Architecture / Art / History / Spain / Travel

Palace of Catalan Music: Distinctly Barcelona

Music Palace Dome

As a first-year university student, I made a scheduling mistake which would haunt me for four months … Art History at 8:00am. What made this such a dunderhead blunder was not only the inhumane time of day, but the class format. Picture a barely-awake novice, sitting in a darkened hall with 250 strangers, while listening to a monotone lecture, and watching a repetitious slide show of classic art and world-famous architecture. Today, this type of class sounds very interesting, but in those days it was torture. However, Art History was a requirement, so a passing grade was a must. Which brings me to the Palau de la Musica Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music.)


A large part of the final exam was re-watching the slide show of the professor’s “greatest hits” and identifying the art or building.

The things I should’ve been remembering were, “flying buttresses + Gothic architecture = Chartres Cathedral.”

What I actually remembered was, “long copper roof + funky lizard downspouts = Chartres Cathedral.”

This may sound like a formula for failure, but my memorization skills were good, and luckily, there were a few buildings that were so unique I recognized them immediately. And the Palau de la Musica Catalana in Barcelona, Spain is a prime example.

Columns + Balustrade

At the end of the 19th Century, the Catalonia region of Spain was a hotbed of nationalistic fervor. With a unique, centuries-old language and culture, the people in general, and the Modernisme Movement specifically, wanted independence and recognition as a country on par with all the other countries of Europe. And architect Lluis Domenech Montaner, designer of the Palau de la Musica Catalana was one of the prime movers in the movement.

Montaner and his contemporaries, such as Antoni Gaudi, wanted their buildings to be uniquely Catalonian. And this distinctively flamboyant structure must certainly be one of a kind.


What made Montaner’s buildings different were the extensive use of curves rather than straight lines, asymmetrical design, and rich decoration and detail both inside and out.


I particularly like the glass and ceramic balustrade, and the richly colored mosaic columns.

Glass Balustrade

The main concert hall, with its exquisite stained-glass ceiling is also spectacular.


In fact, there was so much detail, it was difficult to find a part of the building which wasn’t a beautiful work of art. And luckily, this amazing venue is still used today.

Stained Glass Bell

One of the pleasures of travel is to experience the real deal, and not just the photograph. The wonderful Palau de la Musica Catalana was a pleasure to see, and a nostalgic flashback to a time when I should have been paying more attention.

Happy Trails,

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like others in our Barcelona Series:

Making a Grand Entrance in Barcelona
Barcelona’s Motivational Chariot of Fire
Barcelona is Foodie Heaven
I Say Gaudi …You Say Gaudy
I’ll Take Barcelona Odds and Ends for 500 Alex!
Lasting Impressions: Barcelona
Stained Glass

Photo Credits:
2. By jordi domènech via Wikimedia Commons
4. By Jaume Meneses via Wikimedia Commons
7-9. By Josep Renalias via Wikimedia Commons

46 thoughts on “Palace of Catalan Music: Distinctly Barcelona

      • A couple of nights in Girona and I want to go to Costa Brava because I have been reading Norman Lewis – Voices of the Old Sea and then we will move inland towards the Pyrenees and finish in Figueres. I like Barcelona but I was robbed there last time and I have little stomach for a return.

  1. It’s an absolutely wonderful building – we visited when we went to Barcelona three years ago. Your pictures bring back lovely memories as you are not allowed to take photos inside the building and that glass ceiling is just amazing in real life. They do wonderful tours of the building in various languages and it’s absolutely worth visiting. Even our children were “wowed” by the ceiling. Visit if you can!!

    • Thanks Minerva. We were in Barcelona last year, and were amazed to stumble onto this wonderful building. We’re architecture buffs, so getting to see this building was a joy. There was a huge crowd there, so we didn’t get to take the tour, but I can imagine it’s wonderful.

  2. Hi, thanks for such an interesting post. Just before I started to read blogs tonight, I was talking with my friends about our possible next trip…to Spain, and Barcelona is a must! Will keep this in mind if I ever travel to Barcelona.

  3. Oh, Art History! I took a survey course my senior year of high school and almost devoted myself to the field. So glad to see your (however unbearable!) coursework rendered some amazing insight into what looks like an incredible place!

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog lizzie. The Palace really is incredible, particularly given when it was built. There are elements on the exterior, that look cutting-edge modern. And it’s wonderful that it’s been so well preserved and is still in use today. If you get to Barcelona, check it out. BTW, your fried chicken looks tasty, and I grew up in the south, and speak with some authority on the topic. ~James

  4. An interesting and fun read, James (particularly enjoyed the anecdotes from your university days)! I must confess that up until now, I hadn’t heard of Montaner, but his work is beautiful. I’m not sure how I missed these spots while in Barcelona – yet another excuse to return. 🙂

    • Thanks Tricia. The Palace is in the La Riberia section of Barcelona, and isn’t necessarily on the normal tourist track. That may be why you missed it. My memory is that we were on a walk and just stumbled on it. But it’s an amazing place and is worth the search. Re: Art History. The story gets better. The auditorium had stadium seating, and once in class I remember waking up when my head bounced off the knees of the guy sitting behind me!

    • Mick, the Palace is in the La Riberia part of town, and isn’t on the normal tourist route. And this is such a wonderful building, I’m amazed that it isn’t better publicized. In fact, my memory is that we just stumbled on it. If you get a chance, it’s worth the search. ~James

    • Thanks Rusha. We’d been to Barcelona before, but felt that on our most recent trip that we could appreciate it more. And this turned out to be the case. It’s one of my favorite places in Spain (and maybe Europe.)

  5. Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    I traveled to Spain in 1999. When I looked up at the ceiling in the Palace, I wept. I have never seen anything more beautiful. At the time I wrote, “it is my most fervent hope that this is the image I will see in my mind as my life slips away.” Thanks for reminding me. And Gaudi — LOVE YOU DUDE.

    • Thanks so much for reblogging our post. I’ve checked out Big Blue Dot and love it. You have quite a lot of interesting content, so it will take a while to dig deeper. BTW, I grew up about 100 miles north of Nashville in a small town called Glasgow, KY. Thanks again for the plug. ~James

    • Lisa, I just love this building. As an artist, I’m sure you can appreciate the sort of imagination required to have designed this building in 1908. At the time, it was probably loved by some, and totally hated by others, but what an achievement.

      • you are so right about being loved and hated (misunderstood!) – i think one reason artists tend to get better with age is that they finally quit worrying about what others think and create from the inspirations that bubble up from the soul!
        we have lost so much of that amazing attention to detail and pride in work well done, especially in architecture.

      • I see an equivalent idea with American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. At the turn of the century he was designing radically different “Prairie Style” houses, when most people were building fancy, lacy Victorian houses. We toured his “May House” in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and this is exactly the case. All the neighbors had traditional Victorians, and plopped in the middle was FLW’s masterpiece. I’m sure the neighbors were not kind in their assessments, or comments.

    • I agree Jessica. My memory is that we just stumbled on the place , but I love the building. We didn’t take the tour, because of the mob scene, but now that I know you can’t take photos, I’m not so disappointed. We snagged a few interior shots of the net, and now I know they must be from pros, or sneak shots.

    • Thanks for your comment. Has the Palau changed in 12 years? The state of the renovation today is excellent. I see your blog posts are sometimes in Spanish, do you live in Spain? ~James

  6. Wonderful photos! Barcelona looked to me like a city been built with a fantastic set of giant Legos by a kid on a sugar high. There is nowhere else like it in the world.

    • Thanks Naomi, and I agree. At the turn of the century, architects all over Europe were making a political statement, and none were more “unique” than Barcelona. I love your analogy. I wrote a post about Gaudi, and in it said his designs were “Dr. Seuss meets Alice in Wonderland”. and I wondered what he was smoking. ~James

  7. 8 a.m. Renaissance art. Major mistake. Alarm went off at 7:45. I stumbled into clothes from the day before, brushed my teeth and sleptwalked the short distance to class. Then he turned the lights off for slides…. Loved Barcelona, but didn’t get to go inside here. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the comment Gayle. It helps to know that I’m not the only poor sod that made this mistake. I guess that a more mature person would look at it from the professor’s point of view … but naaaahh. But I have to say, that over the years I’ve become quite a fan of Caravaggio.

      • Poor professor was a truly inspiring lecturer, but brilliance has difficulties penetrating a college student’s nodding head in a dark room. Somehow I absorbed enough to make subsequent trips to Europe more meaningful.

  8. Ahhh, if our life was on videotape, we could run it back to our college mistakes. I took an art history lecture, and I think I made it to three classes — all of them tests. Great photos.

    • Thanks Mark. For me, my schedule got even worse. I majored in Geology, and one of the required classes was a field course that met, for not one but TWO semesters … on Saturday from 8 to 2!! You can imagine how much fun that was.

  9. Oh man, art history at 8am class? Though I have to admit, most of university I signed myself up for 8am classes and I’m NOT a morning person… in retrospect, I’m not sure why.

    Great you were able to remember and seems info stuck years later! Art is always so much easier to appreciate when it’s in front of you and not in a textbook!

    • Thanks for the comment Lauren, and for visiting the blog. I would love to be the fly on the wall to see myself in college … or maybe not. In retrospect, I spend a lot of time saying, “I should have known better.” I envy your time living in Spain. I took Spanish in college, and after a few trips to Spain, I was smitten. We lived in England, and over the years have spent a good deal of time in Spain, but it never seems like enough. Lucky you. ~James

      • Ah thanks James!
        Yeah, I’ve been trying to live without having regrets which isn’t always easy but certainly rewarding. I’m also grateful to my parents who have encouraged me to follow my heart. Definitely lucky in that regard!

        Well, there is always the English teaching program if you want an easy way to live in Spain, a “student visa” to stay legally in Spain, work 12 hours and get paid enough to live…You’re in luck because application process is still open! It’s pretty much a guaranteed job if you apply.
        I say “It’s never too late!”

  10. El Palau de la Música Catalana. A masterpiece of the Catalan Modernism. Nice photos!. Greetings from Barcelona.

    • Thanks Vicenç, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. We loved the Palau, and after stumbling on it, we were surprised that it wasn’t better publicized. It appeals to me on a number of levels, but mostly, because it’s such a “mashup” of techniques, colors, textures, and styles. And the fact that it was built over 100 years ago is amazing. ~James

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