During this circuit, you will find 8 photographic points around the Sanctuary and the lake. It is suitable for all audiences and lasts 25 minutes. Along the route, you will discover more about these essential points to understand the history of Vall de Núria.
The legend of Sant Gil, which we will see in point nº 5, tells us how this saint made the carving of the Virgin of Núria and how he later had to hide it buried in a cave and leave because it was chased Years later, it was found by the shepherds of the valley and from here devotion to it was born in the valley, celebrating the first mass in 1079. However, the construction of the first chapel is attributed by a legend to a pilgrim named Amadeu (year 1072).
The first historical data of Núria, well documented, from the end of the 11th and 12th centuries, speak of the coexistence of two chapels in Núria, the primitive one, built by Amadeu, and a new, more spacious one built in the middle of the Núria plain. There is also talk of the domus hospitalis, that is to say a place to accommodate pilgrims and walkers. In later documents, this hospital or inn, probably expanded, is called Casa de la Volta and it is recorded that it was not demolished until 1675 to make way for new buildings.
The growing influx of devotees to Núria motivated, at the beginning of the 17th century, the construction of a larger church, attached to the north of the previous chapel. Work began in 1639 and the church was inaugurated in 1642. Almost destroyed by an earthquake (1829), it was rebuilt.
The need to build a new church with a large capacity was initially driven by priest Joan Salomó and the then bishop of Urgell, Josep Caixal, who entrusted the project of the new temple to the architect Calixte Freixe. The works began in 1883 and continued for 28 years, receiving a strong boost in 1907 with the new bishop Joan Benlloch. The solemn inauguration took place on September 8, 1911. The planned Neo-Gothic facade with two pointed bell towers eventually became the current Neo-Romanesque facade, completed in 1946, and a single central bell tower attached to the facade, completed in 1964, through which the entrance to the temple is made.
Núria Rack Railway:
From 1916 the Sanctuary remained open all year round due to the influx of skiers and hikers, which led to the need to build a road or funicular to access Núria in 1917. The bishop of Urgell, Joan Belloch, and his successor, Justí Guitart, were enthusiastic supporters of this decision. Finally, it is decided on the option of the cogwheel train. The works began in May 1928 and lasted three years. The management was in charge of the engineer Montserrat Fenech i Muñoz. Although it is estimated that around 800 men participated, at certain times, there were more than a thousand workers.
During the construction work, two steam locomotives from the Montserrat rack were used. Once the line was electrified, on March 22, 1931, the Núria zip line was officially inaugurated. With a maximum slope of 15%, it consists of 9 bridges, 8 tunnels and 4 stations, the last to be built was Núria in 1953.
Danés architect, the wooden bridge:
The architect Josep Danés was commissioned in 1921 by Bishop Justí Guitart to renovate the Núria plan where service and religious buildings from different eras coexisted. His project provided for the demolition of buildings in order to enable a closed square with the main facade with the Sanctuary and two large spiked towers. In the end, the square was not closed, nor were large towers built, as we see today.
In order to connect the buildings with the station over the Mulleres stream, a wooden bridge covered with pine and covered with slate was built. This bridge, so characteristic of the Núria landscape, is inspired by Swiss mountain architecture; Josep Danés was inspired by the hospice of the Gran Sant Bernat pass and the bridges of Lucerne. The bridge was inaugurated in 1933.
The guilla moixera
It is a native species of Iceland, about 10-15 meters high and with compound, alternate leaves with a serrated edge. The bark, gray and smooth when young, will become darker and furrowed with age, just like the skin of an old person, but unlike this one it will live for about 150 years. The white flowers in the spring will give way to the red fruits when the cold arrives.
And it is this fruit that gives it its popular name; for example, in Catalan we call it moixera de guilla, because the guilla takes advantage of its fruit when, in the middle of winter, after many days of hunting, it returns to its den with an empty stomach.
In Andorra and other areas of the Pyrenees you can find that they call it the Besurt, in fact in the Benasc Valley all those who have gone to make the roof of the Pyrenees, the Aneto, from the Renclusa refuge, will have started to walk in the Plan de la Besurta.
The Romans fermented it and made a drink they called cerevisa, which has not survived to this day, but on the other hand, the Nordics and Eastern countries have given it a more popular use: vodka! It is not the basis of fermentation but is used to flavor a type of vodka.
The wood of the moixera had also been used for its robustness and ability to resist rubbing or for tool handles.
Among the drivers and staff of the Núria Rack Railway, it has always been a tradition to fetch water for breakfast in a small spring next to the entrance gates to the station. It is very fresh and pure water that comes down from the Bosc de la Mare de Déu. At the end of the nineties and following the environmental care and landscaping project, this current fountain and a picnic area were built so that visitors to the valley could also enjoy this tradition.
Approaching this corner at different times of the year is a very interesting exercise to grasp the change in landscape caused by the passage of the seasons in the high mountains.
Landscape and tourism
The landscape's relationship with visitors is already present in the 17th century when Francesc Marés breaks with the dangerous and demonic view of the mountain, to speak of Núria's plan as a heavenly approach. At the beginning of the 20th century, Joan Maragall will also praise the charms of Núria with his joys, in which the loneliness of the environment stands out. As Núria grows with devotees, the more pastoral image is displaced, to accommodate the pilgrims, with several service buildings and accommodation. They came along the different Roman roads; especially from France which enjoys more advanced economic progress and therefore facilitates the enjoyment of leisure time.
The architectural renovation of 1923 with Josep Danés and his Alpine influence will also cause changes in Núria's vision that will not always be well accepted. Aspects as important to the landscape as access to Núria will be discussed, debating between road, funicular or cogwheel.
Even in 1912, a hydraulic project for the construction of a large dam was valued that would have modified the current landscape by a large reservoir. Fortunately, the current dam was only built in 1956, creating a leisure space and the majestic mirror effect that we can see now.
In the 1980s, we also found projects to expand the ski resort towards El Puigmal, which were ultimately not carried out. From 1984, the management of FGC has always been aimed at preserving the natural environment. At the beginning of the 90s, the current landscaping around Núria was done, always looking for this balance between facilitating access and respecting the environment.
Each generation is a modifier of the landscape, it was the first herders of the Neolithic with the use of caves, Amadeus with his chapel, or the counts of medieval Catalonia managing pastures. Always looking for the use of the meadows, the religious connection or enjoying hiking from its origins; we just need to keep putting respect for the natural environment and historical heritage before all else.
Despite being from Athens, legend says that around the year 700 Sant Gil arrived in Núria from Provence, where he had founded a monastery. She had the goal of achieving the peace and tranquility of hermit life. Sant Gil spent his days dedicated to prayer and making his own icons, among them the image of the Mother of God from Núria. They say that when Sant Gil arrived in the valley, he already brought the cross there.
The saint stayed in a cave that now bears his name and spent part of his time living with the shepherds who took their cattle to the meadows of those mountains. He shared his food with them; some grain and beans cooked in a copper pot. When the food was ready, Sant Gil rang a bell to warn the diners.
Sant Gil's stay in these valleys soaked in snow and water lasted only four years. Persecuted by various conflicts, Sant Gil had to leave in a hurry to Provence.
But before that he hid his little treasure; the image of the Virgin Mary, accompanied by the three objects that later became symbols of Núria; the bell, the cross and the pot.
Núria is located in the middle of the high mountains of the Pyrenees. The Sanctuary is almost 2,000 meters above sea level, at the point where three valleys meet: to the west there is the Finestrelles valley, with the subsidiary valley of the Coma de l'Embut, to the north the Eina valley, and to the raising the Molleres valley, formed by the Noucreus and Noufonts.
The set of all these valleys constitutes a mountain headland encircled by a long and high semicircular ridge that closes it to the east, north and west above the 2,700 meters known as the Olla de Núria, with the culminating point at the 2,913-meter Puigmal summit. To the south, a hard and raised ridge closes all of these valleys.
Excursionism emerged in Catalonia from the second half of the 19th century, at the beginning when scientific and cultural objectives were mixed, and gradually the current model was built that includes both the sporting part and the cultural and natural part.
Vall de Núria is the cradle of hiking and a learning base for a multitude of mountaineers and alpinists who have made great ascents through the various mountain ranges of the planet. An extensive network of trails allows you to enjoy the valley, whatever our level or goal.
Núria's story has always been linked to one person or another that has left its mark on the valley, either because it was its function or, well, its devotion. From Sant Gil and Amadeu, protagonists of the legend of Núria to the present day, the list is countless with more than a thousand years of history.
Certainly, we have more data from the modern era, as we find more written documentation, but we can find people who have been attracted to Núria to the point of making it the backbone of their lives in all eras. Like for example Francesc Marés with the publication of his book "History and miracles of the sacred image of our lady of Núria" in 1666!.
Already in the 20th century, we find Bishop Joan Benlloch as a determined promoter of the completion of the new temple inaugurated in 1911, and promoter of the commission for a new access to Núria. He was followed at the head of the bishopric of La Seu d'Urgell by Bishop Justí Guitart, fervent Nurien, and architect of the current Sanctuary, in promoting the demolition of the old buildings for a new project entrusted to the equally indispensable Josep Danés. He was the architect who permeated the Pyrenees with an architecture inspired by the Alpine valleys.
The engineer Montserrat Fenech was in charge of the colossal project of the construction of the zip line completed in 1931. And also the priest and historian Fortià Solà did a great job on Núria. Or another priest like Monsignor Bonaventura Carrera who took the Virgin to France, through the Finestrelles pass, to protect her from an almost certain cremation at the start of the civil war.
Others may not have been so relevant but they are part of the Nurien environment, giving names to small charming places, such as the Escudé bridge in the Noucreus valley in deference to one of the first mountain guides in the valley.
The chapel of Sant Gil was built in 1615, it is currently the oldest building in the valley. We should not be confused by the lintel of the portal on which there is the inscription of 1644, as it belongs to the old church, which was preserved when it was demolished and placed in the hermitage of Sant Gil.
At the beginning of the civil war, many ecclesiastical symbols were destroyed, such as the wooden altarpiece that was in the Sanctuary, or the chapel that was burned and destroyed. In 1951 with an admirable popular campaign, which consisted of sending letters to all people named Núria to invite them to make a contribution, to pay for a tile or a stone that would bear their name engraved for posterity. Everyone collaborated, even the mass media. With the recovery of the chapel of Sant Gil, Núria rediscovered one of the spaces that were part of its symbolic and mythical landscape.
It received a final renovation in 1999, leaving it as we see it today.