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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Palau de la Virreina in Barcelona

What is Palau de la Virreina?

Palau de la Virreina, or Virreina Palace in English, is a grand 18th-century Baroque palace in Barcelona that was built as a retirement home for a former viceroy, and now serves as the headquarters of Barcelona’s Culture Institute.

Virreina Palace

Palau de la Virreina History

This magnificent 18th-century palace was once the private residence of Manuel d'Amat i de Junyent, a former Viceroy of Peru. During his time in the diplomatic service, the viceroy took full advantage of his position and accumulated considerable wealth. In the early 1770s, he hired master builder Josep Ausich i Mir to build him a grand retirement home here on this side of La Rambla, in order to take advantage of the spacious new sites that became available when the street was transformed in the 18th century. This outstanding Baroque palace with its powerful main façade was completed in 1778, and shortly after Manuel moved in with his wife, Maria Francesca de Fiveller.

Maria Francesca was not originally meant to marry him, but rather his nephew Antoni. The couple had met a year earlier when she was still living in the Monestir de Jonqueres, a Benedictine monastery with a community made up of daughters of the nobility. Antoni was visiting his sisters, who also lived there, when he crossed paths with Maria Francesca in 1777. The two of them fell in love and agreed to marry shortly afterwards. However, on the day of the wedding Antoni got cold feet. He left Maria Francesca standing at the altar without any explanation; she was devastated. The news reached Antoni’s uncle Manuel, who offered to marry her to spare Maria Francesca and her family humiliation. They accepted his offer and the marriage was celebrated in June 1779. He was 72 years old at the time, while she was in her early 20s.

Despite the age difference between them, Manuel provided the best life he could for his young bride. The couple split their time between this urban palace and their sumptuous summer residence that was constructed in the town of Gràcia (now a district of the city) around the same time. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last long. Manuel passed away in February 1782. They had no children and Maria Francesca became his sole heir. The 26-year-old widow continued living in the palace by herself, to be commemorated in the building’s present-day name, the ‘Palace of the Vicereine’.

Though parts of the Palau de la Virreina have disappeared over the centuries, the building remains a truly remarkable example of Catalan Baroque and Rococo architecture. The grand residence, set back slightly from the street, also sheds light on how the rich displayed their wealth in the 18th century. The structure’s façade, marked by a characteristically Spanish top-heaviness, features a full complement of vases executed by sculptor Carles Grau. While the interior boasts a grand double-ramp staircase with exquisite ironwork railings.

Today, the Palau de la Virreina serves as the headquarters of Barcelona’s Culture Institute, and is renowned for its art exhibitions and cultural events. However, the building's past remains inextricably tied to its present. Some say the vicereine still wanders the palace to this day, walking the corridors of her splendid home.

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