UNESCO Heritage Sites Catalonia – 9 Wonders of Catalonia

Did you know that in Catalonia there are 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites or items of intangible cultural and human heritage? To be one of these, the site needs to be considered by UNESCO to be of immense value to humanity, and additionally to be considered a masterpiece of creative genius. There are also UNESCO listed items of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Here are the 9 UNESCO heritage sites of Catalonia.

1. Rock Art Catalonia – 60 Sites Out Of 757 Mediterranean Basin Sites Are In Catalonia – l’Art Rupestre

As a human being, the rock art of Catalonia truly evokes deep feelings. Imagining our distant ancestors and how they lived, by observing the rock art, which can be seen in multiple sites in Catalonia, is an amazing experience. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the rock art sites are late prehistoric and enable us to vividly see aspects of life during this period of human development. 60 of these 757 sites are located here in Catalonia.

Europe’s Biggest Group Of Rock Art Sites

Unique to this area of the Mediterranean basin, this is Europe’s biggest group of rock art sites and is a source of exceptional insight into human life during this seminal period of our cultural evolution. Equally fascinating is how it is integrated into the landscape, yet of course bears man’s imprint, making it highly important from an ecological perspective. Although vulnerable by nature, the reason that this area has such a wealth of rock art is due to the highly complex processes that occurred here in later prehistory, as well as the area’s particular environmental conditions, and of course the nature of the rock. These sites are located in  Ulldecona, El Cogul and La Noguera.

Red Was The Predominant Colour

These sites are like a history book on rocks, which show us, in both documentary and artistic terms, the socioeconomic realities of our prehistoric ancestors. Red is the predominant colour used, in a variety of shades, and there is some use also of black and white, but in lesser amounts. (Red is the colour of the base chakra which is about survival and our connection to the earth, and of course we associate red with danger and to stop, but also with sensuality and sex.)

What We Can See In The Rock Art

The rock art illustrates themes such as hunting and gathering, which would you believe includes the gathering of honey, so we had prehistoric bee keepers obviously. Archers are also depicted shooting victims, plus we can see funerary rites which include ritualistic scenes. There is also art which represents the mythological aspect of prehistoric society, which includes sorcerers who are often figures that combine human characteristics with those of various animals.

This makes me wonder about shape-shifting, and question if these type of artistic representations of their mythological creatures have any connection to shape-shifting or not? Whatever conclusions and feelings you may come to when you visit one of these sites, you may find yourself wondering, like me, how far in fact we have really “progressed” and how creative and resourceful our prehistoric forefathers appeared to be.

Day to day social life can be witnessed in the groups of people talking, sitting and walking together. We can see that they butchered animals, and indeed it’s also possible to observe what might have been the very beginnings of social inequality. This is evident in the different jewellery and hairstyles that they wore.

For even more information please check out the UNESCO information:
Rock Art Catalonia UNESCO World Heritage Site

2. Palau Música / Hospital St. Pau

Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music) and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona
Palau de la Música Catalana, C/ Palau de la Música 4-6, Barcelona 08003, Phone: 932 957 200

These two creations of the outstanding Art Nouveau Catalan Modernist architect, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, have been honoured as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997. Superb contributions to Barcelona’s architecture, both buildings are bold in their decoration and design. They are considered masterpieces of this exuberant, imaginative Art Nouveau which flourished in Barcelona during the early part of the 20th century.

One Of The Most Emblematic Buildings Of The City

The exuberant, authentic Palau de la Música Catalana is filled with lots of space and light. It’s one of the most emblematic examples of an Art Nouveau building in Barcelona, with its steel framed structure and its particular concept of space. Apart from being the only concert venue of this style that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it also represents a symbolic emotional heritage.

Built from 1905 to 1908, it was inspired by the emergence of the Orefeo Catalá choir during the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exhibition. Catalan music performances were part of the resurgent movement of Catalan nationalism. The choir bought a site, located in the street Sant Pere Més Alto (the tallest Saint Peter) and commissioned Lluis Domenech i Montaner, who was at the pinnacle of his career. In fact he had already started work on the project of the Hospital de Sant Pau. (Pau Gil, a Catalan, who was a Parisienne banker, had left instructions in his will to build a hospital back in his native Barcelona.)

Inaugurated on the 9th February 1908, the Palau de la Música Catalana was funded predominantly by the choir, but wealthy industrialists and bourgeoisie from Barcelona also made important financial contributions. From 1982 to 1989 it underwent major restoration and remodeling under the directions of architects Carles Díaz and Oscar Tusquets.


Really this is a magical music box which has been designed around its central metal structure, which is covered in glass. The central structure integrates the various decorative arts that have been used: stained glass, ironwork, mosaic and sculpture. The best designers of the day were involved.

Curves and dynamic shapes are predominant, rather than straight lines and static forms. Unlike some other examples of modernism, it does pay great attention to function and is especially notable for making use of the most current technologies and materials available at the time. Its curtain walls are the first example of structures of this type.

The facade incorporates elements from a variety of sources, which include traditional Arabic and Spanish architecture. A feeling of openness is given by the exposed iron and red brick, the stained glass, the glazed tiles and the mosaics. On the corner you’ll see massive sculptural group which symbolises Catalan music. There’s a large allegorical mosaic at the top of the main facade, which represents members of the choir, Orefeo Catalá.

Inside in the concert auditorium is the most striking use of colour and the variety of decorative art forms that were employed. The hall is mystical and paradoxical, with its marvellous central skylight and numerous figures surrounding the stage. You’ll see Beethoven on one side and Anselm Clavé on the other.

To read more about the Palau de la Música Catalana on the UNESCO list, click on UNESCO heritage sites Catalonia.

If you would like more information the building, the foundation, the programme and the chamber choir click on Palau de la Música Catalana Barcelona
Hospital de Sant Pau Barcelona (name commonly used) – Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (full name) – Hospital of the Holy Cross and St. Paul
Carrer Sant Quintí 89, Barcelona 08026, Phone: 932 919 000

The history of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau can be traced back to 1401, well over 600 years ago, when 6 hospitals from around the city were merged. However due to growing demand and 19th century advances in medicine, the existing centre was no longer sufficient for the needs of the people. A Catalan who became a banker in Paris left a legacy which meant that the work could begin to bring the hospital complex up to the necesary standards, but of course they were far surpassed.

Built by the world famous architect, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, between 1901 and 1930, L’Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is a small modernista city. Just like the Palau de la Música Catalana it’s a successful marriage of superb architectural beauty with functionality. Unlike any hospitals of its time, it is an open plan complex filled with light. A spacious, modern facility, the Hospital de Sant Pau has separate pavillions which are separated by streets and gardens.

Not only is it immensely important from an architectural and cultural point of view, but also from a historiographical perspective. Lluis Domenech i Montaner had evidently analysed the problems of hospitals of his time, and he took these into account in his plans, both from a design and functionality aspect, inh a daring and original manner.

He used sculptures and floral decoration in abundance, as part of the overall architectural beauty – he felt that ill people needed to be surrounded by beauty, as he believed it has a therapeutic value, enhancing well being and no doubt contributing to an earlier convalescence.

By 1911 there were 8 blocks which had been completed and were already in use. In 1913 Lluis Domenech i Montaner involved his son in the project. Together Pere Doménech i Roura and his father worked on further hospital blocks and the church, until 1923 when Lluis Domenech i Montaner died. His son then took over responsiblity for its completion until 1930, when after almost 30 years the entire project had been brought to fruition.

The two specific conditions of the patron of the project, Pau Gil were:

That the hospital should bear the name of his patron saint
That the hospital should be the best from a technological, architectural and of course, medical point of view

Today after almost a century of uninterrupted use, the Hospital de Sant Pau has managed to fulfill Pau Gil’s wishes, as it is truly admired and had gained worldwide prestige from the architectural, artistic and medical communities.

To read more about the Hospital de Sant Pau on the UNESCO list, click on UNESCO Heritage Sites Catalonia – Hospital de Sant Pau Barcelona

If you would like more information about its history or the hospital itself click on Hospital de Sant Pau Barclona

3. The Patum of Berga

In 2005, UNESCO declared the Patum of Berga a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, it was inscribed on the list in 2008. The concept of intangible heritage is that in reality, of course, heritage is not only represented by objects and monuments. Our living traditions which have been passed down from our ancestors, such as festive events, oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, and much more, are also important cultural heritage.

In the case of the Patum of Berga, its roots lie in the 14th century and it takes place during Corpus Christi week, which falls from late May to late June. The Patum of Berga is outstanding in terms of how it has come from the period of the Middle Ages, retaining immense richness. There are parades and theatrical performances which animate the town’s streets, featuring a selection of effigies.

More information can be found by following the link UNESCO Patum of Berga.

4. Tarraco

In 2000 the site of Tàrraco was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Tarragona and the areas that surround it have well preserved remains, which show the impact that the Romans had in the area. The Tàrraco site was a provincial capital that has monuments that date from the 3rd century BC to the 6th century AD, and these monuments are especially well preserved.

Tàrraco became a military camp for the Romans, in order to intercept the Carthaginian armies which came from the south, who were on route to attack Italy via the Pyrenees. The site grew as a city over time, and prospered, helped by its coastal location as well as its location in terms of land routes. Tàrraco was well structured, adapting to the hill and its descending terraces, so that it grew in size to 70 hectares.

Imperial worship took place in the highest area, below this was the circus and provincial forum on the next terrace dowm and the lower part was dedicated to the residential area, theatre, port and colonial forum. It also grew beyond its walls, where there were burial grounds, a port area and big residential areas.

Click on UNESCO Heritage Catalonia Tarraco for more information.

5. Gaudí’s Works

Many people have seen pictures, documentaries or Gaudi’s work at its original sites – and if you’re one of these people, it won’t surprise you to know that in 1984 the Palau Güell, Park Güell and Casa Mila were declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO. A further four properties were included by UNESCO in 2004, which made a complete representation of the genius’ work. These were:

  • The Crypt and Nativity Façade of La Sagrada Familia
  • Casa Vicenç
  • Casa Batlló
  • The crypt of the Colonia Güell

Antoni Gaudí is considered the most important figure in Modernist Architecture, from the movement that started in the late 19th century and continued until the early part of the 20th century. His work is exploding with creative freedom, individuality and use of amazing decorative and spatial techniques.

Gaudí was born on the 25th June 1852, in Reus which is in the province of Tarragona, in the autonomous community of Catalonia. He was filled with passion for religion, nature and of course architecture and this is supremely evident in his works. Additionally his works also encompass strong elements of popular identity and tradition. He was nicknamed God’s Architect because of his intense Roman Catholic faith, which can be seen in his work, and which became even stronger as he became older.

He never married as he totally devoted his life to his work, although he was attracted to Josefa Moreu, a lady teacher, but she didn’t reciprocrate the feelings. Every day he would walk to pray and do confession at the Sant Felip Neri church, and on the 7th June 1926, he was struck by a tram. At this stage of his life he was dressing very frugally, so people assumed that he was a beggar and the unconscious Gaudí was not helped immediately. He got basic care at the Santa Creu Hospital after a policeman took him there, but it wasn’t until the following day that he was recognised by Mosen Gil Parés, the Sagrada Familia chaplain. At this stage his health had deteriorated greatly and couldn’t benefit from further treatment. He died, aged 73, on the 10th June 1926.

If you would like to learn more about Gaudí and appreciate his work further, an excellent resource is the Artsy page on Gaudí. If you want to read more regarding his works’ UNESCO status, click on UNESCO Catalonia Gaudí’s Work

6. El Monestir de Santa Maria de Poblet – Poblet Monastery of Santa Maria

Of both artistic and religious significance, the Poblet Monastery was founded in 1150 and in 1991 was declared a World Heritage site. It is considered a hugely important example of Cistercian architecture from the 12th to 14th century and is, without doubt, one of the best preserved monastic sites with high art quality.

It’s truly an impressive sight, which blends together different architectural forms and is a unique artistic experssion of the Cistercian style of the period. You may find yourself wondering what process triggered such a wise composition of styles and buildings.The Poblet Monastery’s location was chosen because of its situation around halfway between Lleida and Tarragona, on land that was fertile, flat, protected by the mountains and with rich water.

Home to masterpieces from each period, such as Damian Forment’s (1529) great alabaster retablo, it was the Royal Pantheon of the Crown of Aragon’s kings, as well as serving as a military complex, royal palace and residence. It also helped consolidate Catalonia’s power during the 12th century, as the first part of the Cistercian triangle, which were the three monasteries, Poblet, Santes Creus and Vallbona de les Monges.

Today the monastery is still functioning, with 30 monks, 1 famiiliar and 1 regular oblate. although the monks had to leave in 1835 but Italian monks of the order came back again in 1940. There are guided tours which are included in the entrance fee of €10, or you can pay €7 and not have a guided tour. There are also tours and tastings to the wine cellars on Saturday, Sunday and holidays for €4.50 at 12.45 pm.

Opening Hours:

Monday to Saturday
13th October to 15th March – 10.00 to 12.30 and 15.00 to 17.25
16th March to 12th October – 10.00 to 12.30 and 15.00 to 17.55

Sundays and Public Holidays
13th October to 15th March – 10.00 to 12.25 and 15.00 to 17.25
16th March to 12th October – 10.00 to 12.25 and 15.00 to 17.25

All day 25th 26th December and 1st January
Afternoon closed 6th January, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Monday.

For further information, including special rates and groups please see:


If you would like to know more about the Poblet Monastery follow the link UNESCO Heritage Sites Catalonia Poblet Monastery

7. La Vall de Boí – Boí Valley – Alta Ribagorça Lleida

High in the Pyrénées, you’ll find the Boí Valley where every village has a Romanesque church, embraced by a patchwork pattern of fields. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, the Boí Valley has preserved its wonderful, traditional landscape and churches in it with such high values. Proud of their heritage, the ancestors of the locals didn’t have the same influence of Arab occupation due to their location. It was itinerant monks, merchants and Christian pilgrims who influenced the area; the latter en route to Santiago de Compostela and Jerusalem.

It was during the 11th and 12th centuries that the lovely Romanesque churches were built, which were not only places of worship but also served as locations for communal affirmation, of their values and traditions. These churches are particularly pure examples of Romanesque art, in settings that are almost untouched. You may wonder why such a large number of churches were built in the valley. It is thought that this is because a lot of silver came into the area, particularly during the early decades of the 12th century, at the time of the campaign to recover Saragossa and Barbastro.

More information on the Churches of the Boí Valley:

UNESCO Catalonia 9 wonders Boí Valley Churches

Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Boí Valley

8. The Mediterranean Diet

When I go back home to Ireland, as much as I love our fabulous hospitality, I wonder how I ate like this before…don’t get me wrong, when you’re in a colder climate it’s much easier, and as long as I live, I will always be proud to be Irish..but the Mediterranean diet is something else. We take pleasure in eating; the simple things like olive oil become a focus, as do tomatoes and in 2010 The Mediterranean Diet was declared a UNESCO piece of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

It’s an ancient tradition to be found, not only in Catalonia, and of course the Valencian Community, but also in the rest of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Morocco. The table is filled with often locally sourced vegetables, fruit, legumes, meat, and this is accompanied with dressings of olive oil and a glass or two of wine. The Mediterranean Diet encompasses, however, so much more than just the ingredients – it involves rituals, hospitality, skills and so much more.

Here’s some more information on the UNESCO & the Mediterranean Diet

9. The Castells – Human Towers

In the Paísos Catalanes (Catalan countries) the tradition of the Castells tradition is over 200 years old. Its origin lies in Valls, where data shows it was happening back in the 18th century. The word castells is the Catalan for castles. After a ball – Ball de Valencians – the culmination was that a couple or more people, could have been only two or three, would form a human castle or tower. It was during the 19th century that these origins started turning into constructions of humans, of up to nine levels. Although the castells started to lose popularity in the early part of the 20th century, they didn’t disappear entirely, even under Franco.

In the 1960s the Catalan Castells started to make a comeback, but it was in 1990, because of a television transmission that they really started to be huge again. From this time until the early part of the 21st century (time of writing 2014) there have been some really amazing Castells achievements. In 2010 the Castells were declared a UNESCO piece of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


6 Responses to UNESCO Heritage Sites Catalonia – 9 Wonders of Catalonia

  1. noelmorata March 8, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    Interesting, i’ve never heard of Unesco and cultural heritage, fascinating….loved seeing just a few of those monuments and many more to visit. I went to Palau de la musica for an evening performance and it was purely magical!

    • Jackie De Burca March 9, 2014 at 9:06 am #

      Thanks Noel. I can’t imagine it was magical. 🙂

  2. Paul (@luxury__travel) March 8, 2014 at 11:37 pm #

    A really comprehensive list, Jackie, that must have taken some preparation… well done! 🙂

    Have been to Park Güell (what a great place) and La Sagrada Familia (what a project… I understand completion is just over a decade away now). Would love to see the rock art…

    • Jackie De Burca March 9, 2014 at 9:07 am #

      It did Paul 🙂 The rock art is not that far from where we are actually, hopefully you’ll get to see it.

  3. Valerie Collins April 24, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    Thanks for this great article.

    • Jackie De Burca April 25, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

      Thanks Valerie, and also for the Facebook friendship. 🙂

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