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Discover the beautiful Modernisme architecture of the Hotel España, which was originally designed by the renowned architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

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Hotel España, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2021, dates back to 1859.


Identified as a “Cultural Asset of Local Interest” by the Catalonian government, the Hotel España’s fascinating heritage harkens back to a French expatriate named Josep Colomer i Giralt. Colomer specifically decided to open a boutique hotel in Barcelona’s El Raval neighborhood after witnessing the great economic growth happening in the area. (El Raval is actually a part of the much larger Ciutat Vella district, which constitutes the heart of the city’s historic core.) He specifically chose to establish his business within a historic building at No. 11 carrer Sant Pau. The two-story building was originally constructed to house public baths, but was subsequently purchased by Manel Basons i Tapia and converted into townhomes. Colomer’s renovations began in 1857 and lasted for nearly two years. Naming the newly created hotel as the “Fonda de España,” he leased the destination to the Riu i Calvet brothers when the work ended. The Fonda de España quickly developed a prestigious reputation due to its wonderful amenities, spacious accommodations, and unrivaled hygiene. In fact, the popularity became so great that Colomer had to increase its size. In 1863, Colomer petitioned the city council to appropriate the neighboring home at No. 9 carrer Sant Pau, which belonged to his recently deceased neighbor, Josep Balasch. Upon receiving approval, Colomer proceeded to turn it into an expansion of the Fonda de España. He had also taken the opportunity to create another three stories onto the earlier portion of the hotel, which soon became known locally as the “Pati vuitcentista.” Colomer installed further additions onto the building a few years later in 1867, creating yet another floor of lavish guestrooms. Renamed as the “Hotel de España,” Colomer’s beautiful hotel remained a fixture within the local community for years to come.

Unfortunately, in 1873, Colomer passed away. In his will, he had left the Hotel de España to his sister, Engràcia Colomer i Giralt, along with a substantial fortune to maintain its continued success. But Engràcia Colomer i Giralt had little time to manage the hotel herself. As such, she sold the business to another sibling named Bonaventura, whose children, in turn, inherited it not long thereafter. Now called the “Grand Hotel d’Espagne,” Bonaventura’s son, Miguel Salvadó i Llorens, took a direct role in running the business and began another series of extensive renovations. (His own sister, Margarita Salvadó i Llorens, and her husband, Pelegrí Riu i Calvet, were co-owners for a while until their respective deaths during the mid-1890s.) In 1898, Salvadó started obtaining permits to initiate the project, although the actual construction commenced five years later. He had also hired the great architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to create the hotel’s new design, who used the best blend of Modernisme motifs to recraft its appearance. Domènech did not work alone though, as the he had also recruited the help of other talented intellectuals. Painter Ramón Casas, for instance, crafted the now-famous sgraffito decoration inside the dining area, while sculptor Eusebi Arnau molded the five-meter-high alabaster fireplace within the meeting room. When the whole project finally concluded in 1904, many hailed the hotel as an architectural masterpiece. Indeed, the Barcelona City Council even bestowed the title of “Best Commercial Establishment of the Year” for its architecture and décor.

In 1921, Miquel Salvadó i Llorens died and bequeathed the Grand Hotel d’Espagne to his nephew, Josep Simón I Salvadó. However, Josep Simón was too distracted to operate the business, since his various public responsibilities in his hometown of Puigcerdà often kept him away from Barcelona. He appointed Josep Gaspar I Bulbena to be the manager of the establishment in 1927. Gaspar subsequently elevated the hotel’s prestige over the next few years, even hosting numerous travelers amid the exciting Barcelona International Exposition. Unfortunately, the effects of the Great Depression and Spanish Civil War abruptly ended this period of prosperity, which forced the Grand Hotel d’Espagne to experience years of decline. Then, when Josep Simón i Salvadó died in 1939, the hotel passed onto his nephew, Manel Simón i Carrasco, who subsequently sold the structure to La Industrial Hotelera SA. It proceeded to heavily modify the building’s historical façade, as Modernisme architecture had become unattractive throughout Barcelona. The hotel continued to see its fortunes decline over the following decades, where it faced an uncertain future. In 2004, however, Condes Hotels assumed the responsibility of managing the building. Inspired to preserve its rich history, the company undertook a comprehensive restoration that sought to thoroughly restore the hotel back to its former glory. Thanks to its tireless efforts, the building’s beautiful Modernisme-style architecture once again stood prominently throughout El Raval. Operating as the “Hotel España” today, this fantastic historic hotel has been a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2021.

  • About the Location +

    Barcelona is a historic city with a heritage that harkens back centuries. While various surviving historical records have not presented an exact date for the city’s founding, oral tradition has since provided a number of origin stories nonetheless. Perhaps the most popular belief is the idea that Barcelona was first developed as a colony by Hamilcar Barca, the father of the great Carthaginian general Hannibal. In fact, the tales protest that the word “Barcelona” is an actual adaptation of the Barca family name. Nevertheless, archeological evidence has shown that the city grew from a couple of towns set atop two hills: Táber and Montjuïc. The community on the crest of the Táber—Barkeno—soon emerged as the dominant one, with its economy fueled by maritime commerce and agriculture. But the two settlements were eventually absorbed into the Roman Empire amid the Second Punic War. Barcelona soon turned into a Roman frontier outpost, serving primarily as a military camp known as “castrum.” (The Romans specifically called Barcelona “Barcino,” which scholars accept as the actual source for its modern name.) As such, Barcelona featured a sizeable population of legionaries, some of whom occupied a towering fortress on Mont Táber. Despite its imposing defenses, the city was gradually beset by marauding bands of Germanic tribes over the next few centuries. Barcelona was even destroyed briefly during the 3rd century AD, prompting its Roman garrison to create a massive enclosed wall that extended for over a million square feet around the city.

    Unfortunately, Barcelona fell to the marauding tribesmen around the beginning of the 5th century, specifically to an ethnic group known as the “Visigoths.” But the Visigoths only held onto the city for only a short time when the Moors conquered the region in the early 700s. Existing as part of the much larger Al-Andalus for the next few decades, the site became a battleground between the Arabs and the Christian Franks on the other side of the Pyrenees. Louis the Pious—a son of the legendary Frankish emperor Charlamagne—eventually drove the Moors out of Barcelona in 801, making the city the new seat of power for the newly created Hispanic March. Subdivided into a number of feudal domains called counties, the Hispanic March functioned as a buffer zone that protected the rest of the Frankish kingdom from any possible Arab retaliations. Over time, the rulers of the Hispanic March gradually grew their domain to the south and west, with the County of Barcelona emerging as main administrative unit. Then, in 1137, the County of Barcelona merged together with the Kingdom of Aragon, which created the much larger—and significantly more powerful—“Crown of Aragon.” Barcelona subsequently emerged as the primary seaport for the Crown of Aragon, especially after the new kingdom conquered a number of additional territories across the Mediterranean. Great wealth soon flowed into the city, transforming it into one of Europe’s most prestigious metropolises.

    Barcelona nonetheless lost a significant amount of its power following the Crown of Aragon’s absorption into the new Kingdom of Spain in 1492. Furthermore, the rise in Spain’s transatlantic trade with its overseas colonies throughout the 16th and 17th centuries further deteriorated the city’s might. In protest, Barcelona’s inhabitants sought to liberate themselves from Spain, even going as far as to back rival claimants to the throne during the tumultuous War of Spanish Succession. Barcelona’s fortunes improved dramatically once the Industrial Revolution began spreading across Western Europe, though. Many factories debuted in the city, making Barcelona one of Spain’s major industrial centers at the height of the Victorian Age. But localized industrialization came at a price, as the city’s living conditions plummeted for the working-class population. As such, Barcelona soon became the center for a beautification movement closely related to the philosophical idea of “Modernisme,” which sought to both modernize Catalan society while also celebrating its unique cultural heritage. Many new gorgeous buildings opened as a result, giving the city a marvelous appearance that still defines it today. In recent years, Barcelona has developed a robust tourism industry energized by its distinctive history and culture. It’s fascinating historical landmarks—such as Casa Batllò, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, and the Santa Maria del Pi—attract thousands of visitors in particular. Few places are truly better for a memorable cultural heritage experience than this wonderful, historic city.

  • About the Architecture +

    The Hotel España exists today as a Cultural Asset of Local Interest in large part because of its connections to the cultural phenomenon and artistic movement known as “Modernisme.” The idea of “Modernisme” was born at a time when all of Catalonia was undergoing a significant cultural transformation due to the Industrial Revolution. Factories quickly proliferated across the region, making every urban settlement appear devoid of character. Furthermore, most of the residential buildings that opened for the new factory workers were often constructed very poorly, leaving the inhabitants to survive in awful living conditions. Alarmed, regional architects yearned to create newer structures that could provide a better quality of life for Catalonia’s industrial working class. But this desire to craft a new, socially conscious cityscape gradually coalesced with the larger philosophy of “Modernisme,” which called for Catalonians to develop a modern, yet distinctive native identity.

    Among local architects, that meant creating a modern style that embraced Catalonia’s unique cultural approach to the arts. As such, they attempted to use dynamic geometric shapes that expressed a sense of modernism, while also using a variety of historic architectural motifs that were once locally popular. The epicenter for this new kind of modern architecture appeared in Barcelona, specifically within the newly developed Eixample district. Leading the transformation of the city’s appearance was Antoni Gaudí, who designed some of the most outstanding Modernisme-inspired structures in the whole community. His best work was the Sagrada Família, a church that had been under construction for nearly a century. (Interestingly, Gaudí's work was only partial—the Sagrada Família still remains unfinished to this day!)

    Additionally, the movement saw the rise of many other architectural geniuses, including Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the mastermind behind Hotel España. When Domènech was hired by Miguel Salvedo I Llorens in 1898, the hotel had already undergone several renovations and had grown to encompass a neighboring building. Keeping in mind the original character of the building, Domènech’s plan created new and bright spaces while still incorporating symbolic elements that related to both the hotel’s past and its future as an iconic modernist landmark.

    The interior renovations began with the Reception Hall. Domènech preserved the original division of Nos. 9 and 11 of carrer Sant Pau by placing a large column at the central axis with a large brass ceiling light wrapped around its middle. The light featured two rampant lions, which also appeared on Catalonia’s coat of arms, both wearing crowns from which the lights hung. Around the room ran a frieze, at eye level of the guests, which included Catalan phrases of welcome. At the top of the walls, ten tondos were added depicting the heraldic symbols of Leon, Navarre, Catalonia and St. George. A studied heraldist, Domènech would incorporate heraldic symbolism throughout the hotel.

    In the middle of the Reception Hall and to the left was the staircase that led up to the guest rooms. During the renovation, Domènech enlarged the stairwell to situate a lift surrounded by a wrought iron cage. The staircase was further embellished with the finest materials. A wrought-iron balustrade with floral motifs topped with a smooth wooden hand rail was added. Domènech selected a pristine white marble for the stairs and decorated the walls with pink sgraffito symbolizing Castile and Leon. The landings boasted Roman-style mosaics depicting wildlife and plant motifs, and the guest room access hallways were fitted with hydraulic mosaics. Hydraulic mosaics were quintessentially Catalan, having first been displayed at the 1867 Paris International Exposition by Catalan company Garret & Rivet.

    Following these renovations, work began on the rest of the ground floor. The courtyard opposite the main entrance was transformed into a Bar known as the “Little Waiting Room.” Today, the courtyard is called the “Pati Bon Dia” (Good Day Courtyard) and owes its name to the inscription on a sign held by a female figure on the decorative sgraffito panels Domènech designed.

    Behind the “Little Waiting Room”, there was a second courtyard called the “Pati vuitcentista.” Domènech enclosed this space at the height of the first floor and placed the “Guests’ Dining Room” there. In the central area, he installed a large skylight that provided the dining room with a great amount of light and allowed guests to look down into the dining room from the remaining courtyard above, known today as “Pati de les Monges.” In homage to the building’s past as the site of a public bath house, the dining room was given a marine theme. The decoration of the walls is in stucco with ocean life motifs including fish, crabs, starfish, coral, lobsters, shrimps, jellyfish, octopuses and sea snails. On the main wall, floating in this sea, are a group of beautiful sirens. Today, the dining room is known as the “Sala de les Sirenes” and remains the most emblematic space in the Hotel España.

    Domènech also created a large space to situate the “Restaurante.” Today known as “Fonda España,” this room was divided into three areas by magnificent square pillars. Light streamed into the central space by means of a frosted glass skylight. The two side areas were decorated with beautiful carved wood coffering and glazed mosaic vaults from which enormous modernist lights were suspended. The walls were covered with pink marble slabs with brass sconces. At the top, there was a ceramic frieze with fish and magnificent wooden wainscotting that framed brightly colored mosaics depicting the twelve coats of arms of Seville, Granada, Castile, Leon, Valencia, Catalonia, Aragon, Majorca, Navarre, Biscay, Asturias and Galicia.

    The remaining areas of the ground floor included the “Sala de música” (Music Room) and the “Salón de descanso y lectura” (Rest and Reading Lounge). Today both spaces are the “Arnau Bar,” named for the master sculptor, Eusebi Arnau, whom Domènech commissioned to design the striking alabaster fireplace that now occupies the space. Arnau designed an enormous symbolic structure that was five meters high and almost three meters wide. On the mantelpiece, there are two seated figures representing the three ages of man: a beautiful woman holding a baby in her arms and an elderly man in simple attire. Between these two modernist figures, there is a group of playful putti that appear to move with the flames rising from the fireplace, even though it was a gas fire. On the hood of the fireplace, there is a two-headed crowned shield of the House of Austria and underneath it a Golden Fleece. When the renovations were completed, Hotel España became known as one of the finest hospitality establishments in Barcelona, a legacy that it continues to uphold to this day.