From the Puig del Castell, the hill rising majestically above the plain, the two cathedrals of Lleida stand tall in the extensive, flat lands of western Catalonia: its Terra Ferma(Terra Firma).
It was the Ilergetes, an Iberian people, who founded the city of Ilerda around the fifth century BC. Centuries later it witnessed the failed rebellion of the legendary chieftains Indibilis and Mandonius against the Roman invaders. Ilerda was also the scene of a battle between the legions of Consul Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, and then later received the status of Roman municipality from the Emperor Octavian Augustus. Its bishopric dates to the year 417, only a few years before it was sacked by the King of the Suebi, Rechiar, in the year 449.
From Islam to Christianity
During the Arab domination of the peninsula, Lleida became an important nucleus of the northern border of al-Ándalus: in 832, a mosque was built on the spot where la Seu Vella (the Old Cathedral) is now located. Between 833 and 834 the castle, known as La Suda, was rebuilt after being destroyed in 808-809 when the King of the Franks, Louis the Pious, invaded. Following the break-up of the Caliphate of Cordobe in 1031, the taifa of Lleida was established, governed by the powerful al-Must’ain, until in 1102 it was conquered by the Almoravids.
In 1149 the city was taken by the Count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer IV, and the Count of Urgel, Armengol VI, and thus fell under Christian control. Lleida recovered its diocese, and the mosque of La Suda was rededicated as Christian place of worship. In 1150, Ramon Berenguer IV granted the city a Charter, and in 1197 Peter I of Aragon created the Consulate, which later became the General Council of La Paeria (the ancestor of today’s Town Hall).
The Cathedral of La Seu Vella was built in the thirteenth century, and at the beginning of the following century James II of Aragon created the Estudi General de Lleida, an institution which would hold a monopoly on higher education in the Crown of Aragon for centuries. At the end of the thirteenth century and beginning of the fourteenth, Lleidan textiles were exported to the rest of Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia and Marseille; however, the development of Barcelona as a port led to industrial decline in Lleida, whose economy began to turn to agriculture.
The city today
The city was besieged in 1707, during the War of the Spanish Succession, and later a new cathedral was built, La Seu Nova. Under Napoleonic occupation, Lleida was sacked and besieged by the French army, and in 1812 there was a huge explosion of gunpowder in the Castle of La Suda. The Lleida railway was inaugurated in 1868, and the city walls were pulled down in 1872; the city from then on began to acquire the appearance we see today, with the construction of new districts, developments in infrastructure, modernist and nineteenth-century buildings, as well as communication routes including motorways, roads and a high-speed railway.
With regards to religious architecture, the most notable buildings are La Seu Vella and La Seu Nova. The former, a thirteenth-century Gothic cathedral, is constructed from the top of the Puig del Castell hill, although its cloister and belltower date from the following century. It is a three-nave cathedral, with an octagonal lantern tower in the transept and Gothic windows, and an ambulatory with five apses (the central one larger than the side ones). The roof was built with rib vaulting, and three Gothic chapels were added in the fourteenth century. The sculptural decoration in the facades is in the Tuscan and Tolosan traditions, with noteworthy plant, geometric and fantastical iconography. The large cloister, rectangular in shape, has windows which open onto the central patio and southern gallery. The belltower, which is octagonal, was built in the south-east corner of the cloister by Jaume Cascalls; construction began on it in 1364, and it was finished by Carles Galtés de Ruan in 1416.
La Seu Nova, on the other hand, was only built in the eighteenth century, and was the first neoclassical building in Catalonia. It is made up of three naves, with Corinthian pillars and capitals and buttresses between the side chapels. It has an ambulatory, a transept and a facade with a staircase, three semi-circular porticos and two side towers joined by a terrace with railing.
Mention must also be made of other places of worship in Lleida. For example, the twelth-to-thirteenth-century Church of Saint Lorenzo is a Romanesque building which originally had one nave and a semi-circular apse. It was expanded in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with two Gothic side naves, a new entrance and an octagonal bell tower. The principal facade, which is accessed by a staircase, it sheltered by a portico. It also holds remarkable stone Gothic retables; the image of theMare de Déu dels Fillols, which came from the main retable of La Seu Vella; the retable of Santa Úrsula i les Onze Mil Verges, attributed to Jaume Cascalls; and tombs such as that of the Count of Urgell.
The thirteenth-century Church of Saint Martí is also Romanesque, with one nave and lancet vaulting and side arches supported by columns whose capitals are decorated with plant imagery. The church was expanded with Gothic chapels in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and it also has a Romanesque entrance which was brought from the town of El Tormillo, in Peralta de Alcolea, in the province of Huesca. Other significant churches are those of Saint Rufus, a Romanesque church from the thirteenth century, and the chapels of Saint Anthony Abbot or of the Blood, which dates from the eighteenth century, although it has a Renaissance entrance. Finally, there is the Church of Saint James (also known as the Church of Santiago or del Peu del Romeu), a Gothic building dating from the fourteenth century.
The two most remarkable pieces of civil architecture are the old Hospital of Saint Mary and the Palace of La Paeria. The former dates from the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries, and is built in the Gothic style; it was begun in 1454 by Andreu Pi but not finished until around 1520 by the craftsman Jaume Borrell. It is a square building, with three floors, organized around a central patio with a gallery of lancet arches going around the four sides of the floor plan. The
Palace of La Paeria dates from the thirteenth century and has been the seat of the Town Hall since 1383. It is organized around a central square patio, with a gallery of semi-circular arches on the ground floor and triforia , again made of semi-circular arches, on the main floor. Similar windows appear on the facade. The arrangement of the palace is the same as that of Catalan Gothic manions of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but in its configuration and decoration it follows in the footsteps of the Romanesque tradition.
The facade of the Palace of La Paeria owes a lot to the neo-medieval restoration carried out by Ramon Argilés in 1927, and the facade was remodelled in 1868 to a neoclassical design by the architect Agàpit Lamarca. Between 1929 and 1930 this facade was modified again and two more floors were added. A fifteenth-century retable produced by Jaume Ferrer, known as the Retablo de La Paeria and formerly in the old chapel, is kept in one of the rooms of the town hall. The basement, which is also formed of semi-circular arches, is home to the Municipal Museum.
One impressive piece of military architecture is the collection of ruins of the Castle of La Suda. In 882, when Lleida was occupied by the Muslims, the valí (Muslim governor) of the Banu Qasi constructed a castle on the Roca Sobirana, one of the three crags of the Puig del Castell. Almost nothing remains of the original structure; the building was largely rebuilt under the Count of Barcelona, Ramón Berenguer IV (1131-1162) and the Kings of Aragon James I (1213-1276)and Peter IV (1336-1387), and from this period one wing of the stronghold has been preserved. The royal chapel, with paintings by Ferrer Bassa, was destroyed in 1812.
In the eighteenth century four bastions were erected as well as various fortifications around the original Suda, which gave the complex a new appearance; the whole area was now walled and it was accessed by a drawbridge which crossed the moat. In 1812, during the War of Independence, the stronghold was used as a gunpowder store, and a huge explosion destroyed a great part of the outbuildings. However, outside, two naves at an angle, with pointed vaults and square turrets, have been conserved, while inside there is a wall with blind arcades, topped by a cornice with Mudéjar-influenced foliated arches. The thirteenth-century Gardeny Castle, in the Romanesque style, and the Gate of the Arch of the Bridge, a neo-classical remnant from the old city walls, complete the collection of defensive buildings conserved in the city.
Information and Reservation Centre (Centre d’Informació i Reserves)
Calle Major, 31 bis
Telephone: (+34) 902 25 00 50