Cultural visits in the surrounding area

Horta de Sant Joan, the land that inspired Pablo Picasso

Cubism had its origins in Horta de Sant Joan. The avant-garde artist Pablo Picasso (Màlaga 1881- Mougins 1973) first came to this village near the river Ebro at the age of sixteen to stay with a class-mate. He stayed eight months and painted sixty works, most of them inspired by local landscapes. Eleven years later, Picasso returned and this time painted his first cubist works.

The historic town-centre of Horta de Sant Joan still maintains connections to and reminders of the life and work of this genius. In 1992 the old hospital building was converted into the Picasso Centre with an exhibition of facsimiles of the pictures Picasso painted while he was in Horta de Sant Joan.

Following the paths around the town, and into the mountains of the Els Ports Natural Park, you can find many of the sites which inspired his art. A highly recommended route involves following the banks of the Els Estrets river which flows between sheer cliffs of rock, or even having a swim in its crystal clear cold waters.

Strolling round the old part of town is a must on any visit to Horta de Sant Joan. The magnificent Town Hall building stands out among other imposing 16th century stone buildings. A mural of King Ferdinand VII commemorating the Cadiz Cortes can be admired on the façade. Above this mural, you can see the line of small arched windows of the rooms where plenary sessions are held. You can visit the old town jail in the basement.

Other buildings from the Renaissance period worth visiting are the Casa Clúa, Casa Pitarch and Casa del Delme (or de la Comanda), a 16th-17th century mansion.

The cave paintings of Ulldecona

The cave paintings at prehistoric sites in the Terres de l’Ebre are listed as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. The largest selection is found a short distance from Ulldecona, near the Pietat Hermitage with more than ten Neolithic Era caves with 8,000-year-old paintings.

The caves are located in the low-lying Godall mountain range and offer an exceptional collection of good quality and diverse paintings. There are five hundred metres of rock faces and caves with over four hundred painted figures acting out hunting scenes.

Nearby there is also a Visitor and Interpretation Centre. This has visual material as well as copies of the paintings with information boards explaining and putting into context the prehistoric remains found here. The thirteen caves of Ulldecona, together with the remains found in Cogul and Montblanc, make up the Prehistoric Art Route proposed by the Catalan Archaeology Museum.

Tortosa, the Renaissance city

Iberians, Romans, Moors, Jews, and Christians have all left their mark on the towns and villages of southern Catalonia. In Tortosa you can visit the Moorish castle, known as La Suda, and the Reials Col·legis – these 16th century college buildings form one of the most important examples of Renaissance architecture in Catalonia. The stunning Santa Maria Gothic-style cathedral on the banks of the river Ebro has a visitor exhibition with two hundred works of art and historical elements – including important paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and medieval manuscripts.

Tortosa is in full splendour during the annual Renaissance Festival. Celebrated over the third weekend in July, for a few days Tortosa goes back to the 16th century. Over three thousand people dressed in period costumes make this festival so spectacular, with over sixty daily performances of actors, musicians and jugglers.

The food and drink is also prepared in fitting with the sixteenth century setting and can be tried in the outdoor taverns which make up the Ruta de la Saboga as well as in local restaurants participating in the “Renaissance Gastronomy Days”. This festival is listed as a National Tourism Interest Festival, and a Local Tourism Interest Festival, and has received many awards including the Badge of Honour of Catalan Tourism.

Miravet, the last castle of the Templar Knights

Miravet castle is in the north of the Terres de l’Ebre, spectacularly located on a cliff-top overlooking the river Ebro. It is one of the best examples of Templar Knight architecture in Europe: a Romanesque monastery with Cistercian influences.

One of the most important historical monuments in Catalonia, it has been restored recently and is now run by the Museum of Catalan History.

In Medieval times, following the Christian expansion into the Ebro valley, which had been previously controlled by the Moors, the Knights of the Order of the Temple – a religious and military order originating in the Holy Land during the Crusades – consolidated their power in the south of Catalonia. The high point of their power was reached in the 13th century. Miravet castle occupied a strategic point to control boats sailing upriver from the Mediterranean. The Templar Knights transformed the Moorish castle, building a church, a refectory and new walls. Within a few years, it had become an insurmountable stronghold and one of the key points for the Templars’ domination of southern Europe. At the start of the 14th century, though, fearing their power, which rivalled that of the Pope, the King ordered their arrest and the confiscation of all their properties.

Morella, a town steeped in history

Morella Castle is an imposing stronghold which stands high above the town. The town itself is protected by almost two kilometres of stone walls, with seven gates and ten towers – some of which can be visited.

The beautiful Gothic-style church of Santa Maria la Major can also be found within the walled town. Interesting features include the spiral staircase leading to the choir, the Baroque-style altar and the 14th century stained glass rose windows. Its amazing pipe organ is also well-known and can be heard in the International Organ Music festival held in Morella every August.

A stroll around town will surprise the visitor with small hidden palaces and manor houses such as the 16th century Casa Piquer and Casa del Consell i els Estudis. The historical heritage of Morella can be found in the narrow streets of the old part of town, full of small craft-shops, which wind their way up to the castle and spectacular views of the surrounding hills and mountains.

Peñíscola, the Pope’s town

A 14th century pretender to the position of Pope, Papa Luna, lived in the castle of Peníscola. From its cliff-top site, the castle towers seventy metres above the sea. In the past, this rocky outcrop was connected to the mainland by a narrow stretch of sand, which would disappear at high tide or on stormy days. The castle buildings are strong and imposing. The castle has survived many wars and sieges over the years, with its main structure remaining intact.

The old town can be reached through three gates. The Renaissance period Portal Fosc was the main entrance until the 18th century and still offers hidden treasures where it seems like time has stood still. The Sant Pere gate was built under Papa Luna’s orders in the 15th century and opened a new access to the sea. The third one is the Santa Maria gate. Nearby we can find the Santa Anna hermitage, a highly recommended visit as you walk the steep narrow streets and alleys of cobblestones on your way up to the castle. Leaving the old town, at the bottom of the hill we can now find a long sandy beach and numerous hotels.

The ancient capital of Hispania

The city of Tarragona is home to one of the best collections of monuments and archaeological remains from Hispania, the name the Romans gave to the Iberian peninsula.

The remains or ruins of the amphitheatre, city walls, Roman circus, theatre, and forum are an example of the vitality of this town two thousand years ago. It has been declared a Human Heritage Site by UNESCO. For a better understanding of the complexity and magnificence of Tàrraco – its old Roman name – you should pay a visit to the city museums. The National Archaeological Museum and the Paleo-Christian Necropolis with its museum exhibition of pottery, coins, tools, sculptures, and mosaics offer an insight into the daily life of the Tarragona inhabitants at that time. The town’s History Museum also has a collection of archaeological and ethnographical exhibits ranging from Roman times all the way up to the modern day.