Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau: Unexpected Art Nouveau in Barcelona

Before you think that all we did on vacation was feast and soak up the sun, you should know that we also went to a hospital. Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, to be exact.While it seems strange to seek out a hospital while traveling, I had heard about the complex on Jessica’s website and immediately bookmarked the idea. The premises have been undergoing four years of restoration, but as of February are open again. I highly recommend a visit to anyone who is interested in modernist architecture. (If you get excited at the thought of Gaudí‘s work, here’s lookin’ at you.)

Gazing up at the saintly statues, ceramic-clad domes, and candy-colored rooftops, the playful style made it feel as if we were pawns traversing a giant board game. For a moment the orange trees became protective guardians, ready to hurl fruit at would-be intruders. The connecting tunnels underneath the complex would serve as a clever escape route. Caught up in my imagination, I ran up some stairs to get the perfect shot when docent waved me down–“They are working in the surgery there!” he explained. I was surprised to discover that within these walls—unlike in my daydream—was a functioning, modern-day hospital.

Although the hospital’s history can be traced back to 1401, architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner revamped the site between 1902 and 1930. In total, the complex is comprised of 12 building, each one containing different medical specialties. Only a handful can be seen from the inside, including a chapel and an infirmary pavilion gussied up as it would have originally been. Interestingly, the ceramic interior serves not only an aesthetic purpose–as ceramic is easy to clean, it is also hygienic.

Aesthetics are certainly taken into account too, and not just for touristy photo ops. The main aim of this lavish style was in fact to create a soothing atmosphere for the patients. Especially interesting is that the layout of the premises has symbolic meaning. According to the hospital brochure:

The architect based the ground plan of the hospital complex on two axes, one vertical and the other horizontal, which together form a cross, the emblem of the former Hospital de la Santa Creu, through which Domènech i Montaner summarised and symbolised the history of Barcelona hospitals and the allegorical values of the Middle Ages.

Here’s some more of this quirky architecture:

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is located near the Sagrada Familia–in fact, spires of the famous church can be glimpsed from the hospital entrance. My guess is that, due to the central location of the hospital and the site’s UNESCO World Heritage status, it will soon become another big X on Barcelona’s busy tourist map.

Tickets are 8 Euros or 5,60 with a discount. (We got the discount for being under 27–woohoo!)

Further reading: El Tesoro de Sant Pau

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  1. Ooooooh I have lots of “ganas” to visit this place–the hospital and the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The last time I was in Barcelona I saw All The Gaudí Things but only recently learned about these non-Gaudí Modernista works.

    I had no idea that it was actually a functioning hospital, too! Usually old/historic hospitals have a different function in modern times but it’s cool patients are still served there.

    • Cassandra

      There are still a few buildings undergoing restoration–hopefully they will be finished by the time you are able to swing by Barcelona again. Since you like Gaudí so much, you will definitely enjoy the modernist ambiance here!

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