Barcelona VIII: Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

Another Barcelona post?  We loved Barcelona, and we’re leading up to showing you the amazing Sagrada Familia – which was recently profiled in Time magazine, even.  Fear not – only this post and one other before we visit that incredible cathedral.

The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (Hospital of the Holy Cross and of Saint Paul) is a masterpiece of Catalan Modernisme, the turn-of-the-century architectural style that pervades Barcelona and that I’ve been showing off yea these many posts.  The hospital’s construction was started in 1902 by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, one of the Modernisme architects that we’ve met in previous posts (Barcelona II: Casa Lleo Morera, 1905, ; Barcelona IV: Palau de la Musica Catalana, 1908).  Twelve pavilions were finished by Montaner (who died in 1923), with another 15 finished by his son (but only 4 in Modernista style); the hospital complex was opened around 1926.  Although you might think “Sant Pau” stands for Saint Paul the apostle, you’d be wrong; the primary donor for the hospital was Pau Gil, a Catalan banker who left money in his will for a health center bearing his first name.  Somewhere I think there’s a sly sense of humor at play.

The hospital complex that Montaner designed was a “city within a city”, isolated by interestingly turning the square hospital site 45° to the existing street plan of Barcelona.  Clever!  The ground plan of the hospital is centered on intersecting vertical and horizontal axes that create a cross, the emblem of the former Hospital de la Santa Creu.  The individual pavilions are arranged symmetrically along the axes, each pavilion dedicated to a medical specialty (but linked together via underground pedestrian galleries that are pretty spiffy, as shown below).

Montaner was sensitive to the emerging theories of public health, and central to his plans were large open-air areas for patients’ enjoyment and well-being, with two gardens per pavilion.  Each pavilion was named for a patron saint, their statue presiding over the entrance.  With Victorian sensibilities in place, pavilions on the right were for men (with statues of male saints) and pavilions on the left for women (with statues of women saints).  The hospital complex is famous, however, not for its layout but for the pavilions’ fabulous and pervasive Modernisme designs – artistic flourishes of brick, stone, tile and ceramics in spectacular floral patterns, as well as emblems of Barcelona and Catalan history.

So let’s see it!  We’ll start with the entrance pavilion, which housed the hospital administration.  It’s the largest building and has the richest ornamentation.  As shown in the pictures below, the central building is crowned by a slender clock tower (one of Barcelona’s iconic landmarks), with the building’s lateral arms curving in a welcoming

embrace.  In a nice touch, note that the entrance doors (pictured below) are protected by guardian angels, two of which are shown below.

The outside of this building is adorned with other angel statues, statues of Catalan historical figures (mostly at the corners), and 16 impressive mosaic murals that encircle the building and depict events in the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau’s history, a few

shown above.  Modernista detail is lavishly applied to the exterior (examples below), but the art is sufficiently separated that it manages to avoid the “too much” effect.

We’ll come back to view the amazing interior of this building, but first let’s look beyond the entrance pavilion.  Views of the hospital pavilions as seen from the Administration Pavilion are shown below, as well as an example of a garden.  In the first picture, the main

thoroughfare leads to the Operations Pavilion and behind that the Sister’s Convent pavilion.  Look at the open space!  This very roomy hospital/garden concept was a new one in the evolution of medicine, the idea being that trees and plants would provide better air, shade in summer, and a cheerful, optimistic atmosphere for recovery – far different from the previous medieval Santa Creu hospital that it replaced, which dated back to 1401.  The open area of this hospital far surpassed that of any other European hospital of its time.  Although the overall hospital layout is impressive, it’s mostly the Art Nouveau (eg, Modernisme) artwork that makes this a World Heritage Site.  Referring back to the first picture just above, note that the hospital pavilions have a similar structure and appearance – but that uniformity is deceptive; the art on each is a distinct riff on a theme.  As an example, below are the domes on a number of the pavilions; there is very little real duplication.

So let’s look at those pavilions!  We’ll start with the distinctive Operations Pavilion in the center of the main thoroughfare.  As the name implies, it was the surgical center.  Two of

the men’s pavilions are shown below.  The first picture, of roof tops, shows the Pavilion of Saint Rafael in the lower right corner and St. Manuel behind.  The Pavilion of Saint Rafael itself is shown in the next picture, and details of its colorful roof after that.  The Pavilion

of Saint Manuel (from 2 sides) is shown in the next pictures.

Crossing over to the women’s pavilions, the first picture below shows the roofs of the Pavilion of Our Lady of Montserrat, with the dome of the Pavilion of Our Lady of Mercy in

the foreground.  I’ll just show off some of the sculptures from the latter pavilion – the sculptures are always interesting, and all different; and although they’re everywhere, they

fit in nicely with the buildings.  And of course the tiles (examples below) are delightful.

Yes, I’ve shown a bunch of Modernista/Art Nouveau detail on the pavilions, but I can’t resist showing off a bit more of the wonderful art that’s everywhere.

Most of the pavilions are not open for tourists, the major exceptions being the Administration Pavilion and the Pavilion of Saint Rafael (named for Rafael Rabell, who helped pay for it).  The Pavilion of Saint Rafael originally housed the trauma department and had 44 beds.  It retains its original essence today; it has not been renovated or

redesigned.  The pavilions included a broad lengthwise ward for the hospitalization of patients and a circular “day room” in which patients not confined to bed could be with their families.  The walls and ceilings were covered in ceramics for hygienic reasons, since ceramic materials are easy to clean.  Interestingly, in that last picture above, the ceramic tile roses are so very similar to the signature stylized roses of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow from around this same time (Glasgow I, The City).

The other pavilion we can enter is the Administration Pavilion, and it’s the opposite of the very plain Pavilion of Saint Rafael; this Pavilion is gorgeous!  For instance, below are pictures of the foyer, with 9 circular or elliptical vaults clad in striking pink tiles.  The columns aren’t bad either, with their Modernisme flower motifs.  The vaults are decorated

with major symbolic elements, such as the dates (1905 [α] and 1910 [Ω]) of the building’s construction, coats of arms of Barcelona and Catalonia, the cross of Barcelona Cathedral and St. George, etc.  The beautiful stairwell that leads up from the foyer is located

underneath a cupola with a stained glass skylight, exemplifying Modernisme’s focus on light and color.  The cupola is beautiful, and worth a closer look.

Another short set of steps off the foyer leads to this corridor with an impressive tiled

ceiling of many flowers.  The rooms that open to the corridor are also striking (below).

Even more beautiful is the 2nd floor, reached by the main staircase.  Here the vaulted ceilings are 2 floors high, with huge windows.  This first room has 3 gorgeous vaulted

ceilings, shown above (and a view of the Sagrada Familia from the window [it’s coming, it’s coming, promise!).  The adjoining room is even more spectacular; it’s too big for me to capture in an overview, so I had to crib the left image below from the internet.

The floor-to-ceiling windows provide a great overview of the pavilions, as shown in the right picture above, a view I showed you earlier.  The windows themselves are quite attractive, as are the vaulted ceilings overhead.


There’s lots of other artwork to show off in this room, such as the impressive wall shown

above.  I’ll end with a few more pictures of this room’s art.

Well, another long post.  There was so much art jammed into this hospital, but somehow it managed to be balanced; beautiful everywhere, but not overwhelming.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Next post – Barcelona’s art museum highlighting the amazing wood inlay art of the Modernista period.

2 comments on “Barcelona VIII: Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

  1. BRAD WARNER says:

    Very cool! We did not make it to Barcelona when we were in Spain. Thanks for showing us some of it!

  2. Hi Brad! Wait ’til you see Sagrada Familia! It’s kind of up there with the moon walk.

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