Montserrat Abbey

montserrat-bandeau

General overview

The access assessment identified 1,348 critical points. To meet this sizable challenge, the decision was taken to make accessibility a part of the overall strategy for renovation and tourist attractiveness of the site.  The programme of access works undertaken at this historical and protected site has been respectful of heritage and has contributed to its enhancement.

Principal access interventions :

  1. Visitor access : increased pedestrianisation
  2. Access to buildings : from spatial re-organisation to minor changes
  3. New technologies in the service of preparing the visit

Location:

  • 38 miles (60 km) from Barcelona
  • steeped in the mountains within a nature reserve of 20 square miles (50 square km)

Description :

  • shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat
  • community of Benedictine monks
  • museum, library, choir school

Illustrated case-study :

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Challenges

Heritage significance and attractiveness

  • symbol of Catalan identity
  • 2,3 million visitors per year, of whom 47% are foreign visitors

Access challenges

  • a very steep site, with a difference in height of 640 yards (585 m) between the lowest and highest point
  • improved accessibility is an objective of the Abbey of Montserrat Foundation (Fundacio Abadia de Montserrat) 2025

Approach

  • accessibility is an integral part of the programme for renovation and enhanced tourist attractiveness

“It was not possible to tackle the improvements “item by item” : accessibility requires a comprehensive approach.” Francesc Arragal, President, Design for All Foundation

Project

Visitor access : a new type of circulation

The choice of increased pedestrianisation

The great number of cars and disorderly parking congested the public place and hindered the free movement of visitors. Limiting the number of cars and giving priority to public transport and soft pathways inside the site considerably improves the situation of people with mobility difficulties.

Vue de l'abbaye avant les travaux sur la zone de stationnementVue de l'abbaye après les travaux sur la zone de stationnement

Joined up public transport

The selected strategy consisted in the creation of a seamless access sequence including funicular railway and signage. This approach has allowed the freeing-up of sufficient space to resolve the challenges raised by the steep drops inside the site and of congestion. The stops of the shuttle serve as reference points. Signage is highly visible by design :

  • central location of information panel
  • colour coding of  each zone
  • information in several languages
  • strong contrast
  • braille and audio signs

Vue de l'arrivée en transport en commun sur le siteborne montserrat

Access to the buildings : different strategies

Changing the organisation of a building in the event of technical impossibility

The original entry of the museum, located in the upper part of the site, was accessible only via a flight of stairs. It would have been unsatisfactory to install a stair lift. A total re-organisation of the spaces was needed.

Vue de l'ancienne entrée comportant une volée de marcheVue de la nouvelle entrée accessible

Vertical circulations : slopes and elevators

Portable and reversible ramps and slopes have been widely used as a solution. In line with the need for heritage preservation, instead of slopes made of concrete, contemporary slopes have been chosen, which contrast with the building. In addition, two types of elevators were installed :

  • an platform lift to reach the next floor level (principle of maximum intervention)
  • a stair lift (principle of minimum intervention).

Rampe contemporaine réversible et contrastéElévateur verticalElévateur oblique

New technologies help prepare the visit

People with mobility difficulties tend to prepare their visit in advance, to select the least tiring and most accessible route. Virtual tours do not in any case replace the visit onsite. They are an alternative interpretive tool that allows one to anticipate the visit and to avoid stress and fatigue.

A virtual tour is not a substitute to an inaccessible venue. It is a means of preparing the visit to the site.

Capture d’écran de la visite virtuelle en 3 dimensions disponible sur le site Internet.

Players and processes

Players

  • Client : Abbey of Montserrat Foundation 2025
  • Project manager : Fancesc Arragal, President, Design for All Foundation

Processes

In a steep environment, accessibility projects require a greater degree of re-organisation of buildings: a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of several options is needed, ranging from  minor to more significant changes.

Pictures and maps