IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
By Nick Lloyd - Home - Contact


Montjüic has at times functioned as the city's cemetery, quarry, garrison and prision. Today it's Barcelona 's park. Though marred by rubbish, dog turds, summer drought, thievery and urine, Montjuïc is still a great place to spend an afternoon wandering though the string of beautiful parks. And the views of the city, the port and the sea are, as they say, splendid. The hill is 173 metres high and covers 500 hectares (5% of Barcelona ) and receives 12 million visitors a year. The hill probably takes its name from the Jewish cementary that was once sited here though there are other theories. As Ciutadella was modelled by the 1888 Exhibition, Montjuïc was by the 1929 Universal Exhibition. Take the road up to the castle and from here take the newly-opened Camí del Mar (Sea Path), which takes you from the Castle along the edge of the cliffs with industrial views over Spain 's greatest port with its sea of containers. Despite ths clanging and bashing of the port and the incessant roar of the coast road below, the cliffs of Montjuïc support a remarkable fauna. Most striking is the colony of kestrels (Falco tinnunculus ) believed to be one of Europe 's largest concentrations. Kestrels do not usually nest in colonies. It is the ample supply of refuse-fattened rodents and the constrained space of the cliffs which cause them to congregate here in unnatural numbers. The City Council has also successfully reintroduced the Peregrine Falcon here. In 2003 a pair bred on the cliffs and raised three chicks, the first to do so since 1973. (Simultaneously, another pair managed to raise two chicks in the Torre Macosa near Diagonal Mar). The official objective is to try and frighten away some of Barcelona 's 180,000 pigeons (2001 estimates), which, at 300 per square kilometre, is one of the densest populations in the world, though behind the propoganda, it's not a hope, the real aim being to increase biodiversity. Also around the cliffs and slopes are Rock Thrush ( Monticola saxatilis ), Little Owl ( Athene noctua ) Rabbits, Montpellier Snake ( Malpolon monspessulanus), Ladder Snake ( Elaphe scalaris ), and several species of lizards. The cliffs are in part naturally formed by a tectonic fault and in part exposed by stone quarrying - there were a number of old quarries on Montjuïc, my favourite of which is La Foixarda Many of Barcelona 's buildings are dressed in Montjuïc stone. Ours is. At least that's what the estate agent said.

18/07/2006 I came across this photo from the British Library by Charles Clifford (c.1861), considered among the finest photographers in nineteenth-century Spain. Anyone who knows Barcelona will notice how much the seafront has changed. I was also struck by the total absence of trees on Montjuic - typical of a time in Europe when charcoal and farmland were at a premium - baring the oppressive presence of the castle, the city's then garrison and prison. I like the rugged sea edge of the mount in the photo, today tamed by the ring road and the port. A friend of mine's father used to go swimming off the Montjuic rocks in the 1950s. Now the area is Spain's greatest port and a sea of containers. Montjuic's seaward profile has also sharpened with one of the huge limestone quarries gouged into the hill from which stone was excavated to build the Eixample.

In early summer keep an eye out for the bee-eaters and the occasional hoopoe. The new Jardi Botanic is an ambitious collection of plants and trees from the world's Mediterranean habitats divided into Western Mediterranean , Eastern Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia , Chile and California. SORT OF PETERS OUT MORE TO COME