Up in the mountains in Andorra lies a village called Meritxell (the ‘tx’ is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in English) with a whopping 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? Well sanctuary refers to a holy place of worship or a temple while basilica refers to certain powers that have been 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 a the Virgin of Meritxell was found near here and 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 site was of great importance to the Andorrans, a new sanctuary was built. Rather than try to remain true to the original Romanesque architecture of the 16th century, a modernist style sanctuary was built by the renowned Catalan architect Ricard Bofill i Leví who 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 encompass his modern style, some of which can be seen in the pictures of this blog post, with a general usefulness 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 santuari site is set high in the mountains near the French-Andorran border and is located on a major traffic artery heading 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 was not very impressed by the interior of the building. While the central courtyard was nice, there was nothing special about it and the building interiors themselves 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 :