Pedralbes – Playground of kings

Pedralbes is the 5th Avenue of Barcelona. The streets are lined with stylish modern apartment homes, 19th century villas tucked back behind ornamental fences, and modernista mansions. The magnificent Palau de Pedralbes and its wide park were constructed as a gift from the city to the grandfather of King Juan Carlos. Today, the palace is the home of the Ceramic and Decorative Arts Museum. You’ll also find the Finca Guell here, designed by Gaudi for his patron Eusebi Guell. The house is not open to the public, but you can get an excellent view of the modernista gate and gatehouse, both originals by Gaudi.

What to Do
For quiet in the center of Barcelona, visit the Monestir de Pedralbes, where the nuns of the Order of St. Clare lived from 1327 until today. The church and monastery are set out near a three-tier cloister, where you can visit the main rooms: the dormitory, the refectory, the chapterhouse, the abbey, and the nun’s cells. On the walls of one cell you’ll find Ferrer Bassa’s mural paintings. The nuns of St. Clare were known for their artistic legacy, and you’ll come away from a visit here seeing nuns in a different light.

The MNAC is very near here. The Museu Nacional D’Art De Catalunya is one of the most popular museums of art in Spain, and covers over a thousand years of art. You’ll take a journey through time, a thousand years of Catalan art from the 10th century to today, and its collection of Romanesque and Gothic medieval art is unmatched. You’ll find Romanesque frescoes, paintings from church apses reconstructed inside the museum, and part of the Thyssen Bornemisza collection that used to be in the Monestir de Pedralbes. Some of the modern art collection used to be in the Museu d’Art Modern, and includes works from modernisme artists, avant-garde sculptures, and photography. You’ll also find an extensive coin collection from ancient Greece on.

At the Palau Reial de Pedralbes, you should visit the gardens before entering the Museu de les Arts Decoratives/Museu de Ceramica, with their extensive holdings of ceramics and decorative art. The garden once belonged to neighboring Finca Guell. The palace came to King Alfonso XIII in 1920, but was turned over to Barcelona ten years later to become an exhibitions space for decorative arts. It’s been a museum ever since except for one brief period when General Franco made it his home in Barcelona. The Ceramic Museum spans a millenium of ceramics, from mudejar and metallic inlay from the south to baroque and Renaissance pieces from Castile. The decorative arts museum, in comparison, is a little disappointing. It focuses more on design than decoration.

At Finca Guell, you can view the entrance gate, a gatehouse, and a stables designed by Gaudi, but only from the street; Finca Guell is still a private residence. The entrance gate may be the most amazing example of wrought iron in the world. It features a huge dragon with tongue extended, ready to attack; the dragon is a metaphor for the one Hercules battled, and the gates lead to a garden lush with citrus trees, representing the gardens of the Hesperides the dragon guarded in myth. The buildings feature turrets and white walls inlaid with bright-colored tiles. The pavilion to the right of the estate houjses a library and research center devoted to Gaudi.

After you’re tired of looking and ready to shop, check out the Pedralbes Centre, a two-story arcade that focuses on fashion: street and club wear by designers, party dresses by Puente Aereo, and bright-colored cloths by Prada.

Map of Pedralbes in Barcelona