You think you have seen all the major Catalan modernist sites in Barcelona? Think again. Chances are you have only seen all of the major works by Gaudi. Catalan Modernism was so much more than Gaudi sort of like Impressionism was so much more than Monet. The Hospital de Sant Pau is an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture beyond the usual Gaudi stuff.

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

The Hospital de Sant Pau

The Hospital de la Santa Creu and Sant Pau was opened in 1930 on the site of an older hospital dating back to the Middle Ages created by the Counts of Barcelona. In order for this medieval hospital to maintain itself, the Spanish kings allowed the Hospital the right to money from theatrical performances in Barcelona.

When Catalan banker Pau Gil died in Paris in 1896 he wanted to do something special for his homeland.  He ordered his bank dissolved and the proceeds used to construct a new hospital in Barcelona, the Hospital of Sant Pau.  He had envisioned that the entire building complex would be funded through his generosity. The original plan called for 48 buildings in this hospital complex. Of course, there were cost overruns so a revised plan called for 27 buildings.

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Some of the flamboyant Catalan Modernisme style.

Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture In Practice

The architect, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, was hired to build a hospital complex which was effectively a city within a city.  The hospital would have different buildings for each medical speciality and landscaped grounds.  The buildings were connected to each by a kilometre of underground tunnels.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The underground tunnels which were used to shuttle the patients around. The walls were tiled for easy cleaning.

Decorative Style

Of course, building in a Catalan modernist style is labor and work intensive with all of its extra decorative flourishes. The original money ran out after the first 10 buildings of the complex.  Montaner (and his son who took over the project from him) was able to cobble together enough funding for another 6 buildings. So only 16 of the buildings on the site are in the Catalan Modernism style.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The surgical ward at the Hospital. You can see the ramps from which the sick would be wheeled up.

Catalan modernist was very intricate – you had decorative detail in reliefs, sculptures, ceramics, mosaic, wood, marble, glass, metal and iron. The buildings were all made from brick. The little domes on top of the roofs were the water towers. Along with the landscaped grounds, each patient would have a significant amount of space to themselves which far surpassed the best hospitals in Europe at the time.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

An old photo showing the hospital in use.

Practical Style

There was a liberal use of ceramics throughout the site. Not only could you make ceramics look pretty but they were hygienic and easy to wash down. You had large windows, lots of color, landscaped grounds – when you think about how terrible early 20th century hospitals were – this Barcelona Hospital was really ahead of its time.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The decorative pillar hides the water tank for the building.

The Administrative Pavilion is the biggest building on site. It was built between 1905 and 1910 and was meant to be the main entrance to the hospital complex. The highly decorative ceiling is filled with ornamentation, for example, referring to Saint Jordi (George) the patron saint of Catalonia, and the seal of Banca Gil (Pau Gil’s bank). If Pau Gil wanted immortality – he definitely got it. His initials are everywhere on this site.  In a time when banks come and go, get merged etc, Pau Gil’s legacy is more than any simple regional bank could have been.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The decorative details were on the inside and the outside of the buildings.

UNESCO World Heritage Designation

The hospital was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It was reopened after a refurbishment in 2014 to be a centre for global knowledge.  Whatever that means. When we wandered around the site, you could tell there had been extensive refurbishment and the buildings were gorgeous. It was like a ghost town, however. There were a handful of tourists but it didn’t look like there were many people who actually worked there.

Good To Know

You really can’t miss the Hospital of Sant Pau if you are near the Sagrada Familia.

Location

The Hospital of Sant Pau is located on Sant Antoni M. Claret, 167.  When the Sagrada Familia gets overrun with visitors in the summer weekends, the Hospital de Sant Pau will not be crowded. I would strongly encourage you to check out this beautiful little oasis which will give you an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture that hasn’t been done by Gaudi . You can get there on the Metro (L5 Sant Pau) or on the bus.

Where To Stay

We stayed by the seaside Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic. On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas. We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.

Context Travel Tour

I discovered this Hospital on a Sagrada Family in Context Travel. I’ve been to Barcelona several times and never knew about this beautiful hospital! It’s so worth it to take a good tour. I paid full price for my Context Tour which I was happy to do so because I think they are worth it.

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