Gothic Art in Spain III, Public and Private Buildings

In Barcelona, the city hall or “Casa de la Ciudad” used for the meetings of the City Council, still retains the facade projected by the master Arnau Bargués, half of the old courtyard or cloister, and the Council meeting room (Consell de Cent). The essential Council chapel, always present in the Italian city halls of Siena, Florence and Perugia, was also built in Barcelona and is known as chapel of San Miguel. Later was built in Barcelona near the Palace of the City Council, the building of the “Generalitat de Catalunya”. This palace, begun in the late fourteenth century, still retains its facade and the first courtyard surrounded by fine arcades (designed by Marc Safont) around which the rooms are located. This building still has its chapel, which has a flamboyant Gothic facade, while the interior is from the Renaissance.

The buildings called “Lonjas de mar” were peculiar monuments of the cities belonging to the Catalan-Aragonese Confederation and were intended for commercial contracting and the administration of justice in maritime litigations. Three “Lonjas” remain almost intact: those of Valencia, Mallorca and Perpignan. The “Lonjas de mar” came to be what the ancient Roman basilicas were: a spacious hall with columns to be used for the citizens and with some smaller rooms for the tribunal and officials.

Top left: City Hall or Casa de la Ciutat in Barcelona. Top right: the Consell de Cent or Council meeting room at the Casa de la Ciutat, Barcelona. Bottom left: Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, in Catalonia. Bottom right: Arcades surrounding the central courtyard at the Palau de la Generalitat, Catalonia.

In addition to these special buildings for merchants, the Catalan towns were filled with open porticoes, places for meetings and contracting, semi-public places that were under the custody of a convent or brotherhood. In Barcelona, the most important of these porticoes was located next to the palace of the Municipal Council and later destroyed when the actual San Jaime square was projected. Another portico is in front of the church of San Antonio, with three Gothic naves opened to the street; another loggia* or similar portico is still preserved in Alcaniz.

The hospitals, truly splendid in the Gothic period, are well represented in Barcelona (see Barcelona’s public hospital). This building has high halls covered with diaphragm arches supporting sections of the roof’s beams. This Hospital has continued to provide good services to this day. In Gerona the beautiful facade of the ancient hospital is still preserved in perfect condition, this building is called the Almoyna, and its great semicircular door is embellished with crests and sculptures.

Top left: The Llotja de la Seda or Lonja de Valencia (“Silk Exchange”) in Valencia. Top right: La Cámara Dorada del Consulado del Mar (“The Golden Chamber of the Consulate of the Sea”) in the Lonja de Valencia. Bottom left: The Lonja de Palma de Mallorca o Sa Llotja in Mallorca. Top right: The Lonja de Mar de Perpignan (“Sea exchange”), in Perpignan, France.

In Barcelona, the kings of Aragon had two large palaces of which some remains and romantic drawings have been preserved. One, near the city walls, was first the residence of the Viscount and later that of the Templars, it is called Palau Minor. It included a series of large rooms occupying the three sides of a courtyard while the main door was placed between two towers. The other palace, called Palau Major, located near the cathedral, only retains its door, Royal Chapel and Tinell, or reception hall, which since the eighteenth century until 1936 housed the church of Santa Clara. Both the the Tinell hall, built in 1359 by Guillem Carbonen, and the Royal Chapel are covered with the ingenious and economic system of using diaphragm arches that work as an armor by carrying the roof beams. In the same way was covered the Royal Palace of Poblet, although it was never completed, and today we can see the beginnings of the big arches that were supposed to support the roof beams. In Santes Creus, the Royal Palace still retains some traces of the polychrome decoration of the ceiling, an specialty of almost all castles and churches of the territories of the Catalan-Aragonese Crown, and that used to be designed and painted by Moorish artists.

Top left: The Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu, in Barcelona. Top right: The Serranos Gate or Serranos Towers, in Valencia. Bottom left: The chapel of the Royal Palace of Barcelona (Palacio Real Menor de Barcelona). Bottom right: Facade of the Palau Reial Major (Grand Royal Palace) of Barcelona.

In the Mediterranean region, the most important private houses were often arranged around a courtyard, but with rooms located only on three of its sides, while in the fourth side there was only a simple wall with the door facing the street. This layout was different from that of the Castilian and Andalusian house, whose rooms were all located around the four sides of the central courtyard.

Gothic Spain ruins don’t include remains of walled precincts like those of Avignon or Aigues-Mortes in France; but have instead monumental entrances, for example, the one called Royal Door of Poblet, and other two great doors that are still in Valencia. This type of door or gate flanked by towers was employed earlier in the precinct of Carcassonne; but in the Gothic period these towers reached a colossal development; thus, the towers of the Door or Gate of Serranos in Valencia appeared opened from behind so that the stairs that provide access to the different floors of the building are fully visible. When only an isolated tower was enough, this in turn served as entrance door, such as that of Montblanc (Tarragona) and the one in the small village of Centellas. A magnificent tower of this type was also used to defend the entrance to the bridge in the city of Balaguer.

Top left: The Royal gates of Poblet in Catalonia. Top right: The Templar Castle of Gardeny in Catalonia. Bottom left: Interior view of the Templar Castle of Gardeny. Bottom right: The Peralada Castle in Catalonia.

In Catalonia, the castles often had their Gothic buildings joined to an older Romanesque construction and are now almost all in ruins. The castle of Gardeny, near Lleida (used by the Templars), still retains to these days its vaulted rooms. The castles of Perelada, Rocabertí, and Requesens are still habitable. In Mallorca the huge fortified citadel of Pollensa contains only ruins, but the royal castle of Bellver in Palma is in almost perfect condition. This castle is actually a Bell-ver or Belvedere*. Its circular floor plan, with a large circular patio around which are the two floors of a cloister, is a particular construction thanks to its cylindrical tower which defends the entrance. The Royal Palace of Perpignan also follows this same layout, although with a rectangular shape and with a very large patio. Perpignan also houses the remains of other particular building called the Castellet, which is nothing more than a door in the walls with an octagonal tower on one side and a small fort on the other side in order to defend the entrance to the fortress.

Top left: The Rocaberti castle in Figueres, Spain. Top right: The Requesens castle in Catalonia. Bottom left: The Bellver Castle in the Island of Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain. Bottom right: view of the Bellver castle circular inner yard.
Top: The Palace of the Kings of Majorca or Palace of Perpignan, in Perpignan, France. Bottom: The “Castellet” of Perpignan or Minor Palace of Perpignan, France.


Loggia: An architectural feature consisting in a covered exterior gallery or corridor usually on an upper level, or sometimes ground level. The outer wall is open to the elements, usually supported by a series of columns or arches. Loggias can be located either on the front or side of a building and are not meant for entrance but as an out-of-door sitting room.



Belvedere: (from the Italian meaning “fair view”). An architectural structure sited to take advantage of a fine or scenic view. While a belvedere may be built in the upper part of a building the actual structure can be of any form, whether a turret, a cupola, or an open gallery. Or it may be a separate pavilion in a garden, or the term may be used for a paved terrace with a good viewpoint, but no actual building.

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