Convent, hermitage and spa of Cardó




The CARDÓ DESERT, which became a spa in the 19th century, is located at the top of the spectacular Salt del Frare cliff, in the Cardó mountain range in the municipality of Benifallet. It is accessed by road from Rasquera and by track from Tivenys. Of baroque style, the Desert (name given to certain hermitages, convents and monasteries of some religious orders) is dated between centuries XVII and XVIII.

The first works began in 1604. The first buildings were built by three monks and a labourer. First, they set up a cave located in the base of the rock where the Columna Hermitage is based as their residence, by building a wall to close the entrance, known today as the Fundador cave.

Initially, a modest first building was built, located in the center of the desert and consisting of a small house and a small chapel, made out of stone and mud, in front of the gate of the projected monastery. The purchase of the lands and the taking of possession of the valley took place in the year 1606 and on April 6 a commemorative tombstone was placed in the facade of the chapel (tombstone that would later be placed in the facade of the monastery). It is then when the construction of the convent begins and the 14 hermitages whose structure was very similar begins: with a height of about 3-4 meters, between 6 and 7 meters in length and distributed in four rooms (a portico, an oratory, a cell and a small kitchen).





The original building was built in 1606 by a carmelite from Tortosa, Fra Pau de Cristo, who established the community of the Discalced Carmelites. Under the name of Sant Hilari it consisted, in addition to the convent buildings, of a set of 14 hermitages. The ones still standing are Sant Josep, Sant Roc, Sant Simeó or the hermitage of La Columna, built on a column-shaped rock, Santa Agnès and Santa Maria del Borboll.





From 1606 and for about two centuries, life in the desert was monastic. On May 12, 1607, the Blessed Sacrament was finally moved to the new church and the religious community was installed. The Community was officially installed in 1617.





During the Carlist War the monks had to leave the place and take refuge in nearby villages (Tivenys, Rasquera and Benifallet). This abandonment was definitive since it simultaneously occured  with the announcement of the decree of confiscation by minister Mendizábal in 1836. A part of Cardó was auctioned in 1844. The abandonment and the plunder dispersed the belongings of the monks: tapestries, books, pictures and valuables ended up in private ownership. Most of the books in the library, which apparently had a large number of volumes, were burned.

For two decades Cardó was abandoned because the land was scarce and the high costs of transporting the goods obtained from the farms made their trade unviable.





In 1866, some businessmen from Tortosa decided to transform the ruins of the monastery into a spa, taking advantage of the propertty's waters. Part of the ruined outbuildings were rebuilt and they took advantage of those that were in good condition. The property was state-owned. In 1870, the building was still owned by the state, but the lands located next to the monastery were already owned by José Monclús, although the fountains were for free use. In 1872 Salvador Cabestany Gasol bought, together with his uncle, four Cardó estates in which the Monastery buildings were included. By 1877, he was already the sole owner of these estates. By 1879, the cloisters, corridors and other outbuildings had been whitewashed. In the old church, the dining room was provisionally installed and the cells of the Prior, the sacristy and the adjoining rooms were enabled as the owner's home, while the rest of the cells were converted into rooms for guests. Other changes were then added to the building: the central courtyard of the cloister was covered with glass to become a café-restaurant and then the dining room was relocated to transform the church in a ballroom. A small covered room with a vault of the "Fortí" corridor had been set up for worship, with shells at its corners which, it seems, had been the Prior's private chapel or the Sacrament Chapel.



In 1883 Salvador Cabestany restored the buildings and turned them into a modern spa. By 1884 many of these reforms were already patentable. That same year the present chapel was built on top of an old outbuilding of the monastery. In 1885 a road was opened between Tivenys and the Monastery and in 1887 it was extended and turned into the road that would connect Cardó with Tortosa.


In 1886 it acquired the property of Jose Monclús and so Salvador Cabestany remained like the sole owner of the valley. In 1887, the waters of Cardó were declared of public utility.


At the end of the 19th century the place enjoyed a great fame. In 1899 Salvador Cabestany gave a great impulse to the spa with the building of San Salvador. To build it, the old aqueduct that carried water from the fountain of the Column to the Monastery had to be demolished. Salvador Cabestany had given permission to Mr. Margenat to build a flat above the rooms of the "Fortí", to use it for his summering. Then this floor was turned into guest rooms, on either side of its wide hallway.

In 1902, construction began on the new road to Rasquera. It was necessary to build a tunnel that gave entrance to the properties of the Spa, finished in 1903, and in 1904 the new road could be inaugurated, which increased the number of visitors, taking advantage of the railway station of Móra la Nova. Upon the death of Salvador Cabestany, the Spa became the property of his children in 1912.




During the Civil War the spa became the headquarters of the International Brigades and in 1938 an emergency hospital was set up for the republican army during the Batalla de l’Ebre. In 1940, Mr. Ninyes i Gueis reopened the spa, investing a large amount of capital. The new owner began a series of reforms, the most important being the construction of the new and large dining room, and the construction of the plaza of lledoners.

With the construction of the new dining room, the old first-class dining room became a large kitchen. The second-class dining room, with a long table common to all diners, became what is known today as the service room, and under its slabs is the ossuary that, next to its cemetery, the Carmelita monks had.

The spa had electricity, a tennis court, a swimming pool, a movie theater and a ballroom until 1967 when the set of buildings was abandoned.



In 1974 the estate was acquired by Enric Nomen Borràs, who set up a water bottling plant in Les Fonts del Borboll. In 1981 it was acquired by Nestlé, S.A. and in 1987 it passed into the hands of Abengoa, S.A., to end up being acquired by Leche Pascual in 1989 when they initiated a transformation of the industrial complex. In 2007, the bottling activity ceased.