I’ve always loved finding out the legends of any place I’ve visited. More than facts and figures, a legend stands for a beautiful narrative and, perhaps, a fictional example that serves reality in a particular way. Like the legend of Siurana.
Legend has it that a princess jumped off the cliff during the reconquest of Siurana. As Siurana, with its impregnable position, was the last fort still standing under Muslim rules during the reconquer of Catalunya. The castle was finally conquered in 1153, after three centuries of failed attempts, and after larger cities such as Lleida and Tortosa. The princess was beautiful Abdelazia (the adjective is also imposed by legend). When the Christian troops broke in, she preferred to cast herself off the cliff into the abyss on her horse rather than fall into enemy hands. However, her white horse tried to stop the fall, and legend says that the horse’s horseshoe mark can still be seen next to the precipice. Just look for El Salt de la Reina Mora, or Moorish Queen’s Leap.
Why start with Abdelaiza when talking about Siurana? Because the legend and its details account for the peculiarity of the place. Siurana, the once impregnable Siurana, rests on a cliff, since literally immemorial times. Proof of this is the old town perched on a limestone crag, with cobbled streets, stone houses, a Romanesque style church, and the remains of the 9th century Arab castle.
The church of Santa Maria is a well-preserved building from the Romanesque period. It was built between the 12th and 13th centuries, following the arrival of the Christian troops in 1153.
The church is a fine example of beauty combined with simplicity on a floor plan with a single nave and a semicircular apse. Its doorway features a carved tympanum framed in three round arches, resting on columns with capitals decorated with geometrical and figurative motifs.
Siurana also conserves the remains of the Arab castle, a military establishment built around the 9th century as a center to control the territory. It was part of a large area under Muslim domination, and this strategically placed fortification guarded the way into the village. Ramon Berenguer IV conquered it in 1153. Following its fall, it passed into the hands of nobles serving Ramon Berenguer IV, and it also served as a dowry for Catalan queens, to guarantee pacts and loans and even as a prison for people of some importance.
Although it is pleasant to walk through the interior of the town, what stands out most in Siurana is what unfolds below the mountain and towards the horizon. Siurana offers some of the best views in all of Catalunya towards the Priorat river, the Montsant mountain range, or the Gritella peak.
The most spectacular view is the one that offers complete views of the town, the mountains and the Siurana Reservoir at the same time. Also, the route of els Camins atics de Siurana, a beautiful path that climbs to the enclave of Siurana from the town of Cornudella de Montsant, might be another great way to enjoy the views and the mountains around.
There’s even something more to it. If you get there in the afternoon, like we did, just stay and watch the sunset.
For 65 summers, Joan Miró was a regular in the village of Mont-roig, which inspired the famous painting La Masía and the rest of his work.
There, at the farmhouse that his family bought, he also received visits from his friends Ernest Hemingway, Alexander Calder or Josep Lluís Sert. Mas Miró attests the course of the painter’s entire life and work. It is here where he returned year after year, from 1911 to 1976, except for a brief pause during the Spanish Civil War. Walking through the farmhouse means embarking on a true journey of Joan Miró’s personal and creative trajectory.
“All my work is conceived in Mont-roig”
He left it written. And it was as is. Miró was in love with cooking and the countryside. He admired the patience of the farmers and their tenacity. He showed it in his first exhibition at the Dalmau Galleries, in 1918, where he presented almost 200 works. Didn’t sell one. Nor did he have any luck in Paris where he exhibited at the Licorne.
Three years later, he placed the family farmhouse in Mont-roig at the very core of all his artistic creation and created his first masterpiece, La masía (1921-22). The painting is now in the collection of the National Gallery, after having belonged to Ernest Hemingway who, at the time, was one of the few who believed in his friend’s work.
Converted into a foundation after a long reform and rehabilitation, Mas Miró opened to the public in 2018. The house and the surrounding landscape that gives meaning to his work have been valued. In fact, Mas Miró is today a house-museum where everything is preserved as he left it in September 1976.
Joan Miro’s studio
The painter’s studio is made up of a ground floor and a loft, finished off with Catalan-style vaults and generously lit by large windows. It is a building from the 20th century, with bare white walls, of which two graffiti made by Miró and a fireplace stand out.
Inside, several of the painter’s instruments – easels, spatulas, palettes and original aprons splattered with paint, together with a simple dining table, and a small four-legged bed are still preserved. Objects, books and a few pieces of the artist’s clothing are stored in a bedroom.
Mas Miró is actually made up of a series of buildings ranging from the 18th to the 20th century. The main building, a white-rendered mansion, with a ground floor and two floors topped by a cornice, and a square tower centered on the façade, opens towards an impressive garden.
Mas Miró is not only the painter’s farmhouse and studio; it is also its immediate surroundings, where the original cultivation has been restored with an organic garden with almond trees and seasonal vegetables.
Besides completing the Miró triangle formed by the foundations in Barcelona, the city he was born in, and Palma de Mallorca, where he lived his last years, Mas Miró is also part of El Paisatge dels Genis, tourist route along the Costa Dorada and Terres de l’Ebre to discover the work of Gaudí, Miró, Casals and Picasso.
Mont-Roig del Camp is in the region of Baix Camp and part of the Costa Dorada. It has two distinct nuclei, the core of Mont-roig, with interesting architectural and historical references, and the coast, or the Miami Platja.
I gathered here a few things I’ve read on Miró’s relationship with Mont-roig del Camp, with a special focus on landscape and food.
Mont-roig, a turning point
Miró was going to be an accountant. His father, Miquel, made him train in commerce to be “someone in life”. Even so, in 1907 he managed to be enrolled at night in the art and design school of the Llotja de Barcelona, while by day he was the respectable accountant of Dalmau i Oliveres. In 1911, typhoid fever forced him to retire for two years in the farmhouse that his father had bought from the Marquises of Mont-roig in the Baix Camp of Tarragona. There he decided that art was his thing and not calculations.
The olive trees, the beach, and the carobs
The landscape, the olive trees and the countryside of Mont-roig del Camp appear in many of Miró’s first paintings. Also, a lively concern for expressive color, for geometric synthesis and the natural detail of plants, as seen in the Vineyards and olive trees by Mont-roig (1919) painting, today displayed at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
ʺIn the soil of Mont-roig there are the roots of those two marvelous trees of that land: carob and olive. For me, the roots of the carob tree are like my feet, which sink into the ground, and that contact gives me enormous strength. I also admire that sign of vitality in carob trees, never shedding their leavesʺ (as stated by Miró in the documentary D’un roig encès: Miró i Mont-roig, 1979.) A lot has been written about Miró and the carob, as he always carried a carob in his pocket. As he said: “I always travel with a carob pod inside an envelope. It’s a ritual. For me, and for Catalonia. The carob tree never loses its leaves. Its greenness is incredibly powerful. I am loyal to the carob tree, that’s for sure!”
Many of Miró’s paintings from that early period depict the landscape of Mont-roig. Losing himself among olive trees, sitting in the garden to contemplate the sky inspired him. He went to the Bay of Mont-roig on daily basis, to swim or to collect stones, logs and roots that he later transformed into sculptures. Or he climbed up to the red rocks of the hermitage, Ermita de la Roca, documented in the 13th century, where he painted that cubic construction surrounded by centuries-old olive trees. If you go up there, in the traditional cuisine restaurant La Cuina de l’Ermita, they cook a particular tribute to the painter – pork cheeks among carob and olive trees, inspired by Joan Miró’s painting Vineyards and olive trees.
Miró planted his feet firmly on the ground in Mont-roig. ʺJoan Miró once told us that to fully understand a painter, you had to visit him in his place of origin, said critic Sebastià Gasch, who visited him at the farmhouse in October 1930. Well, indeed, you must go to Mont-roig – to that clear country, scrubbed clean, where the little grasses and leaves, the trees and the mountains are sharply outlined against an ever-blue sky, without atmosphere – to love the precise, penetrating, strong and intense painting of Joan Miró without reserve.ʺ
ʺFood is a very serious subject, especially from a poetic point of view.ʺ
In 1966, the Vogue columnist Ninette Lyon published a peculiar report on the Catalan painter Joan Miró, in which talked about art, of course, but also about gastronomy and agriculture. “What are your favorite dishes?”, he asked. “I like peasant cuisine. Food is a very serious thing, especially from a poetic point of view. I am anti Cordon Bleu, it seems too similar to the Sorbonne. I greatly dislike Béarnaise sauce, which, in the long run, explains a lot about my painting”, the Surrealist master replied. Miró was referring to rustic bread, olives, empedrat de mongetes, sanfaina, xatonada (escarole, tuna and anchovy salad with romesco sauce), or ensaimada, which marked the beginning of his friendship with Picasso – they say in was an ensaimada that forged their friendship on rue La Boétie, in Paris.
In Montferri, a small town in Tarragona, in the Alt Camp region, there’s one of the most unique works of Modernism: Our Lady of Montserrat sanctuary.
In the end of the 19th century, there was this tradition that every year, in autumn, the inhabitants of the Montferri would pilgrim to the mountains of Montserrat, to give thanks to the Virgin of Montserrat for the harvest of the year. A local Jesuit priest, Daniel Vives, suggested building a sanctuary on one of the hills of the village that belonged to his family. Vives was a distant relative of the architect Josep Maria Jujol and commissioned him the design.
Jujol was already one of the most sought-after professionals of his generation. Professor at the School of Architecture, auxiliary municipal architect of Sant Joan Despí, and having already completed works such as Torre de la Creu (1916) or the Planells house (1924), he was also famous for the wrought-iron balconies of Casa Milà or the ceramic design of the façade of Casa Batlló.
In 1926, the first stone of the Montferri sanctuary was laid. Daniel Vives bought the cement, and the locals brought sand and gravel from the banks of the nearby Gaià River, acting as masons. The building progressed at a good pace until 1928, when funds began to run low, and in 1931 the construction was abandoned. The building was partially destroyed during the Civil War, and it wasn’t until 1984 when the construction started again, under the supervision of the historian and architect Joan Bassegoda. The sanctuary was inaugurated in 1999, in an updated version but consistent with the original conception of Jujol.
The structure features 120 catenary (parabolic) arches with no walls involved. The building’s polygonal base is made up of several triangles of different sizes, which creates an uneven perimeter comprised of 24 sections. The central spire, topped with the cross, is 27 m high.
Inside, the light is filtered by heart-shaped colored crystals, in blue, light yellow and red.
Some of the details, like the metal handrail above, were added later, and were inspired by other works of the architect.
The predominant elements of the construction – the parabolic arches, made of modular bricks of 30 by 15 by 10 cm, and the grilles of the windows – are all made of Portland cement and sand. The were all built on site, following the shape of wooden formworks.
The sanctuary has the shape of a boat with the bow facing towards the iconic mountain that houses the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, to which the Montferri church is dedicated.
No wonder they call it the wine cathedral. This cellar in Pinell de Brai, Terra Alta, is the work of architect Cèsar Martinell i Brunet, and was built between 1918 and 1922. The entire interior of the winery is divided by wide-span, roof-bearing parabolic arches, which make the entire space feel light and luminous.
El Pinell de Brai is located in the middle of a small plain, surrounded by mountains. Right in the center of the town, the winery stands out in size and finishes.
The monumental façade of the winery comprises three naves and is designed on three levels. From bottom to top, architect Cèsar Martinell laid out: a high stone base for doors and low ventilation windows, framed in bush hammered stone; a plastered masonry and brick level, with generous openings; and a powerful corniche with brick pinnacles which mark several points of the roof.
The inside of the Pinell de Brai winery is a large open space defined by the rhythm of the parabolic roof-bearing arches. These huge arches have perforated spandrels which enhance the building’s feeling of lightness and luminosity.
The impressive height, the feeling of spaciousness generated by the arches, and the trilobate windows which led the light flood the interior, make the winery look indeed like a Gothic cathedral.
But beyond the architectural beauty of the building, Cèsar Martinell also created a functional space for wine production. The architect had developed his own studies on the necessities of the wine industry in terms of ventilation, heat transmission and carbonic acid evacuation. And his design immensely improves the functional aspects, as well as the structural and building cost-related ones.
Martinell’s main contribution to the industrial architecture of his time was formulating a type of agricultural cellar which uses standardized pieces of brick and ceramics, thus lowering the price of the construction and making the siteworks easier and faster. Still, the design is full of carefully carried-out details.
Another original element of the design is the ceramic frieze crowning the base of the façade and running from end to end of the over 40 meters of façade.
Painted by Francesc Xavier Nogués, it humorously depicts scenes of grape and olive harvest and production. Despite its spectacular nature, due to lack of budget, it was removed from the initial project and was not incorporated until 1949.
Cèsar Martinell i Brunet (1888 – 1973) was a Catalan architect who designed in Modernist and Noucentiste style. Admirer of Gaudí and multifaceted person, he was also investigator, divulgator, and art historian.
Catalan painter, engraver and illustrator Xavier Nogués is one of the most representative artists of Noucentisme. His work is inspired by the traditions of Catalan popular art.
The Glòries tower, formerly Agbar, is without a doubt one of the symbols of Barcelona. This is not the only Jean Nouvel project in the city, though.
Not far away from the tower, on the Diagonal avenue, there’s the fantastic Poblenou park, a green area of shadow with plenty of trees and flowers of all kinds.
And then, close to the city centre, there’s Fàbrica Moritz, a former beer factory turned into a restaurant.
The 34-storey-high building was designed in 2005 as the headquarters of the municipal water company Aguas de Barcelona (Agbar).
4,400 windows and over 56,000 transparent and translucent glass plates are covering the tower, and the louvres are tilted at different angles calculated to divert the direct sun light. 4,500 lights illuminate the facade at night, while the 25 different shades of the aluminium panels give it colour by day.
The phallic character of Torre Glòries is obvious and even Jean Nouvel discussed this in detail, in 2005, when interviewed after the tower finally opened. As a result of its unusual shape people usually call it el supositori (the suppository).
“This is not a tower. It is not a skyscraper in the American sense of the expression: it is a unique growth in the middle of this rather calm city. It is a fluid mass that has perforated the ground – a geyser under a permanent calculated pressure. The surface of this construction evokes the water: smooth and continuous, but also vibrating and transparent because it manifests itself in coloured depths – uncertain, luminous and nuanced. This architecture comes from the earth but does not have the weight of stone” Jean Nouvel says.
Parc del Poblenou
Close to the tower, the Parc Central del Poblenou – a naturalistic architectural jewel combining a great diversity of environments, was designed by Jean Nouvel’s French studio in collaboration with local architect Fermín Vázquez (b720), and opened in 2008.
The park is surrounded by walls covered with bougainvilleas, separating the area from the surrounding streets and creating a vivid contrast with the steel and glass architecture around.
Inside, trees, plant vaults and domes offers shadow, and the area is subdivided into several sites, including playgrounds, sitting areas, lanes shadowed by willow trees, a floral cascade and even a lily dome covering the street which divides the site in two.
“The story of Poble Nou Park is written in the language of shades. From subdued shades, punctuated with patterned sparks of sunlight, to black shadows created by walls that assert the geometry of their boundaries, from jagged shadows moving around openings in the foliage to square pattern shadows underneath the plaited lianas, from glistening water-shadows to the profound matte shadows of a far-away place, of undergrowth” the architects say.
The building that, once, was the factory of Moritz beer, now hosts a microbrewery with a gastronomic and events space. This is a great destination for beer tasting and affordable dishes signed by Michelin-starred chef Jordi Vilà.
Even though today most of the production of Moritz is carried out in the Ambar brewery in Aragon, the company headquarters and registered address is still at this historic building on 41 Ronda de Sant Antoni. In 2011, the descendants of the brewing family entrusted Jean Nouvel to transform the historical factory into a gastronomical space. Fàbrica Moritz spans over 4,000 square metres and the interior is a blend of exposed brick and cement combined with contemporary touches. The interior patio features a vertical garden designed by Patrick Blanc, French botanist and modern innovator of the green wall .
The beer is brewed daily here, in plain sight of visitors who can witness the brewing process, and the bar serves this fresh, unpasteurized beer. As all design elements, even the draught taps are custom-made.
The project reveals the beauty of the industrial architecture with its brickwork, concrete, old machinery, goods lift, or colourful patterned tiles, whilst steel surfaces like the 25-metres-long bar for seafood and raw fish, glass dividers or light surfaces, are Nouvel’s touch of the space.
I strongly recommend you visit the underground to see the beer installations as well as some original installations such as this vertical divider created with, well, beer bottles.
French architect Jean Nouvel graduated in 1972 from Paris Beaux-Arts school and his projects can be seen in numerous cities around the world, from Abu Dhabi where he designed the Louvre to Sydney (One Central Park), and from Berlin (Galeries Lafayette) to Madrid (the extension of Reina Sofia Museum). This is just to name a few. And by all means, if you want to have the complete view of Nouvel’s designs in Barcelona, check his 110-metres-high Renaissance Hotel Fira as well.
The Design Museum of Barcelona. Right next to Torre Glòries, this building hosts the Design Museum collection plus a public library, an original indoor plaza, and a cafe with terrace over water. In Architecture
Today it’s a public library in Vilassar de Mar. The building is the former Manyer Ordeig textile factory, founded in 1879. This main nave was added in 1905, by architect Bonaventura Bassegoda, and the pavement is made of second-hand pieces of hydraulic tiles.
The entire first floor is a maze of tiles, spread on about 800 square meters. The reason for choosing hydraulic tiles lied in its remarcable resistance, and the reason for choosing second-hand pieces–meaning used or defectuous tiles–was only their attractive price.
There was no aesthetic imput whatsoever, thus the tiles were simply laid, without following any design criteria. Still, many of the models can be found in remarcable, carefully designed, early 20th century catalogues of Catalan tile manufacturers.
Some of the tiles have historic value, like the one below, in the center, with floral design on coral background, designed by Josep Pascó for Escofet, and which can be seen for instance at the Ferrer Modernist pharmacy (1904).
Some other tiles have a simple and economic design which made them be widely used, like the 8 rhomboidal flower with black and grey one below, for instance, which caught my attention because the floor of my living room is made with it.
The works of restauration of the factory and of converting it to library were carried out by Dilmé and Fabré architects in 2014. Can Manyer is one of the most carefully carried out works of its kind I’ve seen so far here, in Catalunya. Everything was studied in detail and, except for the shiny protective layer applied over the floor–which makes it look like glass and reflects the light in a way that hydraulic tiles would never do, in my opinion–it’s a beauty.
Besides the architectural works, the team also recreated, digitally, the puzzle of the floor discovering, among others, a special design, an allegory of the city of Barcelona, depicted as a woman, and made of several tiles, spread all throughout the space.
The blocks of Eixample are an array of designs created in all the architectural styles of the last one hundred years. Some are contemporary, some others are rationalist, neoclassical or Modernist. Usually, the last ones are interesting visual surprises, as their facades always have a story to tell, be it in the shape of the sgraffito, or with the help of sculptures, or because of the use of colours.
This is Casa Jeroni Granell on 122, Girona street, finished in 1903. The thing that first caught my attention was the colour of the shutters, and apparently so did everybody when the house was finished.
As other buildings designed by Geroni Granell, the house bears his name because he was not only the architect, but also the owner, the constructor, and the promoter.
And in this case it seems he was also the designer of the stained glass pieces, produced at his Rigalt i Granell workshop. If this detail doesn’t say much to you, then think about the ceiling of Palau de la Música Catalana. Impressive, right? Well, the stained glass ceiling of the Palau is also the work of the same Rigalt i Granell.
The entrance hall takes the theme of the lily flower and plays with different sizes, colours and techniques, from the green sgraffito of the walls, with oversized flowers, to the plaster of the ceiling or the stained glass above the entrance door.
La Picantería is about those exotic flavours that jazz up any dish. We didn’t have anything spicy here (so far :)) but everything we tried had plenty of taste and colour.
The menu here takes the best of the culinary cultures of Peru, Japan, Brazil and Mexico and, just like the traditional picanterías of Arequipa, this place is also where food becomes a way of socializing.
La Picantería serves ceviches, tacos, nachos and grill with yakitori or ‘picanha’ beef, as well as causas – Peruvian potato dough with ajiamarillo sauce, to which other ingredients are then added.
We tried the causas topped with shrimps, slices of avocado and splashed with beetroot sauce, and fried yucca to accompany it.
We followed with patacón, a warm salad of octopus and calamari with veggies and fried banana.
As always, this funny thing happens at the time of the dessert, no matter if we are two or ten at the table: all dishes are to share, but the sweets remain an individual matter. Of course we tried one another’s and I can assure you that my chocolate tart was just as delicious as my friend’s cheese cake with maracuya topping.
You can find La Picantería de l’Escribà on C/Marià Aguiló at no. 59. This street runs parallel with Rambla del Poblenou and I always prefer to go here: this narrow street shadowed by orange trees is where some of the best places in Poblenou can be found, and where mainly people from the barrio go.
A Little Extra
Picanterías are traditional lunchtime restaurants of Peru. Born in the countryside, they were initially private homes with a post hung with a red cloth – the sign for food being offered. Clients would enter via the kitchen so they could see what was being cooked and could order. The dining room was rustic, with benches ranged along large tables, and the atmosphere was always lively as the picanterías were also socializing places.
After eating, and following the conversation, liquor was served. Owners would then create the “Picante”, which was olny served in late afternoon and before closing.
Even if in La Picantería de l’Escribà we don’t enter by the kitchen but by the bar, the place has a homy ambiance with plenty of decorations on the walls and tables to share.
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Umami and Other Tastes of Honest Greens. Translated from Japanese as delicious, umami is actually a taste: the fifth taste, the one besides sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is present in a vast array of veggies as well as in most fermented foods, and it’s also one of the tasty bowls of Honest Greens.
Winter nights are long, and this might be one of the reasons why the light installations are the season’s most enjoyable event.
Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau hosts until January 16th wonderland of lights and videomappings. The installations are displayed in the gardens, so this is a great opportunity to see all the façades of the various pavilions which form this Modernist hospital, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1849-1923), and declared UNESCO world heritage.
In his art, Jaume Plensa makes frequent references to the poetry of Vicent Andrés Estellés. Back in 2017, Plensa created an art book that visually interprets poems by the Valencian writer. Recently, Plensa referred to yet another poem, this time as motto for an exhibition at the Senda art gallery.
It seems that poetry is, to Jaume Plensa, more than an inspiration source. “Poetry penetrates society in a humble yet constant manner, and transforms it constantly even if the society is unaware of that” he said in an interview for El Periodico.
“The poet that best represented my way of being”
Vicent Andrés Estellés (1924-1993) wrote the twenty one poems of the book entitled L’hotel París in 1956. They were finally published in 1973 and, some ten years later, Jaume Plensa, by then living in Berlin, read the book. Fascinated by the power of the verse, the artists immediately started to draw and paint the very book he had in his hands, giving the first shape of what would turn out to be, in 2017, an exquisite art book with an intricate copper case which encloses the poems as well as five illustrations and six copper transparencies.
“The beginning and the end are the same thing” Estellés writes. “It was a discovery, Plensa says. There were twenty one very short and simple poems, but at the same time very intense and sensual, about sex, love, death and solitude”, which made Plensa see “an extraordinary poet, one of the best in explaining the relationship between us people and life.”
The long night
Plensa recently exhibited, at Galeria Senda, an exhibition with the motto from another poem of Estellés, Propietats de la pena: “No t’han parit per a dormir: et pariren per a vetllar en la llarga nit del teu poble” – you weren’t born to sleep, you were born to watch the long night of your village. The delicate drawings on paper and large-sized sculptures of the exhibition explore the delicate balance between silence and words, idea and shape, light and darkness.
I’ve always thought that the work of Jaume Plensa is, in itself, poetical. Still, with this extra layer of the verses of Estellés, it gains even more depth. After all, “we don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for” – to quote my favourite line from the Dead poets society.