>Barcelona’s Hospital de Sant Pau (St. Paul’s Hospital) was founded in 1401 upon the merger of six of the city’s medieval hospitals into a central institution. There are other hospitals in the city, some of equally ancient origin, but Sant Pau has always been the most prestigious health care facility in Catalonia. This prestige is reflected in the uniquely beautiful buildings that make up the central campus of the hospital, which were designed and built by the great Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner between 1901 and 1930. The complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Apparently the hospital has decided to move into newer, modern digs, and vacate the historic complex. As Barcelona was recently selected to be the seat of the emerging Mediterranean Union, the city plans to turn over the old hospital campus for use by bureaucrats of that organization. This is a very sad turn of events.
The genius of Domènech i Montaner’s design back in the day was that the patient was able to mentally “escape” from his illness. He was surrounded with fairy-tale like structures of turrets, domes, arches, mosaics, sculptures, and plant-filled courtyards. The campus features lush Mediterranean landscaping, and patient rooms lined with balconies, sun rooms, and enormous windows to let in both light and the scents from the flowers and herbs in the gardens below. It was, for the early part of the last century, an uniquely “holistic” approach to medicine and certainly a nod to Medieval monastic apothecary/herbalist gardens.
A sequence of important scenes in director Whit Stillman’s terrific indie film “Barcelona” were shot in and around the old hospital. If you can get your hands on the DVD, you’ll see how the combination of working hospital, dream-like buildings, plenty of sunlight and beautiful gardens, were truly ahead of their time. It is a shame that the experience will be lost in the interest of government expansionism and profit-based efficiency.