Hospital de Saint Pau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Barcelona. // © 2015 Kenneth Shapiro
Feature image (above): Palau de la Musica Catalana, a concert hall designed by architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner // © 2015 Kenneth Shapiro
Visitors to Barcelona are well-advised to check out the world-renowned creations of architect Antoni Gaudi. But as amazing as those attractions are, the great city has inspired a variety of artists beyond Gaudi. One of the most notable is Lluis Domenech i Montaner.
Just a short walk along shady, tree-lined streets from Gaudi’s stunning La Sagrada Familia is another of Barcelona’s architectural gems and a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hospital de Sant Pau.
Hospital de Sant Pau was built between 1902 and 1930, when most hospitals were private and funded by rich donors or the church. Public hospitals were grim places better described as warehouses for the doomed. Sant Pau was a revolutionary concept for its time — a public hospital that would stand as a model for future ones.
Domenech used a system of isolated pavilions linked by underground passages to isolate contagious patients and streamline patient care. This art-nouveau masterpiece uses mosaic tile, plenty of natural light and open spaces to create a warm and welcoming complex of buildings focused on patient comfort, as well as convenience for caregivers and medical professionals. You can see Domenech’s attention to detail throughout the grounds — from the spacing of windows so that each patient had their own light to the ergonomic grip on stairway banisters to aid those with mobility issues; nothing was above his consideration.
Today, the hospital campus is used as a center for international nonprofit organizations. The grounds are enormous, but the main highlights can be visited in an hour or two. A visit begins in the Administration Pavilion, where a video, an interactive touch table and other elements introduce visitors to the site. A network of underground tunnels connects different buildings, while above ground, visitors can take in gardens, sculptures and building exteriors with intricate domes and stained-glass windows. Guests end their tour in Sant Jordi Pavilion, a completely refurbished space that hosts temporary exhibitions.
The grounds are expansive but manageable. Comfortable walking shoes are helpful, but even the kids can handle a visit to Sant Pau.
Clients who find themselves intrigued by Domenech, as well as architecture and music lovers, should also check out the ornate Palau de la Musica Catalana, another masterpiece by the architect.
The concert hall was built between 1905 and 1908, but it still functions as a live music venue today. Here, Domenech used even more elaborate details and mosaics than at Sant Pau. The rich decoration of the facade incorporates elements from many sources, including traditional Spanish and Arabic architecture. With exposed brick, iron, mosaics and stained glass throughout, the space is palatial though approachable, and it is a marvel of sound engineering, as well. Domenech considered himself an architect of the people — just as concerned with functionality as beauty — and the building is a success on all levels.
There are guided tours of Palau, or visitors can attend a live performance in the hall.
While Gaudi’s impressive masterpieces are certainly a must-see for visitors to Barcelona, Hospital de Sant Pau and Palau de la Musica Catalana are examples of the best of the art-nouveau style, and they will leave visitors with a greater appreciation for the deep artistic temperament of the majestic city.