A historical novel of a palace | Cultural Heritage. Goverment of Catalonia.

Heritage stories

A historical novel of a palace

We are opening the doors of the Palau Moja

The Barcelona of carriages and fans

The city's best balls, attended by the great and the good of late-18th-century Barcelona society, were held in the main hall.
 
The Palau Moja is located on the corner of Carrer Portaferrissa and the Ramblas.
To pass through its doors is like entering a scene from a historical novel with the ladies wearing gloves and carrying parasols.
 
Jacint Verdaguer lived there for more than ten years, and throughout its history the palace received many an illustrious visitor, such as Sant Joan Bosco and members of the Bourbon family, including Alfonso XII.
 
At the present time the palace houses the Catalan Government Ministry of Culture's Directorate General and Cultural Heritage Agency.
 
The bleeping of computers has replaced the waltzes, but not entirely...
Saló del Vigata (Albert Sierra)

The building

The palace next to the watercourse

The building was designed by the architect Josep Mas i Dordal who, together with a large and talented group of artists and craftsmen, produced s superb building.

The first administrative measures for the construction of the Palau Moja were taken by the marquis of Cartellà, Pere Desbach, in 1763, but it was his niece, Maria Lluïsa Descatllar, who started the works in 1774 with the demolition of part of the property corresponding to the old Rambla wall comprising the Porta Ferrissa, or Ferrissa Gate, and the two towers that flanked it.

Sixty years after the defeat of 1714, Barcelona had recovered its economic pulse and was, in fact, living through one of its finest moments. The Ramblas was ceasing to be associated with its grubby watercourse, really more of a drain, and was gradually becoming a veritable Baroque boulevard that was attracting religious orders, such as the Jesuits with the Betlem church, and the distinguished grandees, victors in the war, who were building their palaces there.

 
Exterior of the Palau Moja (Albert Sierra)

As well as the Cartellàs, important supporters of the Bourbons, the powerful viceroy of Peru started to build his a little further down the street, and the March family from Reus, rich merchants, attempted to gain entrance to the nobility, not through birth or conquest in war, but with money, and they built a large palace at the lower end of the Ramblas. The main facade of the Palau Moja, does not, however, face onto the Ramblas, the road that was being widened, but onto the Carrer de Portaferrissa, a street leading to the city centre and full of tradition and other noble residences.

If you look at this facade you will notice that the main entrance is of unusually square proportions. The reason for this being that it made it possible for the large carriages of the day to gain access to the interior patio from such a narrow street.


Gallery of grandees

The Moja family

Maria Lluïsa Descatllar, who started work on the Palau, married Josep de Copons, marquis of Moja. In 1785 the marquises took up residence on the first floor of the palace.

The building would remain the property of the family until 1865, when the last marquess of Moja, Josepa de Sarriera i Copons, died without issue, but leaving an important clause in her will stating that whoever bought the palace would have to undertake to maintain it without making large-scale modifications and to keep the paintings in the Vigatà hall.

Her heirs rented the palace to Fomento de la Producción Nacional (National Production Development organisation) until 1870, when it was bought by Antonio López i López, the future marquis of Comillas, who took up residence in 1875.


Bust of Antonio López i López, marquis of Comillas, at the Palau Moja (Galo Bertran)

A controversial shipowner

A noted businessman of the day, the marquis of Comillas had made his fortune trading with Cuba, having a monopoly for the sea transport of soldiers and, it would seem, was also involved in the illegal trade in slaves, which had been prohibited. The statue of him, in a square bearing his name, was removed by Barcelona City Council in 2018 on account of this and it is now kept in storage at the city's history museum.

During his residence at the palace the building underwent various renovations to the main staircase and various rooms on the main floor, reaching its maximum social splendour thanks to the marquis's contacts, being a fervent supporter of the monarchy.
On 9 January 1875 the doors in Carrer Portaferrissa opened to receive the young Alfons XII who arrived at the palace from the port on horseback carrying a traditional barretina hat in his hand, raising the profile of the Bourbon dynasty as he dis do.

Father Jacint Verdaguer took up residence in 1876 and lived there for 15 years, first as the family chaplain and then, from 1883 as an almoner. He was therefore in a position to mix in the highest social circles, as well as the lowest. His most important literary work is closely associated with the Palau Moja.

Details of the chapel of the Palau Moja (Eva Margalef)

Count Güell

After the death of the marquis of Comillas, the Palau Moja passed to his daughter, who was married to Eusebi Güell, the well-known patron of Gaudí.
 
The 20th century

In 1934, as part of an agreement between count Güell and Barcelona City Council, the ground-floor porches were opened to facilitate pedestrian access from the Ramblas.

After a fire, which occurred in 1971, the palace was left abandoned for eleven years until it was acquired and restored by the Catalan Government Ministry of Culture and Media.


Bust of Eusebi Güell at the Palau Moja (Galo Bertran)

From the outside

A Neoclassical palace

Seen from the Ramblas, the Palau Moja is a rather austere-looking building with straight lines and without much sculptural decoration.
The architect, Josep Mas i Dordal, influenced by the new aesthetic tendencies coming from France, planned for a Neoclassical palace, even though the wall panels between the balconies, which are now almost bare, were still decorated with Baroque allegorical paintings by the same artist whose works adorn the great hall, Francesc Pla, known as el Vigatà. The facade in the Carrer Portaferrissa shows what remains of the main features, recovered during the restoration of the palace.

The north facade gave onto a large garden at the same level as the main floor. In 1856 the architect, Rovira i Trias built a terracotta lodge with large Corinthian columns the far end of the garden.


Inside: the first pages of the novel

The great staircase

This can not be seen from outside because it leads up from the patio vestibule. It is well worth the effort to ascend it. Awaiting you on the first landing are a guard dog and a spectacular sculpted pillar of a figure whose hands hold the main lamp. This area was completely refurbished by the marquis of Comillas to include this sculpture, a new staircase with a marble handrail and romantic paintings by Eduard Masdeu i Llorens on the walls and ceiling.
 
The great hall

This is, without doubt, the most spectacular room in the palace. It is three floors high, has a square layout and large windows overlooking the Ramblas. The hall is the perfect setting for our imaginary historical novel.


Entrance to the Palau Moja by the nobel staircase (Eva Margalef)

All the walls and the ceiling are covered with paintings by Francesc Pla, el Vigatà. They depict scenes from the long history of the Cartellà lineage and their feats of arms, which family legend maintains go back a thousand years to the capture of Girona by Charlemagne, after which he appointed Catalonia's first nobles. You will remember that at the same time the palace was being built, the viceroy of Peru was also building his in the Ramblas, and the nouveau riche March, from Reus, was attempting to enter the nobility. To some extent this explains the intentions behind the decoration in the great hall and the powerful social thrust behind it.
 
Father Jacint Verdaguer's chapel

To one side of the central hall there is the small chapel, covered by a dome with pendatives and lunettes, also decorated by el Vigatà, with a scene depicting Our Lady of the Mercè.


Entrance to the chapel (Eva Margalef)

Well, fine, but who did the cleaning?

Do you know the history of your own family? Almost certainly not as well as the Cartellàs family knew theirs. But go back 200 years. Were your ancestors nobles? Or one of the richest families in Catalonia? No? Then, if you had been born 200 years ago you would never, ever have seen the Vigatà Hall. If your family had sold cotton cloth, were carpenters or painters, they would never have entered through the palace's main entrance and would never have ascended via the main staircase.

They would have entered through the tradesmen's entrance and gone to the second floor where the servants lived: a large group of children, youths and adults who were the cooks, cleaners and stable hands (there were horses, pigs and cows in the outhouses beyond the patio), constantly occupied with work. There is an interesting document from 1790, an inventory listing all the rooms in the palace, one by one, and all the things in them. On the main floor, as you can imagine, many luxurious items including clothing curtains, inlaid tables, chocolate pots for parties, clocks, paintings and so forth.


Clock on the main floor (Galo Bertran)

And on the second floor? Well, more or less the same as you would have found in an18th-century country house, wicker furniture, cupboards, beds, cradles, engravings of scenes from Don Quixote, prayer kneelers, large suitcases for the masters' journeys, mosquito nets for the beds and cradles and clothing, clothing, clothing.

On the third floor? Beans, almonds, cured meats, sausages, raisins, preserves, and a large box containing the white aprons used when slaughtering the pigs. Imagine the scene on the main floor with the lady of the house preparing next week's great festive social gathering with the main servants, in the outhouses two burly men slaughtering a pig that won't stop squealing, a fourteen-year-old girl milking a cow while trying to waft away the swarm of flies around the animal, and on the second floor a man dragging a large sack of cacao along on a hemp mat because, at his age, he is too old to carry it on his shoulders. Life in the Palau Moja.

Details (Galo Bertran)

Visit the palace

If you would like to visit the palace in person you can because to mark the European Heritage days in October there will be guided visits. 

But if you are impatient to see it, or are far away from Barcelona, you can visit the palace virtually in two ways, either through a virtual guided tour or a virtual visit of your own devising where you are free to go as you please.

Click play (▶️) and select the points that you will find along the way, you will know all the details of the palace and its history.