These days we are bit busy because we are moving to a new flat but one week ago we had some free days and we decided to make a quick visit to the Catalan province of Lleida. We really needed some relax! 🙂
Lleida (whose capital has the same name) is the fourth and less populated province of Catalonia, after Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona. But the city of Lleida has a medieval complex (La Seu Vella) which has been the scenario of some historical highlights of Catalonia while the entire province is known for its natural and agricultural importance.
In this trip we stayed in a country hotel located less tan 30 minutes driving in the south of the city of Lleida, in an area quite famous due to the production of olive oil. However, if coming from Barcelona, you can reach the city of Lleida either by train or by car (less than 2 hours). In this post we want to share our experience visiting the Seu Vella so that you can write it down for your next trip to Catalonia! 🙂
La Seu Vella is the name given to the former Cathedral of Lleida (now a new Cathedral is placed in the city centre). Thus, la Seu Vella literally means “the Old Cathedral”. La Seu Vella is part of a monumental complex placed in a hill from which it controls all the territory. It is surrounded by a fortress and next to La Seu Vella there is also a castle called Castell del Rei (“the King’s Castle”). Information for visitors can be found in English in this webpage.
Building of La Seu Vella started in 1203 and it mixes some elements from the Romanesque and the Gothic architecture. However, the history behind the hill where La Seu Vella stands today is a long one. Before the construction of La Seu Vella there was a Visigothic cathedral which was later converted into a mosque during the Muslim occupation.
But when the territory was back to Christian hands (1149), it was decided to build a bigger temple due to the increase of the population. It seems that the construction followed some principles coming from Normandy and linked to the Benedictine monks tradition.
After the main nave, the cloister was built between the XIII and XV centuries. Nowadays it might be the most beautiful place of the monument. Just have a look to those Gothic large windows that lighten the cloister. I guess that it is the scenario of most of the pictures that are taken in Lleida. It is easy to understand that: the cloister is considered one of the greatest Gothic cloisters in Europe. It was used as a cemetery for church officers and other citizens.
In the cloister visitors will find the spiral stairs (with 238 steps!) that lead to the bell tower, built in the XIV and XV centuries. Prepare yourself for the climb. The reward makes it worth it: you will have panoramic views over the entire city and the countryside.
During the Spanish War of Succession, in 1707, Lleida was conquered by the French-Spanish troops and the King decided to destroy La Seu Vella, which had been of a great importance for the defence of the city. However, the King died and the order was not fulfilled. Then La Seu Vella turned into a military building. This military use lasted until 1948, when La Seu Vella was given back to the city and restoration works started.
After visiting La Seu Vella, we moved to Castell del Rei, which is the castle located next to La Seu. It is popularly known as “La Suda”, an Arab word meaning a closed urban area. In fact, an Andalusian fortress was built in the IX century in the same place where the castle stands today.
The castle was built at the same time than La Seu Vella and it became the most important civil building in Lleida. Today, only one of its naves has survived the course of time. Moreover, visitors can still climb to its terrace to enjoy nice views of La Seu Vella.
As we said before, the castle was the scenario of some important moments in the Catalan history, such as the marriage between the count Ramon Berenguer IV and Peronella d’Aragó, which united the dinasties of Barcelona and Aragó. It was also the place where the king Jaume I, called “The Conqueror”, was crowned at the age of six. We already wrote about him in this post about the Poblet Monastery (Tarragona), where he is buried. The beggining of his reign and its end, only separated by a few kilometres. 🙂