The narrow Vall de Boí is situated in the high Pyrénées, in the Alta Ribagorça region and is surrounded by steep mountains. Each village in the valley contains a Romanesque church, and is surrounded by a pattern of enclosed fields. There are extensive seasonally-used grazing lands on the higher slopes.
Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí
Justification for Inscription
Criterion (ii): The significant developments in Romanesque art and architecture in the churches of the Vall de Boí testify to profound cultural interchange across medieval Europe, and in particular across the mountain barrier of the Pyrenees. Criterion (iv): The Churches of the Vall de Boí are an especially pure and consistent example of Romanesque art in a virtually untouched rural setting.
The churches of the Vall de Boí are an especially pure and consistent example of Romanesque art in a virtually untouched rural setting. The group of churches is a remarkable example of an important constructional style in human history, like that of Romanesque art, to which it contributes characteristics that are appropriate to both its religious and its secular aspects. The Vall de Boí illustrates the continuous occupation of an area of land. The churches that were built in the Middle Ages at the instigation of a single family symbolize the affirmation and geographical settlement at the time historical Catalonia was created.
The Vall de Boí is screened by the high peaks of the Beciberri/Punta Alta massif, in the high Pyrenees. Its scenery is one of woodland and meadows, adjoining and surrounding the small villages. The Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula never penetrated the valleys, but they were exposed around the beginning of the 2nd millennium to cultural influences, brought there by merchants, by itinerant monks and by Christian pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. In the 11th century new cultural styles were brought into Catalonia from Italy, particularly Lombardy. This new cultural movement was late in reaching the remote Vall de Boí. The exceptional number of Romanesque churches in the valley is attributed to the fact that large quantities of silver came into the region.
Barruera is located where the Vall de Boí widens out. The village extends along the single main Roman road. Its parish church of Sant Feliú lies outside the village immediately above the river flood plain.
Sant Joan lies in the fortified centre of Boí, on the ancient road, leading to a Roman thermal establishment. It is situated on the right bank of the Sant Martí River, between two high rocky outcrops in the centre of the valley. The three bell towers of Boí, Taüll and Erill la Vall are intervisible, a notable defensive feature. The church of Sant Joan underwent considerable alteration in the 18th century.
Taüll is a village on a medieval route, with two centres, one around the square and the church of Santa María, with a number of medieval houses, and the other an elongated space along the old route leading to Sant Climent. Its churches are acknowledged to be archetypes of the Vall de Boí Romanesque style: the parish church of Santa María are elaborately decorated in Lombard style and has a cemetery beneath modern paving outside the south wall. The church of Sant Climent is the largest; its characteristic Lombard architecture and interior decoration make it the symbol of Catalan Romanesque architecture. Its most imposing feature is its bell tower: it is square in plan and soars from a simulated solid base to six storeys.
The church of the Assumption of Coll lies outside this small village. It is basically Romanesque, with Gothic and later additions and modifications. The semi-ruinous Gothic bell tower is four storeys high.
Santa María in Cardet is built on a rocky eminence dominating the entrance to the Vall de Boí. The layout and development of the parish church, despite its small size, is complex. Uniquely in this valley, a crypt occupies the space beneath the apse created by the need to keep the latter horizontal as the rock falls away. The facade contains some interesting elements that span a relatively long period of medieval design.
The Church of the Nativity, Durro: the buildings of this small village, built on a south-facing mountainside, extend up from the parish church of the Nativitat de la Mare de Déu along the single medieval street. Only its interior has not been renovated in modern times, retaining Baroque and later features.
A winding path leads to the Hermitage of Sant Quirc de Durro is on a low peak at an altitude of 1,500 m. It is a tiny church with a single nave and apse with a stone bell-frame. There is a roof space accessible only from the outside which probably served as a granary and storeroom. It is very typical of small medieval hermitages in the Pyrenean region.
Erill la Vall is a very small settlement, with four domestic ensembles of characteristic form. The church of Santa Eulália has a single long nave with a timber roof, which replaced a former barrel vault. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The Arab invasion and occupation of the Iberian peninsula never penetrated the valleys of the high Pyrenees. Despite their inaccessibility, these valleys were exposed around the beginning of the 2nd millennium to ideas and cultural influences, brought there by merchants, by itinerant monks and by Christian pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela.
Moreover, of the three Christian territories in Spain at that period, Catalonia was in better contact with outside influences than the kingdoms of Navarre or León. It was a mosaic of the small fiefs of counts, who paid little heed to their Frankish nominal overlords. In the 11th century Ramon Borrell II established the hegemony of Barcelona and created a dynasty which survived until the early 15th century. New cultural styles were brought into Catalonia from Italy, particularly Lombardy, and their fruits are to be seen in the religious ensembles of Vic, Cuixà, and Ripoll. Many craftsmen and artists came to Catalonia from this region of Italy, and testimony to their influence is given by the fact that the word lombard became synonymous with "stonemason" or "supervisor" in Catalonia. It was from here that Romanesque architectural and artistic influences were diffused throughout the Iberian peninsula in the 13th-15th centuries.
This new cultural movement was late in reaching the remote Vall de Boí. The exceptional number of Romanesque churches in the valley, which has supported a relatively low population since the end of the Middle Ages, is attributed to the fact that large quantities of silver came into the region, especially in the first decades of the 12th century, during the campaign to recover Barbastro and Saragossa. The counts of Erill took part in this campaign and drew handsome profits from it. They devoted considerable portions of their gains to embellishing their villages with handsome churches in the new style. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation