on a neo-classical appearance which is what one can still discern today amongst its ruins.
The "Priorat d'Escaladei" was for many years one of the most powerful administrations in New Catalonia and often came into conflict with the House of Prades, who were the lords of a great part of the surrounding land. The Counts of Prades built themselves a castle which still dominates the skyline of Falset today. The castle which dates from the 12th century was passed down from generation to generation until it fell into the hands of the Medinaceli, the last lords of the line. They had a palace built in the 17th century (present day town hall) which is to be found on one of the prettiest squares of the Priorat, the "Plaça de la Quartera". Very close to this square, there was another palace, that of the Counts of Azara (today the Priorat County Council building). Both buildings display wonderful Renaissance façades.
Industrialisation reached the Priorat in the 19th century, albeit on a small scale. The Siurana river valley became an important source of lead ore and was mined near the villages of Bellmunt and El Molar. One of the mines, now abandoned is open today for visitors and is known as the Bellmunt Lead Mining Museum. Modern times and new tendencies of the beginning of the 20th century, along with the establishment of the co-operative movement lead to changes in the region.
A very good example of this change is reflected in the Modernist or Art Nouveau architecture of the wineries built by Cèsar Martinell, friend and follower of Antoni Gaudí. Martinell was known as the Father of Rural Modernism and built many "Cathedrals of Wine", of which in the Priorat, two examples can be found: Falset and Cornudella de Montsant.
As for the 20th century, it is worth mentioning works of local artists such as the sculptor MarçàGiné, whose work can be admired in the local museum of Marçà.