The narrow Vall de Boí is situated in the high Pyrénées, in the Alta Ribagorça region and is surrounded by steep mountains. Each village in the valley contains a Romanesque church, and is surrounded by a pattern of enclosed fields. There are extensive seasonally-used grazing lands on the higher slopes.
The Vall de Boí is located in the Catalan Pyrenees, in the district of Alta Ribagorça, 120 km north of Lleida, in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula. The narrow valley is surrounded by steep mountains and each of the villages in it contains a Romanesque church.
As a group, these churches represent an especially pure and consistent example of pictorial art and architecture in the Lombard Romanesque style. They were built between the 11th and 12th centuries under the patronage of the Lords of Erill, and were unusual for their placement on the fringe of their respective ancient villages and also for the richness of the interior pictorial decoration.
The components of this serial heritage property are the churches of Sant Feliu de Barruera, Sant Joan de Boí, Santa Maria de Taüll, Sant Climent de Taüll, Nativitat de Durro, Santa Eulàlia d’Erill-la-Vall, l’Assumpció de Santa Maria de Coll, Santa Maria de Cardet and the hermitage of Sant Quirc de Durro. The two churches in Taüll were declared national monuments in 1931, Sant Joan de Boí and Santa Eulàlia d’Erill-la-Vall in 1962, and the rest of the churches in 1993.
It is in this group of exceptionally well preserved rural churches that the largest concentration in Europe of Romanesque art is to be found. This group is a unique example of the cultural tradition that flourished in Catalonia in the 12th century. The Romanesque churches and the villages where they stand form an excellent example of a cultural landscape that has flourished in harmony with a natural environment that has remained intact to this day. The Lombard Romanesque style took a turn in the Pyrenean churches in which the indigenous rural spirit manifests itself in a remarkable way such as the line of the elegant bell-towers of Sant Climent de Taüll, Sant Joan de Boí and Santa Eulàlia d’Erill-la-Vall.
The way of life in mediaeval Catalonia as expressed by this group of churches and villages can be said to have been of great importance in the recognition of Catalan cultural identity. The Romanesque art of these Pyrenean villages played a vital role in the movement for the restoration of Catalan nationality and identity in the early 20th century.
The importance of the churches of the Vall de Boí, however, lies in their group value: there is nowhere else in Europe with an ensemble of such notable churches built during the same, relatively short, period of time. Neither is there any other group that so vividly illustrates the transmission of a cultural movement able to pass over a high mountain barrier and become established, with high technical and artistic standards, in another territory. The group can therefore be considered a masterpiece of the period and an example of great human creativity.
The significant developments in Romanesque art and architecture in the churches of the Vall de Boí testify to profound cultural interchange across medieval Europe and in particular across the mountain barrier of the Pyrenees.
The Churches of the Vall de Boí are an especially pure and consistent example of Romanesque art in a virtually untouched rural setting.
The individual churches are all components of this serial property and the whole property is contained within one buffer zone. All the attributes of the Outstanding Universal Value, such as the Lombard influences on the architecture and the sculptural decor, the floor plan, the accurate stone work on the wall surface, the square floor plan of the bell towers or the sculptural decor with blind arches, as well as the continued use of the churches by the community, are included within the boundaries of the property.
Some conservation work has been carried out on all the churches, but on some more than others. Many were the object of extensive programmes of restoration and conservation in the second half of the 20th century, and recent restoration has been, and will continue to be, carried out through what is, in fact, a continuous programme of maintenance, which does not affect the integrity of the property. The main wall paintings, and most of the ancient artefacts were transferred in the early 20th century to the MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya) in Barcelona for safety reasons, to avoid their being removed, plundered and subsequently exported to America, as had occurred with paintings in other churches in Catalonia.
The churches of Santa Maria de Taüll, Sant Joan de Boí, Santa Eulàlia d’Erill-la-Vall, la Nativitat de Durro, Sant Feliu de Barruera, l’Assumpció de Coll, Santa Maria de Cardet and the hermitage of Quirc de Durro retain their architectural form, structure and materials, as well as their religious use, while the church of Sant Climent de Taüll preserves intact all the original features and is used for tourist/cultural purposes. No adverse factors appear to exist at present, though excessive tourism would be problematic if it were allowed to develop.
There can be no question about the basic authenticity of the churches, the villages or the surrounding landscape. All have, however, experienced recent changes which might, to a greater or lesser extent, be seen as modifying that basic authenticity. However, this is a phenomenon to be observed in all cult buildings that have been in continuous use for spiritual purposes since their construction. None of the interventions, with the exception of the regrettable, but entirely justifiable, removal of much of the art treasures to Barcelona, has been such as to reduce the authenticity of any of the churches to an unacceptable extent. Conservation of the churches’ fabric has extended to removal, renovation, replacement, and new construction. Now, only Santa Maria at Durro to some extent, and otherwise only Santa Maria, Cardet, which are distinctive in several other respects also, provide in their unconserved state a good idea of church development and an interior in late- and post-medieval times.
The rescue of the mural art in the 1920s was a remarkable achievement and it has produced remarkable results, which can be seen at the MNAC, Barcelona. However, that achievement cannot alter the stark facts that the paintings are now out of the context in which they were meant to be seen, and that that context now lacks its crowning glory. While this does not undermine the churches’ claim on the world’s attention, it could be argued to diminish their authenticity to some extent. In their present location the paintings cannot, of course, be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.
The churches of Santa Maria de Taüll, Sant Climent de Taüll, Sant Joan de Boí, Santa Eulàlia d’Erill-la-Vall, Nativitat de Durro, Sant Feliu de Barruera and Santa Maria de Cardet as well as the hermitage of Quirc de Durro have recently undergone general restoration to consolidate the roofs, structure, bell-towers and interiors in such a way as to highlight the authenticity of their architectural and decorative features, as well as to enhance their use for religious and cultural purposes.