A fantastical symphony in tile, brick, sculpted stone and stained glass, this Unesco-listed, 2146-seat concert hall is a high point of Barcelona’s Modernista architecture. Built by Domènech i Montaner, with the help of some of the best Catalan artisans of the time, between 1905 and 1908, for the Orfeo Català musical society, it was conceived as a temple for the Catalan Renaixença (Renaissance).
Like a peacock, the palau shows off much of its splendour on the outside, and since 1990 it has undergone several major changes. Take in the principal facade with its mosaics, floral capitals and the sculpture cluster representing Catalan popular music. Wander inside the foyer and restaurant areas to admire the spangled, tiled pillars and clever use of natural light and stained glass, before climbing to the mosaic-adorned pillars gracing the front balcony outside the rest salon.
The showstopper, however, is the richly colourful auditorium, with its ceiling of blue-and-gold stained glass and a shimmering 1000kg skylight that looks like a giant, crystalline, downward-thrusting nipple. Above a bust of Beethoven on the stage towers a wind-blown sculpture of Wagner’s Valkyries (Wagner was top of the Barcelona charts at the time the building was created), all accompanied by 18 Greek mythological muses. Tilted chandeliers look towards the sun-like skylight, like flowers.
Unless you're here for a show (highly recommended), admission is by 55-minute guided tour in Spanish, Catalan, English, French or Italian; tickets can be bought ahead online.
The original Modernista creation did not meet with universal approval in its day. The doyen of Catalan literature, Josep Pla, did not hesitate to condemn it as 'horrible’, but few share his sentiments today. Montaner himself was also in a huff and failed to attend the opening ceremony in response to unsettled bills. The palau (palace) was at the centre of a fraud scandal from 2009 to 2012, as its president, Fèlix Millet, admitted to having siphoned off millions of euros of funds; he and his partner Jordi Muntoll were ordered to repay the embezzled money to the palau and jailed for 9½ and 7½ years respectively in 2018.