The Palau de la Generalitat is the seat of the Presidency of the Generalitat de Catalunya. Like Valencia, it is one of the few buildings of medieval origin in Europe that remains the seat of the government and the institution that built it, the Generalitat of Catalonia. It is in the Gothic Quarter of the city of Barcelona in Plaça de Sant Jaume, in front of the House of the City. The Palau de la Generalitat is one of the most valuable symbols of Catalonia, among other reasons because it has managed to overcome historical and political contingencies and because it is erected, together with the Palau delParliament, a bulwark of democracy in Catalonia.
The Palau de la Generalitat is a public building with historical memories and, in addition, the seat of the Government of Catalonia and the Presidency of the Generalitat. Much of the one hundred and thirty presidents have succeeded in this house, from Alfons de Tous (1396) to the current president Quim Torra.
In 1289, the Catalan Courts – considered since 1300 as a representation of the totality or “generality” of Catalonia – established a delegated commission for the collection of taxes that the Corts granted to the king. The Corts, or General de Catalunya, meeting in Cervera in 1359, institutionalized that commission or Delegation of the General of Catalonia, composed of deputies from the three estates: military or nobility, ecclesiastical and popular or royal (representatives of the guilds and citizens of the towns directly submitted to the king). It is from these new functions that the need to occupy an administrative and representative office arises.
On 3 December of 1400, representatives of the three arms: Alfons de Tous, Jaime Ramon and Marc Desplà they acquire merchant Pere Brunet 38,500 for salaries, the original house, with subsequent extensions, become the current Palau more specifically the building on Sant Honorat street.
The institution, in a way, is replacing the royal power by executing the decisions of the Catalan Courts. The exercise of these functions of government, justice and military defense, justify the location and dimensions of the Palau de la Generalitat.
Centuries later, in the 18th century, Philip V of Spain fought against Catalonia, for which he made the decision to defend Austria Carlos III as a pretender to the throne of Spain, raising the Regiment of the Diputación General de Catalunya. In the last months of 1713, however, the Generalitat remained inoperative, and most of its functions were assumed by the Consell de Cent de Barcelona. This situation, in the context of the War of Spanish Succession, ended on September 11, 1714, date on which Barcelona fell into the hands of Philip V. The Generalitat and the Catalan Courts were abolished by Decrees of New Plant of Felipe V, the 16th of January of 1716, violating the Constitutions of Catalonia. The Palace of the Generalitat became the seat of the Royal Hearing.
Despite the partial occupation by the Commonwealth of Catalonia in 1914, the total restoration of the Palace was not until the return of the Generalitat’s institutions when, in consequence of the Spanish municipal elections of 1931, Francesc Macià agreed to the restoration of the Generalitat and became president (1931-1933). Macià abolished the four provincial councils, and this Palace was once again the seat of the Generalitat and its government. On the basis of the Statute of Autonomy of 1932 (Statute of Núria), Catalonia was endowed with a Parliament, with an Administration of Justice of its own (Court of Cassation).), and of law enforcement. His successor, President Lluís Companys, completed in 1934 the unification of autonomous political power by removing the provincial civil governors introduced by the Government of Madrid in the 19th century.
After the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, the Generalitat was exiled. The new fascist regime of national-Catholic inspiration abolished the institutions of the Generalitat. Its president, Lluís Companys, fled to France in 1939 was detained by the Gestapo, and extradition was applied to Spain, where he was tried on a council of extreme war, sentenced to death and shot in the castle of Montjuïc (1940). The death of President Companys, Josep Irla, last President of the Catalan Parliament, took over the presidency of the Generalitat in exile until, in 1954, Josep Tarradellas was succeeded by, also in exile.
Again a centralist government was imposed by the civil governors and the provincial councils, and in this Palace the Diputación de Barcelona was installed. This provincial division ignored the regional territorial division, traditional in Catalonia.
Following the reestablishment of democracy in Spain and the Spanish general election (1977), this Palace was again the seat of the Generalitat restored on September 29, 1977, before the approval of the 1978 Spanish Constitution. As President of the Generalitat, Josep Tarradellas prepares the restoration of the institution, the first transfers and the new Statute of Autonomy, which was promulgated in December 1979. In the elections convened on 20 March 1980 were elected 135 deputies of the Parliament of Catalonia and 10 Aprilremained constituted. Finally, with the election of Heribert Barrera as President of the Parliament and Jordi Pujol as President of the Generalitat, who formed the government of the I legislature of the current democratic period, the Generalitat was basically constituted.
The building was originally part of the Jewish Quarter of Barcelona, was a group of Jewish properties including the Jewish financier and poet Moixé Natan, also part of the houses belonged to the Jewish physicist, doctor and surgeon Bonjuhà Cabrit, until their sacking at Jews who suffered in 1391 passed to the son of a royal treasurer. Later, it was acquired by the money changer Pere Brunet, who finally sold it to three deputies on December 3, 1400 by the Diputación General de Catalunya.
It had the entrance through the street of Sant Honorat and it arrived until the street of the Bishop, where there was a vegetable garden. Other properties were gradually acquired during the 15th century: towards the current Plaça de Sant Jaume, houses of the apothecary Esteve Satorre, and also on the north side, the band closest to the Cathedral.
Works in the fifteenth century
The disorderly incorporations and the representation requirements of the institution advised commissioning works that, in fact, completely replaced the original buildings and created the Gothic palace that we can still see today, both on Sant Honorat street and on the street façade. of the Bishop. The works were commissioned by Marc Safont, a renowned master of houses working between 1410 and 1425.
Of this period are the body of Sant Honorat (main entrance at that time), the representation chambers of the first floor, the chapel of Sant Jordi and the Gothic façade of Carrer del Bisbe, with images by Pere Joan. The Gothic gallery is one of the best preserved and retains its original shape. It contains a staircase-style sidewalk of the era, with tracery roses on the railing, and small characters carved at the end of each step. On the first floor there is a gallery with stylized nummulitic columns between which are pointed arches. Finally, the roof is topped by pinnacles andgargoyles of great sculptural wealth.
The facade of Bisbe Street is a simple ashlar wall, with an access door that opens to the smaller courtyard adjacent to the Gothic patio. It is crowned by a crest with pinnacles, gargoyles and a balustrade with a rich tracery. Below, just at the top of the wall, are a series of corbels with human faces holding arches. In the center of the railing, just above the door, is a large medallion with the representation of Saint George killing the dragon, apparently inspired by the major seal of the General Government of Catalonia’s Provincial Council. Pere Joan, the author of this sculpture, was only twenty years old when he made it.
Chapel of St. George
It is in the Gothic gallery, just in front of the stairs, although this was not its original location. Built following a draft framework Safont between 1432 and July 28 of 1434, is a square piece covered with vault with nerves which rise four brackets with the image of the four evangelists. In the center, a turning key with the image of Saint George killing the dragon. Around it, other laps with images of the Generalitat’s coat of arms and the four bars of Catalonia. The facade has a door with two lateral windows all of them in an ogival styleflamingo Gothic, profusely decorated, reminiscent of Mudejar art. In 1437, it was decorated with an altarpiece by Bernat Martorell. An exceptional altar front embroidered by Antoni Sadurní, dating to 1450, is made of silk and metallic gold and silver wire. Of the same Antoni Sadurní is the Dalmatics of the tern of Sant Jordi that also is conserved in the chapel.
The evolution of the institution means that a hundred years later the palace grew on the western side. The highlight of this extension is the golden chamber on the first floor and continuation of the Council room. The work was commissioned on July 16 of 1526 in Matthew Capdevila, master builder at that time an official of the Government. The decoration, gilded capitals with heraldic motifs, was made by Joan de Tours and the wooden ceiling on the ceilings was designed by Bartomeu Barceló. Between 1531 and 1537there was a further enlargement that increased the building on the north side from Sant Honorat to Bisbe Street. The house included an orange orchard that was respected and refurbished with the new outbuildings. In 1560, Father Pere Cassador commissioned the pavement to be converted into the first courtyard of the Naranjos.
The Palace in Plaça Sant Jaume
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.
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 ICAC 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.
Facade on Carrer Sant Honorat
This is one of the most impressive facades in the distinctive style of Catalan Gothic architecture. It skilfully solves the problem posed by the irregular line of the street with two walls, achieving an elegant and compositionally balanced solution. The two rows of mullioned windows give the facade an imposing air while enhancing its beauty. The larger windows, each with two thin columns, offer a glimpse of the nobility of the Palau’s most significant interior spaces.
On each side of the main entrance, marked by the coat of arms of Saint George, are the doorways once used by guards, as indicated by the relief figures on the keystones. One of them still serves as an entrance and control point for staff and services.
The Conference Room, located on the ground floor, can accommodate over 200 people. It is used to host a variety of events that require a venue with the symbolic status that the Palau offers. The room is equipped with the technical equipment needed to hold a wide range of events.
The Conference Room was created in 1993 in spaces that the building gained in 1912, when an embankment in the Courtyard of the Orange Trees was hollowed out in the time of Enric Prat de la Riba. Since then, the roots of the trees are contained in large box structures integrated in the reinforced concrete ceiling between the vaults below – covered in trencadís (broken tile shards) – and the flagstone paving of the courtyard above.
To create a room with enough seating and good sight lines, the remodelling of the space in 1993 included the removal of a number of pillars, while the system of arches and vaults beneath the Courtyard of the Orange Trees was maintained.
Antoni Clavé Rooms
The Antoni Clavé Rooms adjoin the Conference Room and occupy the rest of the space under the Courtyard of the Orange Trees. They are named after the prominent Catalan artist Antoni Clavé i Sanmartí (1913–2005), who was commissioned to paint a series of large pieces for the space, which are displayed together with a selection of his earlier and especially significant pieces.
The rooms serve as an antechamber to the Conference Room and also lead to the new press room.
Two 17th-century rooms, with an entrance from the Antoni Clavé Rooms and a facade facing Carrer de Sant Honorat, were remodelled to create a new press room. Equipped with the latest technology, the space is used for press briefings and to make important official announcements, particularly concerning resolutions adopted by the Executive Council.
The Central Courtyard is an extraordinary exponent of the characteristic courtyards that Catalan noble houses built from the 13th century on were organised around. Thanks to its distinctiveness, beauty and good state of conservation, this is probably the best example.
Notable architectural features of the courtyard, which is characterised by late-Gothic forms, include an architecture of clear, broad and rich spaces, surrounded by interior walls, with extensive openwork on the first-floor gallery. On the ground floor, the Central Courtyard is very open, to a second courtyard that leads to Carrer del Bisbe. The abundance and quality of sculpture elements is also noteworthy, from the smallest pieces on the staircase to the 26 expressive gargoyles that adorn the perimeter of the opening to the sky. Each gargoyle is attached to a pilaster topped with a pinnacle, and between them are the openings of a sunny gallery. Everything has a stately elegance, but it is also a welcoming space that to this day efficiently performs the basic functions it was designed for, serving as a reception and presentation space, as well as providing access to other parts of the building.
The courtyard can be reached through the doorway on Carrer del Bisbe, from Carrer de Sant Honorat, or from the entrance hall adjacent to Plaça Sant Jaume.
The mezzanine floor houses the Protocol and External Relations Office. Institutional events of the Ministry of the Presidency and the Catalan government are organised in these offices, and staff work on matters related to the representation of the institution and the president at events held at the Palau and elsewhere.
The gallery and upper-floor offices are reached via an elegant open staircase on one side of the courtyard.
Facade on Carrer del Bisbe
The entrance from Carrer del Bisbe is of great interest from a heritage standpoint. It features a sculptural work in stone that is a masterpiece of Gothic art. The piece centres on a depiction of Saint George on horseback, in high relief, inside a medallion that forms part of the crowning balustrade of the wall. The work has been praised for its detail, rhythm, expressiveness and realism. The sculptor, Pere Joan, started working on it when he was just 20.
The balustrade that crowns the wall is embellished with a frieze of blind arches that rise from 27 small figures, which, thanks to their realism and vividness, seem to capture the faces of passers-by in 1418.
The false gargoyles that project from the base are also highly expressive. One of them, next to the medallion, depicts the princess from the legend of Saint George.
In addition to conveying a sense of the power of the institution on a street that was more important than Sant Honorat, this large doorway on Carrer del Bisbe also gave access, on the same level, to the courtyard. As a result, it is still used today as an entrance for service vehicles.
Plaça de Sant Jaume Entrance Hall
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.
Plaça Sant Jaume Facade
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.
The interior courtyard of the Palau is surrounded by a gallery of great architectural interest. The resulting space has a unique charm that probably comes from contemplating the very fine columns that separate the interior spaces and the exterior courtyard, creating a pleasing rhythm that can be fully appreciated as one walks from one part of the building to another.
The corner where the open staircase reaches the gallery is a particularly notable feature. Here we see two sturdy classical columns made of pink marble, adorned with reliefs of Renaissance grotesque figures. Another striking feature is the hanging capital above the opening, created when the space was remodelled 110 years after its construction to give greater prominence to the facade of the Chapel of Saint George, which had just been moved here from the ground floor.
Important rooms are located on each side of the gallery. It is believed that the Accounts Archive was once located next to the chapel. The gallery also leads to a grand staircase, built in 1870, and next to the staircase there is a doorway which since the 17th century has led to Saint George Hall. In the galley on the Carrer de Sant Honorat side, there is a space that was once the Auditors’ Chamber (now the president’s office), and further on, the former Council Hall, known since 1928 as the Sala de la Mare de Déu de Montserrat (Virgin of Montserrat Room). Finally, towards the Courtyard of the Orange Trees, there are three meticulously decorated doorways that were created in the 16th century.
This room, which has borne its current name since the renovations of 1928, retains its original structure and the carved cantilever beams of the ceiling. Around 1425, it was the most important space in the Palau, where meetings of the Consistori (Council) were held. The room faces Carrer de Sant Honorat, with three large Gothic windows opening onto the street. It currently serves as an anteroom or receiving room for the president’s office.
The President’s Office
This room was once used by the Oïdors de Comptes (auditors), important figures who, together with the deputies, formed the governing council, the predecessor of the Generalitat. The president’s office has a small door that connects it to the Gothic Gallery and features one of the large mullioned windows on the Carrer de Sant Honorat facade.
The room now serves as the president’s office, where he works and performs his representative duties.
It has long been believed that this room once housed the Accounts Archive, where important documents were kept and the chief of accounts and other officials worked.
Since 1975, the walls of the room have been decorated with murals and a stained-glass window by Jordi Alumà that feature allegorical depictions of the Palau’s history. The space is now used as a waiting room for visitors who come to see the president.
Chapel of Saint George
Commissioned by the Corts Catalanes (Catalan Courts), this chapel was Marc Safont’s last work at the Palau. Since the 12th century, the figure of Saint George has been closely linked to the lands where Catalan is spoken. There are countless references to the saint throughout the Palau, including in the architecture and furnishings of this chapel, which was originally constructed on the ground floor but moved to its current location in the upper-floor gallery in 1548.
Due to its small size, the formal language of the space is close to precious metalwork. The facade in particular is a jewel of the flamboyant style thanks to the delicacy of its design and the meticulous workmanship. The interior, which has a square floor plan and stellar groin vaulting, should now appear as it did before the expansion carried out in the 18th century. The altarpiece by Bernat Martorell, the altar hanging and embroidered tunic by Antoni Sadurní (which fortunately can still be seen), an exceptionally beautiful silver statuette of Saint George, and other pieces of precious metalwork together form an artistic ensemble of exceptional density.
In around 1738 and 1768, the chapel was extended with a rectangular section crowned by a small false cupola framed by four suspended capitals. The antependium of the current altar (a reproduction in silver of Antoni Sadurní’s Gothic altar hanging) was made by the jeweller Ramon Sunyer in 1956. In this part of the chapel, there are two Flemish tapestries by G. Pannemaker (16th century), depicting the story of Noah, and two monumental baroque candelabra that date to 1670.
Courtyard of the Orange Trees
The Courtyard of the Orange Trees has become the defining feature of the Palau. For many years, in addition to a central courtyard, the town houses of the well-to-do generally had a garden or courtyard where orange trees were planted. The first stage of the building’s expansion was on the north side. Most of the work was supervised by the carpenter and architect Antoni Carbonell, who built two open galleries (half Gothic and half Renaissance in style) and the first courtyard of orange trees. Thanks to the deputies overseeing the work and Carbonell, the expansion was in line with Marc Safont’s approach in the Gothic courtyard. The consequences of this decision were very positive, especially later, when the same style was maintained in the last stage of the Palau’s expansion on the north side.
The continuity of the upper gallery, formally and in terms of its level, effectively integrated the addition of the Sala Nova del Consistori (New Council Hall), the Saló Daurat (Golden Hall), and all of the other sections added until the entire perimeter was completed. The result, as one can still appreciate, is a beautiful space that is bright and full of life.
Surrounding the courtyard are the most important meeting rooms and workspaces used by the Office of the President.
The neo-Gothic Bridge runs from the Courtyard of the Orange Trees across Carrer del Bisbe, linking the historic building and the presidential residence in the Cases dels Canonges (Canons’ Houses). The opening of the bridge in 1928, at the height of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, was not without controversy. Its picturesque appearance has made it hugely popular with tourists. The bridge features notable examples of the workmanship of artisans of the Modernista period.
Presidential Staff Offices
The section of the building that faces Carrer de Sant Sever and the Courtyard of the Orange Trees was constructed in the 17th century as a storage area for the Palau’s arsenal. It now houses the workspaces of the Office of the President.
In the past, this space has been used as a map room, a press room, a second court chamber, and a second hall of the Courtyard of the Orange Trees.
The Sala dels Reis (Kings’ Room), built around 1585, is one of three grand rooms with access from the Courtyard of the Orange Trees. Between 1603 and1608, these three rooms (floors and lower part of walls) were decorated with glazed ceramic pieces made by the renowned ceramist Lorenzo de Madrid.
From 1716 to 1908, the Royal Court occupied the Palau de la Generalitat, and these rooms were put to different uses, leading to the loss of most of the glazed ceramics. Only the ceramic floor of this room was saved, and it is one of the few examples from this period that is conserved in situ.
Another important element of the room, which gives it its name, is the gallery of portraits of counts and count-kings, by Filippo Ariosto. In 1587, the Generalitat de Catalunya commissioned the Bolognese painter to create a gallery of portraits of the counts and counts-kings of Catalonia and Catalonia-Aragon. This is the oldest royal gallery, with the most conserved portraits, in Spain and probably in all of Europe.
The main part of this series consists of 46 oil paintings on canvas, of which only three have been lost. In 1588, the portraits were hung, in the form of a frieze, around the recently constructed Sala Nova del Consistori (New Council Hall). And there they remained for over 300 years.
Recently, twelve of the portraits restored to date have been put on display.
The Joaquim Torres-Garcia Hall contains the frescoes that were painted on the walls of Saint George Hall between 1912 and 1916 by the great artist himself. The works were commissioned by Enric Prat de la Riba, the president of the Barcelona Provincial Council, who later became the president of the Mancomunitat de Catalunya (Commonwealth of Catalonia).
Ceremonial and official events, including the signing of agreements, are held in the Torres-Garcia Hall, and it is sometimes used as a dining hall when important public figures visit the Palau.
Executive Council Room
The room was built to hold meetings of the Consistori (Council), the highest body of the Catalan government. The magnificent and spectacular coffered ceiling is the defining feature of this space. A gallery of portraits of Catalan sovereigns, commissioned from the Italian painter Filippo Ariosto was installed in this room. The works are currently being restored and are of great artistic interest.
The room’s current appearance is the result of a provisional restoration to facilitate its use as a meeting space for the Executive Council (its original purpose). The ceiling (yet to be restored) is partially visible through a gold-coloured gauze covering. The large round table was used by the Court of Cassation of the Generalitat during the Second Spanish Republic, and the mural by Antoni Tàpies pays homage to the authors of the four great medieval chronicles of Catalonia’s history
As in the years following its construction, this splendid room is where the president and members of the Executive Council meet and make important decisions.
Saint George Hall
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 Palau. 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 Palau 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.
Cases dels Canonges
The Cases dels Canonges (Canons’ Houses) are a building complex of medieval origin and characteristics, located on the other side of the neo-Gothic bridge that spans Carrer del Bisbe. The buildings were reconstructed in the late 1920s to create new spaces and improve the immediate surroundings of the Palau. A residence was created for President Francesc Macià, and he passed away there in 1933. In addition to the presidential residence, the Cases dels Canonges currently house administrative offices.