As a new Picasso exhibition opens at London’s Royal Academy, we visit Horta de Sant Joan, the hilltop village that the artist said taught him ‘everything’
I was standing in a cave Picasso once slept in. Actually, it’s more of a ledge beneath a craggy, overhanging limestone rock. Yet, in the summer of 1898 the 16-year-old Picasso and a friend spent a month sleeping here: in the Santa Bárbara mountain in the Terres de l’Ebre region of Catalonia, some 210km south-west of Barcelona. He would later write: “Everything I know, I learned in Horta.”
Local lore has turned the ledge into a cave but, either way, it’s certainly remote – high up amid the dense holly oak and pine forests of the mountains. Apart from the odd derelict farmhouse, there was nothing for miles and all I heard were warbling sparrows and the trickling of a brook.