In the mountains in Andorra lies a village called Meritxell (the ‘tx’ is like the ‘ch’ in English) with 66 inhabitants. So why is it one of the places to go when visiting Andorra if you want to get a feel for the people? The answer lies in the Santuari de Meritxell, a sanctuary basilica.
A sanctuary basilica? What is that? Sanctuary refers to a holy place of worship or a temple while basilica refers to certain powers granted to it by the Pope. But why does this village of 66 have such a large/’powerful’ (in Papal terms) church? Well, it has to do with a saint, as these things usually do. The legend goes that the Virgin of Meritxell was found near here. Since 1873 when Andorra decided to have her be their patron saint, this site has been of importance to the local people, who poured money into it. However, in 1972, disaster struck! On 8 September, the old church burnt mostly to the ground, leaving nothing left.
As this was an important site for the Andorrans, they built a new sanctuary. Rather than try to remain true to the original 16th-century Romanesque architecture, a modernist style sanctuary by the renowned Catalan architect Ricard Bofill i Leví took its place. The architect has worked on other projects like the Barcelona El Prat Airport Terminal 1, Malaga Airport extension, the Hotel W in Barcelona and over 1000 projects in over 50 countries. His design of the Santuari encompasses his modern style. You can see some of it in the pictures, designed for general use of the spaces that he designs.
While I found the outside to be quite pleasant to look at, it was really the surroundings that captured my attention. The sanctuary is set high in the mountains near the French-Andorran border. It sits on a major traffic artery leading to the tunnel that gives tourists easier access from France and Spain. This leads to wonderful views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. I have to admit that I did not find the interior very impressive. While the central courtyard was also nice, there was nothing special about it. The building interiors were spartan at best with white painted walls (although this reflects the tastes of the clergy themselves rather than the architect).
Here are some more photos from the Santuari de Meritxell :
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