Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau
Founded in the 10th century, this is one of Europe's earliest medical complexes, and contains some of Barcelona's most stunningly graceful Gothic architecture, built mostly in the 15th and 16th centuries. Approached through either the Casa de la Convalescència entry on Carrer del Carme or through the main door on Carrer Hospital, the cluster of medieval architecture surrounds a garden courtyard and a midtown orange grove. The first stone was laid by King Martí el Humà (Martin the Humane) in 1401. As you approach from Carrer del Carme, the first door on the left is the Reial Acadèmia de Cirurgia i Medecina (Royal Academy of Surgery and Medicine), a neoclassical 18th-century building of carved stone. On the right is the 17th-century Casa de la Convalescència, and straight ahead is the simple 15th-century Gothic facade of the hospital itself, with the light of the inner cloisters gleaming through the arched portal. The Royal Academy of Surgery and Medicine—open for visits until 2 PM on weekdays—contains an amphitheater originally used for the observation of dissections. Across the way is the door into the patio of the Casa de la Convalescència (Convalescence House), with its Renaissance columns and its brightly decorated scenes of the life of St. Paul in the vestibule. The primarily blue and yellow azulejos (ceramic tiles) start with the image to the left of the door into the inner courtyard portraying the moment of the saint's conversion: SAVLE, SAVLE, QUID ME PERSEGUERIS (Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?). The ceramicist, Llorenç Passolas, was also the creator of the late-17th-century tiles around the inner patio. The image of St. Paul in the center of the courtyard over what was once a well is an homage to the building's initial benefactor, Pau Ferran. Look for the horseshoes, two of them around the keyholes, on the double wooden doors in the entryway, wishing good luck to the convalescent and, again, in reference to benefactor Ferran, from ferro (iron), as in ferradura (horseshoe).
Past the door to the Biblioteca Infantil, the children's library, on both sides of the courtyard, is the 1.5-million-volume Biblioteca de Catalunya (open weekdays 9–8, Sat. 9–2), Catalonia’s national library and Spain's second in scope after Madrid's Biblioteca Nacional. The hospital patio, centered on a baroque cross, is filled with orange trees and usually also with students from the Escola Massana art school at the far end on the right. The stairway under the arch on the right leading to the main entrance of the Biblioteca de Catalunya was built in the 16th century, while the Gothic well to the left of the arch is from the 15th century, as is the little Romeo-and-Juliet balcony in the corner to the left of the Escola Massana entry. Inside the library, the wide Gothic arches and vaulting of what was once the hospital's main nave were designed in the 15th century by the architect of Santa Maria del Pi church, Guillem Abiell, who was seeking light and a sense of space. This was the hospital where Antoni Gaudí was taken after he was struck by a trolley on June 7, 1926.
Among the library's collections are archives recording Gaudí's admittance and photographs of the infirmary and the private room where he died. The library's staggering resources range from silver medieval book covers to illuminated manuscripts from the Llibre Vermell (Red Book), the Catalonian songbook. Guided tours can be arranged at the main desk.
Leaving through the heavy wooden door out to Carrer Hospital, from the far sidewalk you can see the oldest section of the medieval hospital, part of the old Hospital de Colom founded by the canon Guillem Colom in 1219 to the left of the door. The facade itself is from the 16th century.
Admission: Guided tours €8.70
Hours: Tours daily at 10 AM in English (the 75-min visit includes El Círculo del Liceu, with the extraordinary Ramon Casas collection of paintings). Unguided express tours at 11 AM, noon, 12:30, and 1 PM are shorter (20 mins) and less comprehensive; cost is €4.50