Advent Calendar – Door 20: The Portal Reial in Poblet

The Portal Reial, Monestir de Poblet
via Wikimedia Commons, by PMRMaeyaert (CC BY-SA)

If Monday’s post was about photography’s artistic possibilities, today’s is all about its documentary capibilities. What you see in the above (and in the following) pictures may look like the gate of a castle or a fortress, but is actually, once again, the entrance to a monastery, in this case the Cistercian Abbey of Poblet in the province of Tarragona, Spain. The monastery was founded in 1151, and most of its buildings date from the period between the 12th and the 15th century. The impressive structure in the photo(s) is known as the Portal Reial (Royal Gate) and forms part of the abbey’s defenses erected upon the initiative of King Peter IV of Aragon in the 14th century. It is flanked by two perfectly symmetrical fortified towers with machiolations beneath their battlements. As another photo from c. 1920 shows, the gate hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years or so:

The Portal Reial, Monestir de Poblet
Ajuntament de Girona (Public Domain)

However, the Europeana Collections include even older pictures of the Portal Reial, and once one moves back in time a bit further, small but notable differences begin to appear. Thus, in a photo taken between c. 1900 and 1920, the left of the two towers is still topped by crenellations which are missing in the more recent images:

The Portal Reial, Monestir de Poblet
Ajuntament de Girona (Public Domain)

An even earlier photo from c. 1860-1886 shows differences to the tower on the right hand side, too. Its battlement is lower and more irregular than in the later pictures, giving it the impression of being either damaged or unfinished:

J. Laurent (1816-1886), The Portal Reial, Monestir de Poblet
Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España (CC BY-NC-ND)

As is so often the case with medieval buildings, then, the perfect symmetry we see today is owed, at least in part, to a late-19th/early-20th-century restoration.

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