Built for Manuel Amat i Junyent, Viceroy of Peru, it is set back slightly from the line of The Ramblas because building work had already begun in 1772, a few years before The Ramblas was paved in the late 1770s.
Having served Felipe V well in Africa and Italy in the 1720s and 30s,
Amat had been rewarded first by being made Governor of Chile in 1755 and
then in 1761 Viceroy of Peru, with virtually autocratic control over
its resources, which included the bountiful silver mines of Potosi.
Amat was one of the first of the new rich, whom Catalans came to call indianos, people who made their fortunes in the Spanish-American colonies, first by plunder and later through trade, and brought their wealth back to Barcelona.
Amat held the post for 10 years and in 1771, now a very rich man feeling the onset of age and retirement, he sent back to Barcelona some sketches for a palace of epic proportions, twice as big as the actual site his agents procured on the Ramblas.
Virrei Amat's chosen architects, Josep Ausich and the sculptor Carles Grau, managed
to bring the design down to actual size - a task which, one surmises,
must have involved some tact in dealing with the viceroy's ego - and the palace was largely finished before its facade was found not to
align with the urbanisation plan for The Ramblas.
Today it still sits back some thirty feet from the facade line of La Rambla, asserting it difference - the Palau de la Virreina was apparently overdecorated to point of stupefaction and was by far the largest and finest house in late 18th century Barcelona.
The Viceroy of Peru had little time to enjoy his dream house and died
four years later, leaving the colossal pile to his wife, Maria Francesca
Piqued by the thought of a single widow wandering about in such luxurious surroundings, the Barcelonans renamed it the house the Vicereine's Palace, and hence the name the Palau de la Virreina.
Amongst all the bustle of La Rambla, it is easy to miss the finery of the Palau de la Virreina, in part because its difficult to stand back far enough to get a full perspective.
However, it certainly is an impressive building and its fineries are best appreciated from inside.
The main facade is symmetrically structured on vertical axes marked by balconies and reinforced by six pilasters with ionic capitals. The balconies have a wrought-iron veranda.
Twelve corbels sustain a heavily-bracketed cornice topped by a balustrade supporting twelve large urns.
Once inside, you come to an interesting interior patio with a double stairway from where you can see the large windows of the main rooms, with long pilasters and sculpted panels.
The Palau de la Virreina is currently home to the Centre de la Imatge, which holds modern art exhibitions.
Since its opening in 2008, the Centre de la Imatge programme has included photography, audiovisual works, election broadcasts, book publishing, literary festivals, talks, digital documentation and expanded literature in the age of the image, amongst others.
As modern art is not my forte, I'll allow the following quote from the Centre de l'Imatge web page to explain what it does.
"La Virreina Image Centre aims to explore the notion of the image as knowledge and also as a way of sparking new cultural experiences. Its key mission is to forge its own identity within the network of spaces in Barcelona, in terms of its lines of programmes and its contents and formats, as well as working closely with other centres for visual creation."
However, my main reason for taking my A Walk Down The Ramblas visitors into the Palau de la Virreina is to take a look at the Gegants de la Ciutat - Jaume I and Violant d'Hongria.
The Gegants are permanently on display in a
glass case at the back of the ground floor alongside two lesser gegants
and l'Àliga de Barcelona, the city's emblematic processional eagle.
The Palau de la Virreina is normally the end point of Barcelona's major processions, such as La Mercè in late September, Santa Eulalia in mid-February or Corpus Christi.
If you are in Barcelona at festival time, you may be lucky enough to see the full Bestiari of the Seguici Popular de la Ciutat de Barcelona on display, including capgrossos and dracs.
El Palau de la Virreina - Centre de la Imatge
La Rambla, 99
Opening Hours: 12 am to 8 pm
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