When the Carthusians came to settle in the Priorat they found Poboleda to be prosperous and energetic, the climate temperate and the mood peaceful. It was a good place to live from 1163 to 1228 while their monastery, Scala Dei, was being built not far away. Today the handles and locks on the doors of the old homes are forged with the cross of the Carthusian order.
The village crest features St. Peter’s keys to the gates of heaven. The church is dedicated to him and is known as the cathedral of the Priorat because of its grand stature. Inside is home to the original anointment bowl for holy water from Scala Dei. Remnants of beautiful stencil work are still visible on its facade.
The village sprawls up the hillside from the Siurana River. They say if a load of grapes were dropped at the top of the village, they would roll directly into the doors of the church, where the monks would be waiting.
The village is in the far northeastern part of the region, so it enjoys plenty of cooling influences from the Mediterranean. Schisty soils, composed largely of limestone, lend good acidity to the grapes. Equal amounts of Garnatxa and Carinyena are planted, resulting in wines with freshness and elegant minerality.
On a clear day the villages appear across the landscape like wedding cakes sprawling down hillsides. They are close enough to each other to feel connected, but before there were roads, which was not that long ago, they were too far apart to reach in a day. Imagine working in the vineyards, seeing a friend on a hillside across the valley collapse from the hot sun and having no cell phone to call for help. These circumstances kept each village reliant upon its own community. But some people managed to fall in love with “exotic” spouses from other villages, though they were all intrinsically bound by the Montsant.
Technically there are nine villages in the Priorat. Only the land around El Molar and Falset is within the DOQ Priorat, not the villages themselves. Scala Dei is technically part of La Morera, but it has its own community and terroir distinctive enough to be referenced independently. Some villages have less than 10% of the population they had at beginning of the century. After the phylloxera epidemic the population plummeted, and by the end of the Franco era the region was in stasis. But the Priorat was not depressed because, while the people had little money, they still had their land and their freedom, which had value all their own.
As the region finds prosperity again, families are returning to their ancestral villages and restoring their family homes along with the regional pride. Narrow pedestrian streets now make room for modern cars, but the church squares remain the place for social gatherings. The older generation stroll the streets, recollecting each stone and plant along the way. Some things are changing, but others never will.
Ethos Priorat is vividly panoramic. It is best viewed in landscape format to fully enjoy the experience.