As the UNESCO comments:
Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona. These are two of the finest contributions to Barcelona’s architecture by the Catalan art nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The Palau de la Música Catalana is an exuberant steel-framed structure full of light and space, and decorated by many of the leading designers of the day. The Hospital de Sant Pau is equally bold in its design and decoration, while at the same time perfectly adapted to the needs of the sick.
When I first arrived, before even entering, I was shocked by the size that this site occupies, and amazed by the beautiful domes, roofs, façades, vivid sculptures and colorful stained-glass windows. I couldn’t believe that this astonishing place was built as a hospital. Nevertheless, from 1916 to 2009, this complex was indeed the hospital, called Hospital de Sant Pau and Since 2009, she has changed her name to Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, as well as her role, from the hospital to the center for historical dissemination and knowledge.
Designed and built between 1902 and 1930 by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, this hospital is one of the most representative works of Modernista (also called Catalan Modernism, centered in Barcelona, equivalent to a number of other art movements going by the name of Art Nouveau) architecture. Once you finish your tour in it, you will understand why it has been declared UNESCO World Heritage. Such huge open space was turned into a garden, decorated with green plants, flowers as well as spectacular freestanding pavilions, which were again decorated with bright colorful ceramics, stained-glass windows and sculptures. Like in all Montaner’s projects, the sculptures here are full of symbolic interpretations. Good and evil, health and sickness are the souls of all the angels or other sculptural figures here. However, if Montaner only turned this complex into a garden, then he probably failed his task as an architect because it was commissioned to be built as a hospital. Bearing this goal in mind, he designed underground passages connecting all the pavilions for doctors, nurses and most importantly patients, to move around conveniently. All the innovative and considerate plans such as the tunnels and the picturesque garden were to ensure the comfort of the sick, integrating practicality into beauty. For more information about the history of this hospital, please click here to check the “History” page on the official website.
In 2009, after all the patients and medical services had been transformed to the new hospital, a huge unprecedented restoration work began. The restoration work was conducted based on the principles 1). of recovering the original appearance of Hospital de Sant Pau designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, 2). of turning the pavilions into functional working space and 3). in accordance with the “criteria of sustainability and energy saving“. Thanks to the successful restoration work, 8 of the 12 constituent pavilions are completed, and today we can again witness the glory and charm of this masterpiece, almost the same as it was 100 years ago. The only difference is probably the name of this site. Hospital de la Sant Pau has become an unforgettable history and Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site is the present and the future.
To us tourists, Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site is maybe just a popular and marvelous tourist attraction, but to us human beings and to the whole world, it is, more importantly, a knowledge center aiming at spreading its historical, cultural, educational and architectural values. It is home to “many international organizations linked to UN and EU programs, which work in the fields of sustainability, health and education and their objective is to make proposals to improve citizens’ living conditions“. This is why when I went to the entrance of some of the pavilions on site, there were signs saying not accessible to visitors but I saw people coming out and in. I guess they are the people working here. If you wanna know more about the role this site plays nowadays, please click here to check the “Knowledge Center” page on the official website.
In the following chapters I’ll first of all provide some practical information such as opening hours, ticket prices, guided tours, how to get there etc. together with some tips based on my own visiting experience. Afterwards, I’ll show you what I saw and enjoyed accompanied by a big amount of pictures so you can have an idea of what to expect in this complex. If you have any questions or wanna know more about certain sections please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll try my best to help you.
1. Practical information
1.1 Opening hours
November – March
Monday to Saturday: 10:00 – 16:30
Sundays and holidays: 10:00 – 14:30
April – October
Monday to Saturday: 10:00 – 18:30
Sundays and holidays: 10:00 – 14:30
Closed on: 1st and 6th January & 25th December
1.2 Various ticket types and prices
Please note that in oder to visit Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site you can choose either to explore it at your own pace with an audioguide or to join a guided tour. I’ll give more information about the guided tours in the next section. As for the ticket purchasing experience, I arrived quite early in the morning and there was no line for purchasing tickets, so I would say it’s convenient and comfortable to buy tickets on site. However, maybe I was just lucky or maybe because I was there very early, I did see a lot of people coming after I finished my visit. If you are worried you can surely book your ticket in advance. Please click here to book your ticket in advance online from the official website (not available for groups or school visits). For people traveling in groups or in school visits, please scroll down a little bit to section 1.2.5 for more information.
1.2.1 Standard ticket:
- Self-guided visit: 13 €
- Guided visit: 19 €
1.2.2 Concession ticket (aged from 12 to 29, over 65, Targeta Rosa Reduïda cardholders, people with a degree of disability of less than 65% or with a degree of dependency of 1 or 2):
- Self-guided visit: 9.10 €
- Guided visit: 13.3 €
- 20% off: BCN Card, Bus Turístic, City Tours, Carnet BCN Cultural, Carnet d’Usuaris de la Xarxa de Biblioteques, Club TR3SC, Òmnium Cultural members, RACC members
- 50% off: Ruta del Modernisme / Barcelona Modernisme Route, Carnet Jove (only self-guided visit)
1.2.4 Free admission:
Children under 12 (accompanied by an adult), unemployed, teachers, Targeta Rosa Gratuïta cardholders, people with a degree of disability equal to or more than 65% or with a degree of dependency of 3, and their companion. What’s more, on 12th February, 23rd April, 24th September, first Sunday of each month (only self-guided visits in the regular route of the visits programme), visit to Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site is also free of charge.
1.2.5 Groups and School visits:
If you are traveling by group or planning school visits, you will find relevant information as following. Please note that it is compulsory to make a reservation and book this type of visit by sending an email to the separate email addresses as show below or making a phone call to +34 93 553 78 01.
Groups (maximum 30 people per group):
- General: 250 €
- Concession ticket (retired and special groups): 180 €
- Information and booking: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Self-guided (accompanied by teachers): Students under 12 years old: free & Students between 12 and 18 years old: 3 €
- Guided visit (maximum 30 people per group): Students under 18 years old: 125 € & Students over 18 years old: 140 €
- Information and booking: email@example.com
1.3 Guided tours:
Guided tours are available in four languages (French, English, Spanish and Catalan). Guided visits in other languages are also possible, but you have to contact Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site to make such arrangements in advance.
The schedule for the guided visits are as following:
- French: 10:30
- English: 11:00
- Spanish: 12:00
- Catalan: 12:30
1.4 How to get there
Address: Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, C. Sant Antoni Maria Claret 167, 08025 Barcelona
Metro: L5 Sant Pau / Dos de Maig
Bus: H8, 19, 20, 45, 47, 50, 51, 92, 117, 192
According to my personal experience, please note that if you type in “Sant Pau Hospital” in google map, it’s likely that you will be directed to the metro stop Guinardó/Hospital de Sant Pau, close to which the new hospital is located but not the tourist attraction Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site that we are talking about here. The new hospital is not far away from Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, but you will have to walk around 10 mins to get to the ticket office/entrance. Instead, if you get off at metro stop Sant Pau/Dos de Maig, as recommended by the official website, you only need to walk 3 mins.
2. Explore this pearl of Modernista architecture
As my friend said when we arrived at the garden, “Probably most of the patients were already recovering once they stepped a hospital like this.” What he said is a bit exaggerating but I would never have guessed that this site was a hospital if I wasn’t told so. I’m not saying that hospitals can not be beautiful but when I see such a beautiful place like this, I would have related it more to a palace of a king or a queen.
When you’re purchasing the ticket, do remember to ask for a welcome brochure, which includes a brief introduction of Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site and mostly importantly, a map, which tells you what the main attractions in this site are and where they are located. The complex is so big that without a map, you might easily get lost. Even if you are in a guided tour, it’s always a good idea to have an overview of how this hospital was planned.
To ensure a smooth and successful visit of yours, I’d like to explain to you some details on the map and give you some tips according to my own experience. First all, on the map there are 10 items listed that you can visit:
- Hypostyle Hall
- Sant Salvador Pavilion
- Operations House
- Sant Rafael Pavilion
- Convent, kitchens and pharmacy
- The Administration Pavilion
However, not all the items are actual sites that you can visit. To be precise, for example, No.4 and No.9 are referring to the ceramics used and sculptures placed in this complex. They are everywhere on this site so there’s no need to go to a specific place as numbered on the map. Also, you can not enter site No.7 Convent, kitchens and pharmacy or some other pavilions (you will see signs saying not accessible to cultural visitors at their entrances). Don’t worry, all the other 7 sites are accessible to visitors and you can visit two floors in Sant Salvador Pavilion and many marvelous rooms in the Administration Pavilion (absolutely fantastic I can assure you). Please also note that the dotted lines on the map mean the visiting route underground while the solid lines mean the visiting route on the ground. In order to visit the tunnels you have to go down the spiral staircase (marked as No.8 on the map) and if you follow the signs (of the planned visiting route), you will go back to the ground from another spiral staircase (marked close to No.3 on the map) and from there if you keep walking towards south, you will be able to enter the Administration Pavilion. Now let me give you a virtual tour so that you know what you can expect from here.
2.1 Hypostyle Hall
After you go through the ticket control you will be at the Hypostyle Hall. You will see a lot of pillars here, which bear the weight of the entire administration building. During the finals years of this site as a hospital, this hall housed the Emergency services. By the way, you can also use the wide bright WC here if you need to. After going through the Hypostyle Hall, you will be at the tunnels, the underground passages connecting all the pavilions. Can you see the projection on the wall? It’s trying to tell us how here looked when it was a hospital. Rather interesting isn’t it? You just need to follow the signs (of the planned visiting route) and you will arrive at the Sant Salvador Pavilion.
2.2 Sant Salvador Pavilion
This was the first pavilion to take in patients in 1916. Here you can visit two floors of the pavilion and once you leave the tunnel that I mentioned above you will be at the lower floor. Besides appreciating the design and decoration of the building, you should focus on the two exhibitions of different themes, with the lower floor featuring the history of Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau and the upper floor featuring the life and work of Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The two of them are inseparable and that’s why the two exhibitions are placed in the same pavilion.
Do you know that the Hospital de la Santa Creu was founded in 1401? Do you know that it dedicated 600 years of uninterrupted service to public health and science? What’s the relation between Hospital de la Santa Creu and Hospital de Sant Pau? Why did it change its name to Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau? Why was a new project commissioned to Lluís Domènech i Montaner and what’s the contribution of his son here on this site? You might have even more questions but all your questions will be answered here on the lower floor. Once you step in the lower floor, on your right hand side is a multi-media projection room showing the history of the hospital in various languages. This is your starting point of the exhibition. Once you finish the movie clip, keep going to see the original documents and objects, which bring you to witness different historical stages of the the hospital.
In this exhibition, you will know more about the relation between the hospital and the city Barcelona, you will learn more about the benefactors whose generous contributions made the hospital run for hundreds of years without a halt, you will understand how this hospital contributed to the evolution of Catalan medicine and how it became the reference hospital of the 20th century and so on and so on. As shown in the gallery above, you can see the “stairway and conduits in the water tower”, the multi-media projection room, the objects used and even fabricated in this hospital, the “Rules or guidelines indicating the ordinary and extraordinary daily ration” and “Panel tiles with the cross pattée (symbol of the hospital de la Santa Creu)”.
Of course, you will see many more things and what interested me most here were the medical equipments exhibited in a showcase. I’ve always wanted to study medicine and even when I was a child and I went to the hospital to see a doctor, I was and still am fascinated by the medical equipments. I can’t think of a solid reason why but they just give me a strong feeling of science. As shown in the gallery below, you can see the pharmacy receptacles, syphon bottles with the coat of arms of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (the hospital had its own machinery to make its own syphons), instruments for different specialities and so on.
Please note that all the things I was talking about above are about the exhibition on the lower floor. Now let’s go up the stairs and explore the upper floor. As I mentioned before, this floor is dedicated to the creator of this site Lluís Domènech i Montaner. When you first enter, you might be as confused as I was. What kind of exhibition is this? Actually this whole dragon-like installation is set up on the upper floor, consisting of 3 parts, representing 3 central aspects of Lluís Domènech i Montaner, that is to say the ideologue, the architect and the scholar. You can use the interactive table, books, publications and digitalized historic documents to know more about him. Once you exit the pavilion on the upper floor, you will be in the garden.
2.3 The gardens
In Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s original plan, he combined architecture with town planning, integrating some key idea such as “City Garden“, which was originated from England and popular all across Europe at that time. As I mentioned at the beginning, when he designed this garden, he kept the function of this complex in mind. That is to say, he designed this garden not only to make the hospital look better but also to serve the purpose of caring for the patients, the therapeutic function. For example, nature played a vital part in the function of the hospital. “Plants purified the air, fired bacteria, influenced the climate, protected the space from wind, and conserved humidity.” After staying for days and nights in bed, isn’t it better for the patients to have a walk in the gardens and to relax a bit? The same case applied to the doctors and nurses as well, who worked hard to ensure the on-going of the facilities. This garden provided all the people here the necessary peace and rest.
2.4 The operations house
The Operations House is situated in the middle of the complex and was connected to the other buildings or pavilions by underground passages (tunnels). Standing in front of it in the garden, you can see the ceramics and sculptures combine harmoniously in this building and if you take a close look at the façade, a series of names are quite noticeable. They belong to the distinguished doctors who worked here and made great contributions to the hospital.
Originally designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, this house was built between 1902 and 1912 for the hospital’s operating theaters. As you can see from the first two pictures in this section, the large hall with north-facing glazed walls and roof was the principle operating theater. The design was for allowing in maximum daylight while doing operations. On the wall a projection about how it looked like the it was in use will bring you back in history. There were also some other rooms such as storage, changing rooms, waiting room for patients on the first floor, postoperative rooms on the first floor, two small surgeries on the second floor, the radiology laboratories on the third floor and so on but unfortunately, they are not accessible to visitors nowadays. After exiting the Operations House, if you take a walk around it, you will see basically everything in the complex (I’m taking about the exterior of these buildings of course). Pay special attention to the ceramics and sculptures in and outside the buildings.
2.5 The sculptures and ceramics
Most of the buildings are made from exposed brick and feature a whole host of sculptural decorative elements in ceramic and mosaic. As I mentioned above, items No.4 and No.9 listed on the map are not specific sites that you can visit but the general ceramic and sculptural decorations in this whole complex. Please note that though all the pictures I attached above are the exterior of the buildings, the ceramics and sculptures inside the buildings are also marvelous. I’ll show them to you in section 2.9.
“Like all of Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s projects, the Art Nouveau Site is full of symbolic connotations.” Good and evil, health and sickness, they are all reflected on the sculptures of angels, winged lions, saints, virgins and animals. Similarly, the ceramics used in this complex is also not only for decorating purposes.
In its different formats and uses, ceramics introduce the color that brings a spectacular note of brightness and a calculated dose of vitality to the entire architectural complex.
It is these ceramic and mosaic roofs, façades, walls and the sculptures that gave me the illusion that here was a palace not a hospital. Nevertheless, after I learnt the functions of the rooms (the pavilions), I came back from my dream and saw the true identity of it.
2.6 Sant Rafael Pavilion
The pavilions are set out in a regular pattern with some distance between one another. Each of them consists of a large open-plan room without any architectural divisions and each roof is underpinned by eight pointed arches. One of them that we can visit today is the Sant Rafael Pavilion, an example of a nursing pavilion, exactly the same as it was designed at the beginning of the 20th century. It was constructed between 1914 and 1918 “with a long ward for patients and a circular day room for those who could get up to receive visitors”. This pavilion differs from the others in the way that it is decorated with the letter “R” instead of “P”. “R” refers to Rafael Rabell and I think you have guessed the reason why already. Yes, Because Rafael Rabell together with his widowed daughter left an essential legacy for this pavilion’s construction.
Pay attention to the details such as the mosaics on the walls, the arches and the ceiling. They are strong testimony to the vitality of this complex in Modernista architecture. By the end of the pavilion, you will see a big poster demonstrating how it looked when there were still nurses and patients here. Can you notice the independent compartments in the rear in the big poster? Those were for the patients who were terminally ill or with serious infections.
2.7 Convent, kitchens and pharmacy
By 1911, the donation of Gil i Serra had been used up and the construction of this site had been brought to a halt. Three years later Montaner’s son, Pere Domènech i Roura supervised the continuation of the construction and notable differences in style compared to his predecessor can be seen in this hospital church. The kitchens were situated to the east and the pharmacy was situated to the west. Only the pharmacy has been restored and now houses the Sant Pau Health Campus. Please note that you can not visit the interior of this building.
Not far from here you will see a sign next to a staircase saying “Tunnels, Continuation of visit” and please go down the stairs to visit the tunnels.
The construction of the kilometer-long underground passages connecting all the pavilions was really an innovation a decade ago. The tunnels were created to ensure rapid and effective attention and to facilitate the mobility of patients as well as the hospital staff. As you can see from the info board at the entrance to the tunnels, it says:
As well as routing the supply of steam, water, gas and electricity to the pavilions, the network of over a kilometer of tunnels kept the pavilions in permanent contact and carried internal services to the entire hospital: the distribution of meals, laundry and medication and the movements of patients.
What’s also in the tunnels nowadays is the exhibition called “Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Images that Make History“. From this exhibition you will learn from pictures accompanied by brief introductions the important periods of this hospital. For example, from the “Construction of the Hospital de Sant Pau” to “the Turbulent Thirties”, from “the Resumption and the Long Post-War Period” to “the Modernization of the Hospital”. For me, looking at pictures with some explanation is always a better way to learn history about some place than solely reading words about it in books. This is because pictures can most of time give me a more direct impression of certain historic events or historical periods, which would cost much more time to explain by words. Follow the signs and you will be guided back to the ground from another staircase. Keep walking towards south and you will enter the Administration Pavilion.
2.9 The Administration Pavilion
Last but not least, or you can say I’m saving the best for the last, this building is the most richly decorated and the largest in this whole complex. Climb the stairs or go through the corridor. Just explore this place a bit where it is accessible to visitors. You will find yourself surrounded by art, by Catalan Modernism art. I’ve been to Louvre Palace in Paris, Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, Forbidden City in Beijing, Royal Palace of Madrid in Madrid, Buckingham Palace in London, Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Palace of Versailles in Versailles, Royal Palace of Stockholm in Stockholm and so on. I wouldn’t exaggerate to say that this building itself is as magnificent as the palaces but the decorative elements such as the sculpture, stained glass, mosaic and ceramics astonished me as much as those in the palaces.
I have to remind to you that the Domènech i Montaner Room should absolutely NOT be missed. You just need to climb up the stairs and follow the signs. Remember when I said that this building is the largest and most richly decorated in the whole complex? This particular room is the highlight of this building. Formerly as the main hall of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, it is almost 18 meters high and was decorated by a group of top artists of that time from Catalonia, led by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. For example, Pau Gargallo’s sculptures. Aleix Clapé’s painting, the polychrome mosaic, the relief ceramics and the stone balustrade with balusters in the form of large Gothic letters. I’m sure you will feel breathless once you step in this “palace of art” (please see the pictures below).
I guess now it’s the end of our virtual tour. I hope you enjoyed it but I have to say that although I provided a lot of pictures, I can’t take pictures of the whole complex. If you like what you saw then you have to go there to discover all the details by yourself. I believe you will notice new features that I neglected. Besides, don’t you wanna breath the fresh air filtered by the green trees and feel the warm sunshine reflected by the colorful bright ceramic roofs?
My friend once said that to visit Barcelona is to visit the buildings of Gaudí. I agree that Gaudí’s works are indeed amazing and fantastic but if you don’t have enough time, personally I would suggest you spare one or two not-so-popular attractions of Gaudí and save the time to visit at least two of Domènech i Montaner’s works, which are Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site and Palau de la Música Catalana.