Visit the interior of Hospital de Sant Pau (Barcelona, Spain) | Recinte Modernista
SANT PAU HOSPITAL - A MODERNIST HIDDEN GEM
In 1401 the City Council and the Bishopric of Barcelona agreed to unify the 6 existent hospitals of the city into one single facility. It was the origin of the Hospital de la Santa Creu (hospital of the Holy Cross), the second oldest hospital institution in Europe still active nowadays. Their headquarters were located in the Raval district, in a medieval building whose cloister is now a public garden, and some of its wings are now libraries.
But in the 1800’s the population of Barcelona had grown a lot due to the industrial revolution and the immigrants coming to work in the factories. The hospital facilities were not enough to serve the city. At the end of the 1800’s the industrialist and philanthropist Pau Gil decided to make a large donation to promote the construction of a new hospital in the Eixample District that was starting to be built outside of the old town. His only condition was to add the name of his patron saint, Saint Paul, to the name of the hospital. That’s how the Hospital de la Santa Creu became the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, although locals prefer to use “Santa Creu” to refer to the medieval building and “Sant Pau” for the modernist enclosure and the modern hospital facilities.
The architect Domenech i Muntaner was assigned its design, and for that he travelled to visit the leading sanitary facilities in Europe, learning about the newest hygiene trends. He planned a mini-city of 48 pavilions, and teamed up with the best artists of the time to decorate them according to the Modernisme style that was in vogue at the time. The construction works started in 1902, and the first patients arrived in 1916, even if the official innauguration wouldn’t be until 1930.
The dream of building 48 pavilions was never fulfilled, and only less than half were finally completed. With the years, the pavilions were altered to add divisions and mezzanines due to the lack of space. By 1990 the need of modern facilities was evident, and the local institutions got together to plan the project. It would occupy the backside of the modernist enclosure, facing Ronda Guinardó. In the meantime, in 1997 the Hospital de Sant Pau (Recinte Modernista) together with another work by Domenech i Muntaner, the Palau de la Musica Catalana, were declared Human Heritage by UNESCO and the restoration of the pavilions started. The new Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau moved to the new headquarters in 2003.
Exterior façade of the Hospital de Sant Pau
The entrance to the Hospital de Sant Pau modernista is made from the corner of Cartagena and Sant Antoni Maria Claret, which is also where ends Avinguda Gaudi. Three elegant wrought iron gates give entrance to the encloser. The central gate is flanked by 2 groups of three columns holding the coats of arms of the City of Barcelona and the Barcelona Cathedral, founders of the Hospital de la Santa Creu. To the left of the gates stands another column with the sculpture of Saint Paul, and the the right another column supports a Cross - for the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.
As you cross the door, a staircase leads to the Administration Pavilion, and in the middle of the staircase there’s a fountain with the bust of Pau Gil, the donor and promotor of the construction of the modernist hospital. The pavilion is built in V shape, with an impressive central façade and two wings. The entrance to the pavilion is made through three arched doors, which are sided by 4 sculptures: the three Christian Theological Vertues (Faith, Hope and Charity), plus one more virtue added by Domenech i Muntaner: “Action”.
In the center of the façade there’s two angels holding the coat of arms of the Hospital de la Santa Creu, flanked by 6 saints (three females and three males). The building is crowned with a spire featuring a clock, inspired in the medieval belltowers. That gives the pavilion the aspect of a monastery or an old university or Catholic private school rather than a hospital. As for the two wings, their outside is more simple, just decorated with rows of windows and some mosaics about the history of the hospital located in the edges of the estructure.
Hypostyle room and underground tunnels
The entrance to the Hospital de Sant Pau Recinte Modernista is made through the side door on the street level of the right wing (on the left wing there used to be a tapas bar, but it closed with the pandemic). After buying your tickets or getting them scanned if you bought them only (which is recommended to avoid wasting time), you access the hypostyle hall, a room with columns that acts as the basement of the Administration Pavilion.
The Hypostyle room connects with the network of underground tunnels that connect with the different pavilions. They were used by the hospital staff, and at one point even ambulances came in. It’s almost 1km (about half a mile) of underground tunnels! The visit takes you through the central tunnel before taking a detour to the right, to enter the Pavilion of Sant Salvador from its basement.
Pavilion of Sant Salvador
Nowadays it hosts a museum exhibit about the hospital with models of the hospital and a giant structure, vaguely resembling a dragon shape, made of images of the works of the architect Domenech i Muntaner, and references to his political involvement and his career teaching at the architecture school of the University of Barcelona (did you know that Antoni Gaudi was actually one of his students?)
Gardens of the Hospital de Sant Pau
The central gardens of the hospital structure the organization of the pavilions: to the right those for the male patients, and to the left, those for the females. Actually, the ones to the right are named after male saints, and the ones to the left after female saints or virgins. The gardens were a vital part of the project, as Domenech i Muntaner believed that the contact with nature helped in the healing process, and the plants were chosen for their medicinal properties.
Also, from the gardens it’s easy to realize that the pavilions are not structured following the rest of the structure of the Eixample district, but diagonally to it: that was made in purpose to maximize the sun exposition as well as the sea breeze, that purified the air.
This is where during the Christmas season they organize a Christmas Lights Garden.
Surgery Pavilion (Casa d'Operacions)
In the center of the garden stands the Surgery Pavilion, dedicated to the patron saints of Medicine Saint Damien and Saint Cosmas (depicted on mosaics by the windows of the façade). The blue mosaics on top of the balcony and under gothic arches list the names of prominent Catalan doctors.
Go around the pavilion to find the back door that gives you access to Surgery Theater: a semi-circular room with windows all around them and grades around a central table. This was the place where operations took place: the windows allowed for sunlight, in times when electricity wasn’t a reliable source of light and the surgeries had to take place during daytime. The grades around the surgery table allowed medicine students to attend for educational purposes.
The surgery room has two adjacent rooms, one in each side, one was the anesthesia room, the other the post-operations room. In them you can see displayed some surgery instruments used in the early 1900’s. On the second floor there were two more surgery rooms (the windows can be seen from outside) and the third floor had labs and water sterilization machines.
Pavilion of Sant Rafael
There were no partitions: the pavilions were communal dormitories. Domenech i Muntaner was involved in the design of the beds and other pieces of furniture. He even indicated the number of paint layers that needs to be used on the beds. This was the last pavilion built in life of Domenech i Muntaner – after his death it was his son who continued the works. Interestingly, unlike the other pavilions decorated with Ps and Gs for Pau Gil (the Hospital promotor), this one is decorated with Rs in the walls, for Mr. Rafael Rabell, one of the most important donors to the project.
The pavilion also displays a museum exhibit about the history of the Sant Pau Hospital (Barcelona, Spain), with panels with information as well as pictures and old medical instruments. As you exit it, look up to see the sculpture of the archangel Sant Raphael: it’s a portrait of one of the sons of Domenech i Muntaner, who died young at the age of 23 years old during the construction of the hospital.
At the end of the gardens stands another building, that is actually three bodies linked by bridges. The central body was the convent where the nuns that worked as nurses at the hospital used to live. They were the main work force at the hospital in the old times, as there were very few doctors. The left wing was the hospital pharmacy, and the one to the right were the kitchens. This building was added by Domenech i Muntaner’s son Peter in the 1920’s.
Other pavilions not open to the public
LEFT SIDE (Female pavilions)
- Pavilion of Santa Apolonia. First starting from the Administration Pavilion. Together with its twin, the pavilion of Saint Georges, they are the smallest pavilions of the Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona. It’s currently used for temperary exhibits and it’s closed to the public when there’s no exhibit on show.
- Pavilion of Our Lady of El Carme. Second to the left. Currently being restored.
- Pavilion of Our Lady of La Mercè. Third to the left. It is currently used as headquarters of international institutions.
- Pavilion of Our Lady of Montserrat. Last to the left before the Convent. Closed to the public.
RIGHT SIDE (Male pavilions)
- Pavilion of Saint Georges (Sant Jordi). First from the right, starting from the Administration Pavilion. Just as its twin, the Pavilion of Santa Apolonia, it is used for temporary exhibits and only open when there’s an exhibit going on.
- Pavilion of Sant Leopold. Third to the right. Currently housing headquarters of various institutions. The pavilion was named after a nephew of Pau Gil, Leopold Gil, and the saint crowning the entrance is a portrait of him.
- Pavilion of Sant Manel. Fifht and last to the right. This pavilion is also used as offices of various international institutions.
Take the grand staircase to the left, presided by a esculpture of Saint Martin of Tours on a horse. He represents charity, as a reminder that the Hospital de la Santa Creu was a hospital for the poor. As you walk up, you’ll be mesmerized at the gorgeous stained glass skylight and the impressive wrought iron lamp. Take first the corridor to the left, taking you to the central part of the building. From the windows you’ll see a great view of Sagrada Familia.
In front of the windows, there’s the door leading to the Domenech i Muntaner room, that preserves the original decoration. There’s a painting about how the remains of Saint Eulalia, patron saint of Barcelona, were taken from the church of Santa Maria del Mar to the Cathedral. The words on the balcony translate as “Lord, protect the benefactors of this house, in heaven as on earth”.
Retrace your steps to the stairs, and now take the corridor going on the opposite direction. Along it there’s offices, some currently in use, some freed of furniture so you can see their original looks. At the end of the corridor you’ll reach the conference room from its second floor, the best place to admire its tiled ceiling.
Walk down the stairs to reach the ground level, then exit through the corridor that takes back to the entrance hall. It’s lined up with colorful stained glass windows in one side and more offices in the other. The visit is over: to exit you’ll have to go back to the gardens, and walk down the slope on the right. The exit is through a gift shop in the basement of this wing of the Administration Pavilion, right were you started.
Pavilions outside of Sant Pau Recinte Modernista
There’s a handful of pavilions that are outside the Hospital de Sant Pau Recinte Modernista. They weren’t originals from Domenech i Muntaner’s times and that’s why they were not included in the monumental enclosure. But in case you are curious, it’s the following ones:
- Chapel of the Hospital. Facing Sant Antoni Maria Claret street, it is still used as a parish church. Designed by Domenech i Muntaner, his son had to modify the original project after the architect’s death due to economical restraints. The result is less monumental, but preserves the idea of a chapel open to the street so it can be accessed without having to cross the hospital area. To one side there’s a wing used by the friars that worked for the hospital (known as the “seminar” even if technically it wasn’t one), the other for the priests. Pere Domenech also attached to the right a small pavilion (Sant Roc), that housed a parking with a weighbridge for the delivery trucks.
- Pavilions of Sant Frederic, Santa Victoria and Sant Antoni. Accessed from a gate to the right of the Chapel, they are are now used for offices of different departments of the modern Barcelona Hospital de Sant Pau. Sant Frederic and Santa Victoria were built by Pere Domenech although planned initially by his father. The pavilion of Santa Victoria was actually designed by Domenech i Muntaner when it was clear that the original project of 48 pavilions wasn’t going to happen, so it has no “twin”, it has a much more humble architectural style not aligned with the others, and it occupies a space that was originally destined for other non-medical facilities. Sant Antoni was designed and built by Pere Domenech in 1932, but it’s suffered many alterations to adapt it to medical uses.
- Casa de la Convalescencia. Corner of Sant Antoni Maria Claret and Sant Quinti streets. The Convalescence House was an institution related to the medieval Hospital de la Santa Creu, that wasn’t originally going to move to the new hospital facilities. But once the ambitious original project was abandoned, the land available encouraged them to come. Domenech i Muntaner designed for them what many consider one of the last modernist buildings in Barcelona, even if it was executed by his son after he died. The building consists of two wards, one for male patients and one for females, united by a central chapel. Each ward had communal dormitories as well as private rooms with access to the gardens. They also had separate kitchens and bathrooms for each ward. The building is currently occupied by the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The side of the ward facing Sant Quintí street has a bar accessible from the street.
- Pavilion of Our Lady of the Assumpció. Access via a gate on Cartagena street and through the road that from Sant Antoni Maria Claret goes around the back of the Recinte Modernista. Twin of the pavilion of Sant Frederic, they are the two modernist pavilions that Pere Domenech built in the style of the ones designed by his father: the rest of his projects are considered eclectic style. In the 1960’s the building had become a urology clinic, the Fundacio Puigverd, and due to the need of more space the pavilion was altered and modern extensions were attached to it.
Planning your visit to the Hospital de Sant Pau Interior
Address: C/ de Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 167, 08025 Barcelona (Spain). Get directions from Googlemaps.
Closest subway station: Sant Pau | Dos de Maig (L5, blue)
Closest Tourist Bus stop: Cartagena, 325-329. Get your tickets here.
Opening hours: Every day from 10AM to 5PM (April to October until 6.30PM)
Will you be visiting the Sant Pau Hospital Museum on your next trip?
Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.
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