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From the Casa de la Caritat almshouse to the CCCB

The Casa de la Caritat carried out charitable functions and, throughout the 19th century, was also the site of a whole range of manufacturing activities carried out by the inmates. These workshops served largely to clothe and feed the hospice population, but they were also training centres where boys were set to work at the age of 14, giving them a profession for when they left the institution. One of the largest and most profitable workshops was the print shop-school.

In 1956, this centuries-old institution was transferred to the Llars Mundet residences and the building stood unoccupied, with no specific use. In 1989, the Consortium formed by the Diputació de Barcelona and the Ajuntament de Barcelona approved the creation of the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) as part of a project to rehabilitate the Raval district and its historic buildings, in the abandoned Casa de la Caritat building. The project for the construction of a modern arts centre was carried out by the architects Helio Piñón and Albert Viaplana.

On 25 February 1994, the CCCB opened with a total surface area of 15,000 m2, 4,000 of which are given over to gallery space. The present-day installations also include lecture halls, an auditorium and multipurpose spaces such as the foyer, the Pati de les Dones courtyard and the Mirador hall.

At the end of the 18th century, the Reial Casa de Caritat, or royal almshouse, was set up in the building of the former Conciliar Seminary in Carrer de Montalegre, in the Raval neighbourhood. This area (on the outskirts, as its name suggests) was not in the city's nerve centre; it was a vast, unurbanized territory on the west of the Rambla, in the third walled sector, amid incipient industries, workshops and artisans' dwellings. The area grew so much during the 19th century that it soon became part of the dense urban fabric of the old town, today known as Ciutat Vella.
Almshouse Aerial view of the Almshouse


From the initial occupation of the Seminary building and its kitchen gardens to the gradual addition of adjacent buildings and sites, the Casa de Caritat grew in disorderly fashion until 1890, when it was consolidated as a large enclosure of almost two hectares, delimited by the main façade on Carrer de Montalegre between Valldonzella and Ferlandina. The complex was built up without any kind of planning, and the various buildings were constructed in keeping with the institution's needs and funds. The resulting structure was a jumbled labyrinth of buildings connected by outdoor passages and courtyards of different sizes, corresponding to the various departments of the old hospice (men, women, children, "the disabled", "the inane", "the distinguished", etc.). The courtyards, where the inmates took their exercise, were named after the establishment's main benefactors: Pati Vidal, Pati Ferrer, Pati Plandolit, Pati Nadal, Pati Manning (the latter being the cloister of the former Seminary that still exists today), etc.
Main entrance of the Almshouse © Arxiu Històric de la Diputació de BarcelonaAlmshouse - Ferrer courtyardAlmshouse - Nadal i Dou courtyardAlmshouse - Puget courtyard 



When the inhabitants of the Casa de Caritat moved in 1957 to the new Llars Mundet welfare institution, most of the buildings stood empty for over 30 years. Starting in the late 1960s, the Council passed various development plans to definitively vacate the run-down installations of the former hospice. It was not until 1989, however, after the creation in 1988 of the Consortium comprising the Ajuntament (city council) and the Diputació (provincial council) of Barcelona, that the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) was set up. The directors of the newly created CCCB commissioned the architects Helio Piñón and Albert Viaplana, with the collaboration of Eduard Mercader, to design a 15,000-m2 modern arts centre. Work started in 1991 and was completed in September 1993; the CCCB was officially opened in February 1994. The architecture project combined the careful rehabilitation of useable spaces with the creation of new ones, and in 1993 it was awarded the FAD and Ciutat de Barcelona prizes.

The CCCB building is based on the adaptation of the original structure that contains the large central courtyard, known as the Pati de les Dones or Women's courtyard (former Pati Vidal), comprising three wings of five floors arranged in a U-shape. These three volumes house the reception, offices, shop, restaurant and rooms for seminars, lectures and courses on the ground and first floors, and galleries of approximately 1,200 m2 on the basement, second and third floors. The new project replaced the north wing with a 30-metre-high prismatic volume that presents a spectacular glazed façade, the top of which projects out over the courtyard. This new element, with its interplay of reflections, functions as a mirror of the cityscape and a prime vantage point, at the same time serving as an area for transit (foyers, lifts, stairways). The tall escalators, commanding views of the courtyard and the city, offer visitors a singular ascent to the galleries. Another new feature is the large foyer beneath the courtyard. This 730 m2 open-plan space is both the main entrance and a multipurpose events venue. The main façade on Carrer Montalegre and the three façades in the courtyard were also restored, as were the sgraffiti decorations and majolica tiles introduced in the Noucentiste-style remodelling carried out between 1926 and 1929 by the architect Josep Goday. The brick vaults, large arches and bare stone pillars, characteristic structural elements of the original building, were also conserved.

After its first ten years of life and in keeping with its increasingly multidisciplinary programme, the CCCB has to expand and ease the pressure on some of its spaces. It is therefore carrying out a project to rehabilitate the theatre of the old Casa de Caritat and its surroundings. Once adapted, this former theatre building will house a multipurpose hall with capacity for some 420 persons, new seminar rooms and the headquarters of the Centre's associated groups, with a large warehouse space on the basement floor.

Eva Gimeno

Vagabonds, beggars, orphans, the inane, imbeciles, scoundrels, idiots, the insane, the decrepit, foundlings, the abnormal, wayward offspring; these are just some of the terms that have clearly negative connotations today but that were habitually used until well into the 20th century to refer to the most disadvantaged population-in other words, the non-productive social mass. After the Enlightenment and with the introduction of hygienist doctrines, the concept of Christian charity as simply helping pauperism started to become obsolete, and a new concept of charity emerged, centred on training and labour. The objective in founding the Casa de Caritat, or almshouse, was a clear example of this progressive change in mentality. With an average number of inmates of over 200 persons, the Casa de Caritat became "a city" within the city, with a complex organizational structure that did not prevent it being one of the country's major charity institutions for over 150 years.

The origins of the Casa de Caritat date back to 1583, when the municipal council set up a poorhouse for men and women in Carrer d'Elisabets. In 1772, in view of the high number of inmates, it was decided to move the male population to the adjacent building of the former Conciliar Tridentine Seminary, run by the Jesuits between 1598 and 1767, when they were expelled from the country. This was the site where, in the 14th century, the convent of the nuns of Montalegre had been founded, in the street of the same name. The resulting Reial Casa d'Hospici i Refugi (Royal Hospice and Asylum) was run by a single body, the Casa de Misericòrdia (House of Mercy), in Carrer d'Elisabets, which continued to house poor women and children.

The famines suffered in Barcelona on the occasion of the disturbances caused by the Bread Riots (1789), the Great War with France (1793-1795) and the war against England that began in 1796, led to the organization of a collection known as the "paupers' pot" to mitigate the conditions of poverty, using the profits from raffles and private donations. The surplus obtained by the Poor Board went to create a broader-based establishment or home, leading King Carles IV to sign a Royal Order in 1802 that made the men's establishment independent from the Casa de Misericòrdia, and the former seminary in Carrer de Montalegre was permanently loaned and consolidation as a permanent hospice and the nucleus of the Reial Casa de Caritat. In this way, the Raval district of Barcelona became the centre of the largest charity and welfare establishments in the Barcelona of the time (Hospital of Santa Creu, Casa de la Misericòrdia, the Orphans' Home, etc.).

Once the Casa de Caritat was set up, the successive Boards did their utmost to implement multiple self-financing formulas with a view to obtaining sufficient funding to meet the many expenses of such a heterogeneous, overpopulated establishment. In addition to the irregular trickle of funds provided by large private legacies and the annual contributions from the Crown, further funding was raised by organizing raffles, masked balls and bull racing, and by renting out the public baths in La Barceloneta. The most profitable fund-raising venture was the municipal concession, in 1838, of the service of transporting bodies to the cemetery, as a result of which the establishment acquired the city's "most splendid fleet" of hearses. The centre's many needs gave rise to a system of functioning based on self-sufficiency, with different workshops producing raw materials and manufactured goods: biscuits, bread, noodles, semolina, chocolate, cotton, needles, ceramics, candles, rope-soled sandals, clothes, carpentry, cabinet-making, iron-working, etc.

These workshops served largely to clothe and feed the hospice population, but they were also training centres where boys were set to work at the age of 14, giving them a profession for when they left the institution.

The 1849 Public Charity Act, completed with regulations for its implementation in 1852, sought to impose some order on the confusion of competences between the various government bodies (central, council and provincial) and the different types of welfare establishments for which they were responsible. Consequently, the Casa de Caritat went from Royal and National to Provincial, with a Board of Governors appointed by the Diputació de Barcelona (Barcelona Provincial Council). The 1849 Act stipulated that inmates from elsewhere in the country-or even abroad-should be returned to their places of origin, and that the almshouse should be responsible exclusively for the Barcelona population. This apparently rather drastic measure did in fact lead to the creation of new charity institutions in other provinces. From then on, the almshouse became better organized, aiming to avoid overcrowding and establish a more rational redistribution of the inmates according to age and special characteristics: an infants department and four different sections for children, a department for the inane and epileptics (the mentally ill), the disabled (the chronically ill and invalids), the separation of those with mange and ringworm, the contagious, infirmaries, an operating theatre and pharmacy, etc. Diet and hygiene were also improved, and primary education became standardized for children. Specialized classes for drawing, painting, sculpture and music were set up, and a band and orchestra were created and became quite renowned. Outstanding students were given grants to take further studies, mostly at the Seminary.

Starting in 1830 the women's department was run by the Carmelite Sisters of Mercy, and in 1880 the entire establishment was handed over to the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul, an order dedicated to the destitute (the sick and indigent), easily identifiable by their showy habits.

While the boys' school was run by qualified masters, the girls' school, as well as the special schools for the blind and the deaf and dumb, were taught by the Sisters of Mercy. The girls also received sewing and embroidery classes, and, exceptionally, some could go on to have classes in "artistic" training; the only higher studies that could be taken were in teaching. The education of the female inmates was based above all on preserving their moral integrity according to the social canons of the time-basically, they were a recycled labour force for the establishment, employed in cleaning, cooking, ironing, sewing and laundering and mending, etc., though with the guarantee of a rather modest dowry if they were fortunate enough to find a husband.

The establishment also had a department of "distinguished" inmates, housed in an adjacent but independent building. In return for the payment of a given fee, this small community of inmates enjoyed a special regime that offered, among other prerogatives, better food and an exclusive infirmary.

One of the largest and most profitable workshops of the Casa de la Caritat was the print shop-school. The first machines were purchased in 1872 and in a little under two years the investment had been paid off and the print shop started to make a profit. This compensated in part for the considerable loss of income caused by the Ministry of Income Tax's prohibition of all raffles and lotteries except the National Lottery. The solvency of the printing works became quite obvious when, in 1913, it was adjudicated the publication of the provincial gazette, the Butlletí Oficial de la Província. It subsequently also produced, among other periodical publications, the Gaseta Municipal, the Revista Jurídica de Catalunya, and the bulletins of the Centre Excursionista and the Ateneu Barcelonès, as well as numerous books of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans, the Acadèmia de Bones Lletres and various private commissions. In 1926 it started printing the Hoja Oficial, later known as the Hoja del Lunes, which for many years filled the gap of written news on Mondays.

There was no single regime for the running of the almshouse. Countless rules and regulations were drafted as a result of the many modifications made by each subsequent Board and the social and moral determinants of the time. For example, to give a rough idea of the routine, the inmates would get up at six (except in winter, when the children got up at seven), breakfast was at eight, lunch at midday, supper at six and bedtime at nine. The men were allowed to go out for three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon; the women could go out on Sundays; the inmates could receive visits from their families-if they had one-on one Sunday of every month; inmates with families outside Barcelona could spend the month of August with them; there was the possibility of a three-day outing at Easter, on the feast day of the Virgin (15 August) and at Christmas; in the summer, children with medical authorization could go and bathe at La Barceloneta from six to eight in the morning; and, as of the 20th century, when the theatre was built, there was a monthly spectacle: a film, a play, music, folk dancing, etc.

Over the years, the Casa de Caritat had grown so much that more than one suggestion was made of moving it to a more salutary place outside the city centre, though this did not actually happen until 1957. Previously, though, under the Mancomunitat Government (1914-1925), refurbishing and construction work was carried out on two satellites that the almshouse had in the district of Horta: Can Tarrida and the Torre dels Frares. The first was fitted out in 1917 as a home for epileptics and a centre for the treatment of tuberculosis, and the second was adapted as a primary school and holiday camp. The Casa de Caritat was also responsible for the Albà Foundation, very close to the above-mentioned properties, which was fitted out as a hospital for chronic and incurable illnesses. Under the Mancomunitat Government, the Boards of Governors of the Casa de Caritat and the Maternity and Foundling Hospital of Les Corts were combined with a view to improving the organization of the two establishments. The institution in Les Corts cared for foundlings and orphans under the age of seven, most of whom then went on to the Casa de Caritat.

Under the Generalitat government of the Republic (1932-36), the Casa de Caritat was exclusively dependent on the Catalan Government, which for a short period exercised all welfare competences. This led to many improvements, not so much in material terms as in the quality of the treatment received by the inmates, including the secularization of the teachers. In 1936, with the declaration of the Civil War, the Centre's name was changed to the President Francesc Macià Social Health Residence. The Workers' Union of the Casa de Caritat was set up in 1933, grouping together all the establishment's employees to look out for their interests and create a mutual-benefit society to deal with illness or invalidity.

After the Civil War, the Diputació provincial council was once again responsible for running the Casa de Caritat. Like all the provincial corporation's civil servants, the almshouse employees were subjected to a purging process, leading to a temporary or definitive disqualification from office according to their political affiliation prior to the war. By way of example, between 1939 and 1940, 1,040 proceedings of this kind were brought. As elsewhere in the country, living conditions during the harshest post-war years were deplorable due to the scarcity of food and the outbreaks of tuberculosis that devastated the population. The Sisters of Mercy returned to the establishment to substitute the lay and specialized social staff that had worked there during the previous period. This seemed to be a return to a closed regime, and guilt, punishment and sin once again formed the foundations of an education based on the stricter, more rigid principles of Catholicism. As in all ages, there were dark stories, disproportionate punishments and abuses of all kinds within the walls of the establishment, yet the personal contributions of some of the teachers and Sisters of Mercy was a positive factor in the emotional education of the inmates, particularly the children.

In 1954, the philanthropist and industrialist Artur Mundet left 40 million pesetas to the Diputació de Barcelona. The Diputació used these funds to buy a 30-hectare plot of land in the Vall d'Hebron, adding a further 130 million pesetas to meet the total cost of a vast new facility to accommodate many of the corporation's welfare and social services. In October 1957, General Franco opened the large social welfare complex of the Casa Provincial de Caridad Hogares Ana Gironella de Mundet, better known as the Llars Mundet residences. With this new centre, the old and now decrepit installations of the Casa de Caritat in Carrer de Montalegre were increasingly abandoned and its population was moved. All that remained was the workshops that continued to function, particularly the print shop-school that remained productive for many years thanks to the prestige and quality of its work.

Paradoxically, the year 1954 was a landmark for two major events: the gradual disappearance of the Casa de Caritat from the Raval district and the loss of the independent legal regime of the institution, which was then totally integrated into the Diputació de Barcelona provincial council.

Eva Gimeno

The CCCB is the product of the partial rehabilitation of the physical complex of the provincial Casa de la Caritat almshouse, the old charitable establishment that was set up in 1802 and continued to function until 1957. The present-day building comprises the adaptation of the original structure that encloses the large central courtyard, known as the Pati de les Dones, laid out as three five-storey floors forming a U-shape. The new project replaced the north wing with a prismatic 30-m high volume forming a spectacular glazed façade, the top of which projects out over the courtyard. This new element, with its interplay of reflections, mirrors the cityscape and offers a fantastic vantage point over the old town, as well as channelling visitor flows (foyers, lifts, escalators).

The main façade overlooking Carrer de Montalegre and the three inner façades around the courtyard were restored, as were the sgraffiti and the majolica tiles introduced in the Noucentiste-style remodelling carried out between 1926 and 1929. The brick vaults, large arches and ashlar pillars, characteristic structural elements of the original building, were also conserved. The new building covers a total floor surface of 15,000 m2, of which 4,000 m2 are given over to galleries. The Centre’s installations also include three lecture halls, an auditorium and multipurpose spaces such as the foyer, the Pati de les Dones courtyard and the Mirador hall. The CCCB was officially opened in February 1994. The architecture project is the work of the architects Helio Piñón and Albert Viaplana, and was awarded the FAD and the Ciutat de Barcelona Prizes for Architecture in 1993.


CCCB - Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona Montalegre, 5 - 08001 Barcelona Tel. 93 306 41 00 - Fax 93 306 41 01 - info@cccb.org