A hospital, a community, a work of art.

I promised to tell you the story of the Hospital de Santa Creu i de Sant Pau Barcelona, which we visited the other day.
A view of some of the site, glimpsed through one of the windows.
 It’s a story that goes back to the 15th century, when Barcelona already had six hospitals.  In 1401 these merged onto a new site in Raval, to offer improved care to the sick.
 
By the 19th century, these facilities were too small, too outdated, no longer really fit for purpose. A Catalan Banker, Pau Gil, put up the money to fund a truly enormous and visionary project: a whole community of buildings offering state-of-the-art care to the poor of the city.  The plan was for facilities of the highest quality, designed in cutting-edge modernist style by cutting-edge Modernista architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
 
Modernism?  Think of it as Art Nouveau, Catalan style. You’ll recognise it in the works of Antoni Gaudi. Montaner found inspiration from Moorish architecture. Playful looking mosaics and the light-flooded areas are the special feature of his buildings.  What we noticed straight away was bold colour, bold decoration: rich-hued tiled roofs: and within, tiles and mosaics in sunny yellow, grass green, sky blue.  
 

Sun, grass, sky.  Why not remind the sick inmates of a cheerful world outside the hospital?  Why not have light, airy, high-ceilinged rooms, tiled throughout for ease of cleaning, and because they would never become dingy and faded?  Why not build underground tunnels, tiled in cream, so that patients could be moved round the site without being exposed to the elements? Why not build a decent well-lit operating theatre, well-stocked libraries for doctors to consult, and set all these buildings among gardens which patients and staff alike could enjoy?

Underground walkways between the hospital buildings.
This was a Christian foundation.  Nuns provided nursing care until the 1990s, as they had done since the hospital’s earliest years  Mosaics in the building told stories from the Christian tradition, such as that of Saint George slaying the dragon.  Other carvings and statues relied on ancient legends.  This frog nursing a baby frog, for example, is an old symbol of caring love.
 
Originally, men and women were separated, but later, the hospital was organised by specialism.  Now, although research continues here, modern buildings behind continue the work of the hospital.
A women’s ward in the hospital, 1920s.

The foundation stone was laid in 1902, and facilities were developed until about 1930.  Large parts of the site were never built at all, from lack of funds.  This isn’t surprising.  There is nothing of the workhouse about this place.  It’s a beautiful, special site, fully deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status, acquired in 1997.  It only opened its doors to visitors a few years ago, and it’s not yet truly on the tourist trail, despite being just up the road from then Sagrada Familia which is always surrounded by hordes of tourists.  Visit it now, while it’s still an oasis of calm.  It’ll be somewhere you’ll remember forever.

 I’d intended to go into the story of this place in more detail.  But a fellow blogger, Restless Jo, whom I ‘met’ only recently, introduced me to a series of posts by a blogging friend of hers, Jude.  Here’s a link to the first one, from which you can reach all the rest.  She tells and illustrates the history of this place so well that, quite simply, I don’t have to.

 

 

27 thoughts on “A hospital, a community, a work of art.”

  1. Margaret – beautiful and the artwork is simply amazing. I often think and shake my head at what folks in the future will think of the buildings we create in 2017. I am in a city established in 1792 in an area settled around 1770 – the concept of the 15th century is mind-boggling. The architecture and art of the past must be preserved for future generations. Have a wonderful week.

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  2. I truly enjoy the detail you pour into every post of yours. I want to visit Spain (almost made it in 2013), especially because of a wonderful Spanish friend of mine (in Seoul). I wonder if it might be easier to learn Spanish or Korean? 🙂 Back in the day, the hospital might have looked like a work of art. I’ve always got an eerie feeling in places like these. Maybe, it’s my over imaginative mind. 🙂

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    1. Honestly, the hospital’s not eerie. Bright. Colourful. Life affirming. Spanish is a doddle compared with Korean, especially if you know any related languages like French or Italian. Being able to read signs is rather helpful.

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      1. Maybe, I’ve seen to many movies of haunted hospitals. 😦 I learned French for two years in high school, but I don’t remember it. I’ve started reading signs in Korean. The challenge is making sense of the words. 🙂

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  3. really great photos Margaret and appreciate your history with it, you write well. What an amazing ‘cure’ house and incredible foresight to undertake such a project for the poor. Can’t imagine any modern day philanthropists indulging a similar project these days ..

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  4. Fabulous photos of a truly fascinating architectural gem. Form and function, William Morris must be applauding from beyond the grave. Somewhat disappointingly most contemporary architecture shies away from colour and runs a mile from ornate details. You comment that research work carries on in modern buildings, I’m guessing they were purely functional. Sadly, not much vision these days. Thanks for the tip about the visit duly added to my list – that pink tiled ceiling!

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    1. I mis-expressed myself then. It’s the hospital that is now re-housed in modern buildings. Research and other charitable or NGO type organisations continue to use the modernista buildings as a resource, though some are entirely open to the likes of us visitors. Do visit if you can. It’s worth a trip to Barcelona all on its own. I await your blog post!

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      1. Well, it must be a fabulous place to work. And also great for such a building to still be functional and not just a tourist venue. Oh I have been waiting a long time to visit Barcelona and it won’t be possible in the near future, but hopefully one day.

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    1. It’s wonderful. These older buildings no longer function as a hospital, though research and other things continue to keep this as a place of work. But modern hospital buildings behind keep up the tradition of healing. I’m not afraid of falling sick in Barcelona!

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  5. Thanks Margaret. What a beautiful and interesting place. (I am so behind this week – am trying to catch up eventually, though even this attempt at catching up may well be interrupted by the need to get some sleep!)

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