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Old Hospital Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu

Strolling through El Raval, or as the locals call it ‘ravalejant’, you’ll come across this impressive building, the old charity hospital Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu. The doors are wide open, and stepping inside, you suddenly find yourself in a beautiful courtyard full of history. Here, the famous architect Antoni Gaudí died, and Europe’s first pharmacy was located! Today, I’ll take you to one of El Raval’s best-kept secrets, the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu, which is full of hidden treasures.

A Gothic Charity Hospital

In the Middle Ages, Barcelona was plagued by hunger, plagues, and the pestilence. The many small hospitals like Sant Llàzer, D’en Marcús, or Dels Pelegrins couldn’t meet the demand. A new and especially large hospital that would encompass all the city hospitals became necessary. The area of El Raval, then outside the city walls and a hub for many monasteries and charitable centers (such as Casa de la Misericòrdia), was chosen as the location. The hospital was built on the site of the old Hospital de Canonge Colom, which was about two hundred years old.

Under the reign of King Martin I of Aragon (alias Martí l’Humà), the first stone of this beautiful hospital was laid in 1401. The construction of the Hospital de la Santa Creu was led by architect Guillem d’Abriell. The hospital was to be structured in different wings and floors around a beautiful enclosed courtyard. However, the construction progressed slowly and was stopped and resumed several times over the years, resulting in various expansions and architectural styles. But among experts, this building is considered a masterpiece of Catalan Gothic.

The Old Charity Hospital of Barcelona
The Old Charity Hospital of Barcelona

The Hospital de la Santa Creu served as Barcelona’s general hospital from 1401 to 1926 (more than five centuries!). Due to the city’s growth and advancements in medicine in the 19th century, the center could no longer meet contemporary demands, leading to the proposal of a new hospital, the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in Eixample. The different buildings of the old hospital were then repurposed, housing a library, a medical education center, and exhibition space in the old chapel. Hence, the street where this building is located is aptly named Carer de l’Hospital (Hospital Street). Today, we know this building as the “Antic” Hospital de la Santa Creu (in Spanish Antiguo Hospital de la Santa Cruz), literally translated as “the old hospital of the Holy Cross,” and it has been declared an artistic historical monument of national importance.

The Place Where Gaudí Died

One of the hospital’s most famous patients was master Gaudí himself, who, after his fatal tram accident on June 7, 1926, was brought here and died three days later from his injuries.

On June 7, 1926, the architect was walking along Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes in Barcelona, heading to his daily prayer at the church of Sant Felip Neri in the Gothic Quarter. At the intersection of Carrer Bailèn and Gran Via, a tram hit him, leaving him unconscious. Taxi drivers refused to take Gaudí to a clinic due to his impoverished appearance (as a devout Christian, he followed a sober and strict lifestyle). Eventually, the police brought him to the Hospital de la Santa Creu, then a charity hospital. When he failed to show up at his workplace at the Sagrada Família, a search was initiated. Monseigneur Gil Parés and architect Domènec Sugrañes i Gras found him in this hospital and offered him a place in a private clinic. He declined, saying, “My place is here, among the poor.” Gaudí died three days later in the hospital at the age of 73. His funeral on June 12 was a significant event: everyone in Barcelona wanted to say goodbye to the most brilliant architect ever. He was buried in the crypt of his own Sagrada Família.

The Place Where Gaudí Died
This Charity Hospital Was Where Gaudí Died

Barcelona’s Sistine Chapel

What was once used as a convalescence room, the Casa de la Convalescència, is now an attraction in itself. Via Carrer del Carme, you reach the former rehabilitation center of the hospital, which since 1931 has housed the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, a scientific and cultural institute about Catalonia. The Casa de la Convalescència, built between 1629 and 1680, is a Renaissance building divided into two floors around a beautiful courtyard with arcades. In the center of the courtyard stands a well adorned with the sculpture of Lluís Bonifaci el Vell, and on the exterior of the building, at the corner with Carrer Egipciaques, there is a niche with an image of Saint Paul, the work of Domènec Rovira el Jove. The beautiful glazed ceramics on the walls of the courtyard are one of the other beautiful details of the Casa de la Convalescència. Remarkable are the images that tell the life of Saint Paul, by Llorenç Passoles. Inside the building, there is a small chapel richly decorated with baroque ceiling paintings by the painter Antoni Viladomat i Manalt and a beautiful tiled altarpiece by Passoles. This is known as Barcelona’s Sistine Chapel.

An Anatomical Theater

Opposite the Casa de la Convalescència is the Reial Acadèmia de Medicina de Catalunya, the Royal Academy of Medicine of Catalonia. This was the surgery school and was built between 1760 and 1764. In 1843 and until 1906, it became the faculty of medicine. The building of the Reial Acadèmia de Medicina de Catalunya was designed by Ventura Rodríguez and is one of the most important remnants of neoclassical Barcelona. It houses one of the last original 18th-century anatomical amphitheaters. A space of exceptional beauty designed by Ventura Rodriguez, where (military) surgeons learned their trade. Here, bodies of the executed and dead patients whose bodies were unclaimed were dissected. The dissections were public, and the audience watched from the stands or behind the grilles on the upper floor. This last spot was the favorite among certain personalities who preferred a bit of privacy. By participating in a guided tour, you can see the Reial Acadèmia de Medicina de Catalunya with its fantastic anatomical amphitheater from the inside.

The National Library

On the top floor of the old hospital, where the hospital beds used to be, is now the beautiful Biblioteca de Catalunya (National Library of Catalonia), covered with high wooden ceilings with two facades. The library’s goal is to preserve all books and documents in the Catalan language. You can visit it during the library’s opening hours or during a special tour offered by the library itself. This way, you can learn a lot more about this unique and beautiful space. From the terrace over the first floor, you can also enjoy a beautiful view over the courtyard.

Europe’s Oldest Pharmacy

The courtyard of the old Santa Creu hospital also hides a great jewel: that of the oldest pharmacy in all of Europe! The former hospital pharmacy operated from 1417 until the hospital’s closure. It’s interesting to see the former pharmacist’s office, where an impressive collection of 62 ceramic medicine jars and other objects has been preserved. Another interesting detail is the small opening at the bottom of the glass window at the old pharmacist’s office: this was the spot where medicines were handed over to the hospital’s medical staff. The office has been part of the pharmacist’s academy Reial Acadèmia de Farmàcia de Catalunya since 1956 and can be visited during a guided tour.

Jardins de Rubió i Lluch

One of the biggest advantages of this old hospital is its beautiful courtyard, partly designed by Guillem Abiell. A relaxing place in the middle of El Raval with fountains and fragrant orange trees that provide the necessary shade on sunny days. It is known as the gardens of Rubió i Lluch and houses, among other things, a large stone cross (“la Santa Creu”), a beautiful cloister, a cozy restaurant with a terrace called El Jardí, and an XXL chess game that both locals and tourists play with. As evening falls, the Jardins de Rubió i Lluch turn into an enchanting place full of lights and candles. For a romantic dinner, El Jardí is a great choice.

Jardins de Rubió i Lluch
Jardins de Rubió i Lluch

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Barcelona, this courtyard is the perfect place to sit down and enjoy all there is to see!

Practical Information

  • What: Visit Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu
  • Where: Carrer de l’Hospital, 56
  • Metro: Liceu (L3)
  • When: Daily from 10:00 to 00:00 (each institution has its own opening hours)
  • Price: Free

Tip: Combine your visit to the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu with a walk through El Raval and discover one of the most colorful neighborhoods in Barcelona.

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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