Montserrat Underground – Two visits 25 years apart – By Jordi Fradera

By Jordi Fradera

“Mountain sawn by angels”, so says the hymn of the Montserrat monastery. This mountain is a symbol of Catalonia and on its steep north slope is located the monastery (720 m.) that houses the image of Our Lady of Montserrat, patron saint of Catalonia. With vertical walls of hundreds of meters on its north face it is a paradise for climbers.

However, the subject of this article is what is inside, the Salnitre cave is little known and not as spectacular as others around the world. I have visited the cave twice, first in 1957 when I went there with several friends traveling the 958 m of its length. It was in precarious conditions, slippery without light or walkways, it was an adventure guided by a peasant from the town of Collbató who told us stories about bandits who were hiding in the cave and crossed the mountain through a forgotten passage. The far end of the entrance, a “cul de sac”, gave me a feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia that I often remember to this day.

Here are a couple of photos from the first visit. They were shot with a Leica IIIf. The flash that was very bulky and primitive did not work. We entered calmly because Enric guaranteed that the mountain would not crush us.

The group at the entrance of the cave (the fourth is me)
Enric “the strongman” supporting the weight of the mountain

It was a memorable visit and years later (1982) I visited the Salnitre cave again, this time with my wife and my 3 1/2 year old son. This time we were only able to visit half of the route, 545m. By this time, it had some walkways but still no lights. The visit was somewhat more organized and we lit ourselves with carbide lamps, YES, CARBIDE! As was done in the past in the mines, including its peculiar aroma, it was exciting and unforgettable trip.

I shot these photos with a Pentax ME, Kodak Gold 200 and a tiny flash that this time really worked.

Is this really how you tell it?
Now with more confidence and smiling.
Don’t leave me alone!!!
A photographic error from then but now in fashion. I forgot to tell the camera that the photo was with flash and it shot maybe 20sec.

I don’t think that an adventure like this can be repeated today, tourists enjoy more comforts and security and of course carbide lamps went down in history although you can still buy them as antiques and  Amazon sells carbide!

These days, you can visit the Salnitre cave with safe and illuminated walkways.

I hope you liked the article

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