The Palau Robert. Before and After
At the time Robert Robert i Surís (Barcelona 1851-Torroella de Montgrí 1929) acquired the Salamanca chalets at the flourishing corner of Passeig de Gràcia and Diagonal, demolishing them to build a family residence on the site, Barcelona was undergoing enormous transformation. A royal decree in 1859 had approved Ildefons Cerdà's plan for urban reform and expansion, whilst the first Universal Exhibition to be hosted by the city took place in 1888.
Soon, Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla de Catalunya became the favourite areas of the Barcelona bourgeoisie. The recently opened Liceu opera house was a meeting place for the wealthy classes, but industrialisation was gathering steam at the turn of the century, transforming the economy and mentalities. The first workers' strike in Barcelona took place in 1902. Modernisme, the Catalan version of Art Nouveau, was taking shape and Antoni Gaudí began to build the Sagrada Família (around 1893) and La Pedrera (1906-1910). Passeig de Gràcia attracted the interest of such architects as Domènech i Montaner, Puig i Cadafalch and Gaudí himself as, after the city walls were demolished in 1854, this urban thoroughfare became one of the most important leisure and business venues in the city. The Hotel Colón (on the corner of Plaça de Catalunya), Les Delícies gardens, the Camps Elisis, the Tívoli and Novetats theatres, La Pedrera, the Euterpe Garden (first headquarters of the Clavé choir) and the buildings comprising the so-called "Mançana de la Discòrdia" (Block/Apple of Discord) and the Palau Robert itself conferred enormous personality on this boulevard, linking the old city with what was once the town of Gràcia.
Robert Robert i Surís was a well-known financier, a member of the principal business associations and boards of the leading companies of the time. In 1913, this conservative party member was elected president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Navigation of Barcelona. He had a great deal of social influence and owned a lot of property. All this propitiated his entry into politics, and Robert was a deputy and senator for Girona in 1893 and 1896. Pope Leo XIII granted him the title of Marquis of Robert and in 1891 he was awarded that of Earl of Serra and Sant Iscle. In 1907 King Alfonso XIII granted him the title of Earl of Torroella de Montgrí making him a ‘Grandee of Spain’.
The Palau Robert was planned as the private residence of this Girona aristocrat in the style of the mansions being built along Passeig de Gràcia. After various commissions, the Marquis finally entrusted the project to the French architect Henry Grandpierre, who had worked on the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris, while the work was directed by Joan Martorell i Montells.
The neo-Classical palace, built from stone from Mount Montgrí, was completed in 1903. The gardens were designed by municipal gardener Ramon Oliva, who was later to build those of Plaça de Catalunya. The palm trees are from the 1888 Universal Exhibition. A few years later, the Robert family expressed their interest in selling the property and in 1934, Pere Benavent reported in the weekly journal Mirador that a ‘For Sale’ sign had been attached to the door of this noble building.
In 1936, commissioned by Robert, the architect Francesc de Paula Nebot, designed a new building on the same site. This, named ‘The Lido’, was to contain a hotel, ballroom, theatre, cabaret and fronton court. The initiative failed to prosper, however, and in November of that same year the Catalan Prime Minister, Josep Tarradellas, made the Palau Robert the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture.
After the Civil War, the property was returned to the Robert family and in 1944 the architect Nebot, Ramon de Dalmases Villavecchia, Marquis of Mura, and José Abelló Calderó formed a company to build a hotel and function room on the site. Years later, Julio Muñoz Ramonet purchased the building, but soon entered into conflict with the Central Bank which eventually took over ownership of the Palau Robert.
On 11 May 1981 the Government of Catalonia acquired the building, gardens and annexes, and for several years numerous exhibitions were organised there. It was assigned to the Department of the Presidency, and on 18 November 1997 it opened its doors under the name of Palau Robert. Information Centre of Catalonia. Since then, the Palau Robert, a landmark building in the city, has helped visitors to get to know Catalonia through exhibitions, publications, events, activities and its website (palaurobert.gencat.cat) with a clear and express desire to relate Catalonia to the transformations of a globalised world. Palau Robert also disseminates the policies and initiatives of the government.
Palau Robert, deeply rooted in the city of Barcelona and perceived as a key centre for discovering Catalonia, undertook the remodelling of the old coach houses and garden in 2003. The old coach houses where different owners’ vehicles were stored were turned into two multi-purpose halls. Sílvia Farriol was the architect. The transformation of the garden involved the demolition of the wall on Carrer Còrsega, which was replaced by a fence that made the garden space more visible. Landscape architect Bet Figueras was in charge of the design, and the furniture was the work of Miguel Milá.
Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya
Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya
Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya. Fons de la Generalitat Republicana