Plaça de Sant Jaume’s Catalan Regional Government Building (Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya) is much more than just a building with a pretty neoclassical façade: this is the seat of the Catalan government, from where 100 presidents have governed. Constructed between the 15th and 17th centuries, the building is a symbol of Catalan perseverance, having stood the test of time through many historic challenges.
In the east wing, the renaissance extensions so far had adhered to the Gothic style of the original palace and, with minor modifications, no Renaissance forms were imposed.
However, at the end of the 16th century, the extension towards midday was approached, that is, the current Plaça de Sant Jaume. As a compact block adjoining the original palace, MPs opted for a more radical order. The works began in 1597 with the demolition of the homes purchased and were commissioned to Pere Blai, apparently by the imposition of the President, Francesc Oliver de Boteller, abbot of the monastery of Poblet. The facade follows the inspiration of the Italian Renaissance, and is inspired by the Farnese Palace in Rome.
The work had many obstacles. The first was of a political nature with Philip II, who paralyzed the works for almost nine months. Later, technical problems in the fitting of this building with the Gothic one, followed by the doubts of the deputies on the evolution of Blai’s work and on the appearance too solemn for the space it had (until 1824 a. the space of the current square was the convent of Sant Jaume). However, after its demolition and financial crisis, the building was completed between 1616 and 1619, with the original project estimated at four years.
Chapel of Sant Jordi
It is the main hall of the Palau de la Generalitat. On the same level as the Gothic gallery and the Patio de los Naranjos, it is part of the Renaissance body of the architect Pere Blai. Designed originally as a new Chapel of the Palace, it would function until 1714. Temple of 3 naves, covered with a Catalan vault or flat brick. At the head we find the dome, with an oval floor plan, visible from Plaça Sant Jaume and which gives light to the room with its crowning lantern. The show hosts the most important and solemn institutional events, such as the inauguration of the Presidents of the Generalitat. It also serves as a lobby for institutional offices on the sides. The current pictorial decoration corresponds to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera.
Saint George Hall was designed in 1597 as the new Chapel of Saint George. It is a unique three-nave place of worship, built on the first floor of the Palace. On the same level as the Gothic Gallery and the Courtyard of the Orange Trees, it forms part of the Renaissance section of the Palau built by architect Pere Blai.
The shiny marble floor, which has been conserved, is supported by a series of very flat Catalan vaults over the entrance hall that opens onto Plaça Sant Jaume. A series of slender but sturdy pillars support the ceiling vaults. Like those beneath the floor, these are Catalan vaults, in this case a very bold and unique version of the form. Though marred by the paintings applied in 1928, during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the hall remains a majestic space of very balanced and pleasing proportions.
Saint George Hall has become the most solemn and central space of the Palace and in Catalonia’s civic, political and cultural life. It is used for major institutional events, such as presidential swearing-in ceremonies and events held to honour prominent public figures. It also serves as a spacious lobby that provides access to offices located in the lateral sections.
The most important part of the work and core of all the construction is the chapel of Sant Jordi in the center of the first floor, with three ships and cupola. In the eighteenth century it became the Saló de Sant Jordi. It still retains the original flooring made of polychrome marble.
The front door is flanked by four smooth Doric columns dating to the second century. The main hypothesis proposed by researchers is that they would have been sculpted in Troy and taken to Tarragona, in the Temple of Augustus of the Provincial Forum ‘s cult site. By the end of the Roman Empire they would have moved to a church in the area of Sant Pere Sescelades. This church was destroyed and Pere Blai negotiated with the Tarragona authorities about its incorporation into the new facade in 1598.
The entrance hall leads onto Saint George Hall. Here the pillars are much lower and thicker. The vaults are very narrow and low. They appear to be made of stone but are actually executed in brick.
This doorway is generally used only by the president, ministers, and public figures who are being received at the Palau or attending institutional events there. It is also serves an entrance for official vehicles. The Guard Service welcomes members of the Executive Council and reports to the president every day.
The Plaça Sant Jaume Facade was built around 1600. At the time, it gave onto a space much smaller than the current one, which began to take shape following the demolition of the old Saint James Church in 1823. The facade was intended to open the building up to the most prestigious place in the city while also expanding it with the addition of new spaces.
The architect, Pere Blai, built the best and most monumental example of Renaissance civil architecture in Catalonia. The facade is a beautiful, original work – well composed, with a variety of materials, colours and textures. It has the air of a Renaissance Roman palace and evokes Michelangelo’s work on the Senatorial Palace in Rome.
Within the niche, sculpted in relief, are busts of the three members of the Generalitat who commissioned the construction of the facade, including the entire Renaissance section and the part on the north side, as far as Carrer de Sant Sever. The upper part of the facade displays the coat of arms with the Cross of Sant Jordi, a distinguishing symbol of the institution. The sculpture of Catalonia’s patron saint was executed by Andreu Aleu in 1860.
Palace of the Generalitat of Catalonia
The Palau de la Generalitat, located in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, is one of the few buildings of medieval origin in Europe that have been maintained as a seat of Government and for the same institution for which it was built.
The original house, on Carrer Sant Honorat, was acquired in 1400 and during the 15th century it was expanded and converted into a new gothic palace, the work of Marc Safont. Among the best preserved elements from this period are the Gothic Gallery and the Chapel of Sant Jordi.
During the 16th century, the Palau de la Generalitat grew with a new part which respected the previous Gothic style such as the Cambra Daurada (Golden Chamber) and the first Pati dels Tarongers(courtyard planted with orange trees). The most radical changes came with the extension towards the Plaça Sant Jaume (1597-1619): the current main façade was inspired by the Italian Renaissance, and there are four Doric columns of Roman origin dating from the 2nd century.
The last major changes in the building happened in the period of the Mancomunitat de Catalunya, the Catalan Commonwealth, (1914-1925): items such as the staircase of honour and the equestrian statue of Sant Jordi were added. Notable from the 1970s is the acquisition of more than a hundred pieces of modern, avant-garde and contemporary art by artists such as Montserrat Gudiol, Josep Maria Subirachs, Antoni Clavé, Joan Hernández Pizjuán, and Antoni Tàpies.