Catalonia has no shortage of spectacular buildings and boasts a legacy of groundbreaking architecture going back centuries. With the likes of Sagrada Família, the Agbar Tower, the Sant Pau Modernist site, the Drassanes Royal Shipyard, Camp Nou stadium, and many other landmarks, Barcelona has an embarrassment of riches in terms of magnificent structures of all styles, old and new.
Yet even outside the Catalan capital there are plenty of exceptional buildings, such as the likes of Poblet Monastery, Girona Cathedral, the Roman amphitheatre in Tarragona, Cardona Castle, or Lleida’s La Seu Vella; anyone looking for an emblematic landmark to visit is spoilt for choice.
This issue of the magazine is devoted to some of Catalonia’s iconic buildings that are perhaps less well-known but that also deserve attention for their architectural and historical value. One report on page 12 focuses on castles. Catalonia has some 150 castles that were built in different periods of its history, while another report on page 18 looks at the country’s cooperative wineries that were constructed when Modernism was at its height.
Yet not all of Catalonia’s structural treasures are monumental and there are plenty of architectural gems that are more modest in scale. One is the Pau Casals Museum, on the Sant Salvador beachfront in El Vendrell. The museum dedicated to Casals is housed in what was the summer retreat of the famous cellist, a large two-storey villa with its own gardens and a majestic balcony that overlooks the Mediterranean. It is no castle or cathedral, but the house-museum is worthy of a visit, and in fact the building’s architectural qualities are just part of its attractions.
With some friends from the UK over last week, I was looking for a visit that would be a change from the usual Gaudí/Picasso/Barça tourist fare but that wasn’t too far from home. Not being classical music fans and with only slight knowledge of the figure of Pau Casals, we had some reservations as we headed towards El Vendrell. I’m happy to report that our reservations were dispelled and the museum exceeded our expectations.
More than just the house, it was the exhibit that made the visit satisfying. Rather than launch straight into Casals the maestro and historical figure, the exhibit keeps its powder dry, taking its time to establish Casals’ credentials as a musician while revealing his early friendships, his local ties and domestic arrangements with a tour of the ground floor rooms and the patio that ends with a short video in the elaborately decorated gallery where his extensive art collection was displayed.
It is only then, after you feel you have got to know the man, that the exhibit leads you into another part of the house and reveals the grander side to Casals, exploring his anti-war activism and exile, his major international performances, his relationships with many famous historical figures, the many awards granted him from all over the globe and, ultimately, his famous “I am a Catalan” address to the UN that ends with Casals’ own rendition of his composition that has become an anthem to peace, El cant dels ocells.
The visit, which at an hour was just about the right length, ended with a stroll in the gardens and an incident with a waiter in the museum bar, but that is another story.