Montblanc is the capital of the comarca (county) of Conca de Barberà, 40km north of Tarragona. Its name, White Mountain in English, was originally due to a lack of green vegetation, the town today, set amidst lush vineyards and abundant fields, can only be compared to a fairy tale kingdom. Built on top of a hill in the 11th-century as a safeguard against flooding from the nearby rivers, Montblanc maintains its old world atmosphere within high medieval walls. The impressive Prades Mountains are located in the vicinity of this municipality as well as the majestic 12th-century Cistercian abbey in Poblet i Santes Creus, which was a fortified royal residence during the Middle Ages and contains the pantheon of the kings of Catalonia and Aragon.
According to the Catalan historian, Joan Amades, the walls of Montblanc are the origin of Catalonia’s most famous legend of Sant Jordi, patron of Catalonia and celebrated throughout the land on the 23rd of April. The story tells how a wicked dragon from a nearby lake terrorized the village, devouring all the farm animals until there were none left. The dragon then demanded one of the villagers on condition that he would then vacate the town. The villagers agreed, drew lots, and the King’s daughter was selected as the sacrificial victim. Only minutes before the princess, dressed in white, was about to be eaten by the dragon, a young knight appeared on horseback, speared the dragon with his sword and saved the princess. Where the dragon fell, a rose bush appeared with red roses the colour of the dragon’s blood. The knight plucked a rose and gave it to the princess before riding off out of the gates and into the sunset. To commemorate this legend, on the day of Saint Jordi, men traditionally give women a rose while the women give the men a book. Although this might seem slightly unfair, the atmosphere throughout Catalonia on the 23rd of April can not help but impress.
In Montblanc this celebration lasts an entire week. During the last week in April, Setmana Medieval livens up the streets of Montblanc in a whirl of colourful events. The shebang starts up in true Mediterranean style when a Medieval Feast is held at the convent of St. Francesc. A scrumptious menu is guaranteed to whet any appetite, the only condition being that all dinner guests must wear traditional costume. The winding streets of Montblanc are converted into a real life theatre as over three hundred actors participate in scenes from daily medieval life. Events include fighting underneath the city walls, Jewish merchants and money lenders in the Jewish Quarters, the coronation of the King at his Court and all the local craftsmen at work. Throughout the day there is also a juggling competition that anyone can enter for free. The figure of the Juggler in Medieval times was considered an entertainer as well as a story teller who often brought important information from other parts of the country. Juggling routines can be performed alone or in a group and last between fifteen and thirty minutes. Fire, music and light are combined in a series of blazing outdoor bangs in the “Resurrection of the Dragon,” on 28th April in Plaça de Sant Francesc. Dragons, witches and ghouls liven up the evening atmosphere which, according to the council of Montblanc, is certain to incite all kinds of sinful behaviour. Alcoholic Dragon’s Blood is on sale all night in the church. A medieval market animates the historic centre of Montblanc on Saturday and Sunday as crafts, traditional food products and street performers and a Slave Auction hold centre court.
The market has existed in Montblanc since 1281 when merchants displayed their wares on the ground, in different types of baskets, selling vegetables, fruit, oil, salt, cheese, honey, herbs and also ice which came from ice wells from the surrounding areas. The most magical moment awaits over three thousand spectators on Saturday at Passeig Conangla when a theatrical representation of the Legend of Sant Jordi is acted out in a truly authentic style as the actors are chosen every year from the Montblanc townsfolk. The only prerequisite stipulated is that all girls trying out for the Princess must be eighteen, while all prospective Sant Jordis must be twenty one.”
[Modified text from Genevieve Shaw‘s original, freelance journalist who lives in Catalonia]
WHEN?: last week in April
How to get there from Barcelona.
Video: © TVBague