Journey through the history of Barcelona hotels

What did Buffalo Bill or Frédéric Chopin have in common? In the absence of more coincidences, one of them is that both stayed during their visit to Barcelona at the Cuatro Unidas hotel on the Rambla, the oldest hotel establishment in the city.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 10:32
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Journey through the history of Barcelona hotels

What did Buffalo Bill or Frédéric Chopin have in common? In the absence of more coincidences, one of them is that both stayed during their visit to Barcelona at the Cuatro Unidas hotel on the Rambla, the oldest hotel establishment in the city. The composer's stay was not entirely pleasant as he was convalescing from tuberculosis. Even the owners of the establishment burned the bed in the room where he stayed and apparently the manager added this cost to the bill. The Four Nations is one of twenty of the more than 400 hotels in Barcelona today that maintain the same name and location as a hundred years ago or more, according to the new book Hotels de Barcelona (Orígens Albertí).

Its author, Josefina Romero, a graduate in modern and contemporary history and author of different articles and studies on hotel establishments, reviews the origins of the sector and the great “transcendental” moments that have marked its future from the mid-19th century to the first third of the twentieth century. Regarding the beginnings of the hotel industry, Romero highlights that Italian families, from the northern Italian region of Piedmont, were the great dominators during the 18th and 19th centuries. Lines such as those of Durio, Maffioli, Antonietti or Cacciami “revolutionized” the sector when they realized the “economic benefit” they could obtain if they improved the current establishments.

In a city still walled, the confiscation of 1836 facilitated this purpose as land occupied by the convents of Barcelona became available, giving way to inns, to differentiate themselves from inns. Then there were not tourists, but rather travelers and commuters who required this type of accommodation. Based on the General Guide to Barcelona by Manuel Saurí and Josep Matas of 1849, it is estimated that at that time there were about forty hotel establishments, concentrated in Pla de Palau, the nerve center of the city at that time, and the Rambla, which was already It was beginning to emerge as “a new urban center in terms of the location” of these businesses, Romero details.

Another great moment corresponded to the Universal Exhibition of 1888 with the projection of the city to the world and the origin of modern hospitality. In this period, some of the inns were converted into hotels, a term from France, and were designed for clients with greater purchasing power. It was then when new ones were built and many others were renovated. One of them, the Hotel Internacional, was built in record time: in 53 days. Its author was one of the great figures of Catalan modernism, the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. With about 400 rooms and 30 apartments, it was located on Paseo Colón, on land measuring 5,000 square meters temporarily donated by the port of Barcelona. After the event, the building was demolished.

The next big step for the sector came with the 1929 International Exhibition, with a considerable increase in the hotel offering. Using data from the guides of the time, Romero then counted 102 hotels, including four luxury ones: Ritz, Colón, Metropolitan and the Majestic Hotel in England. With an average price of over 30 pesetas per person per day, these businesses offered services such as bathroom, central heating, hot and cold running water, elevator or telephone.

Regarding its location, the new urban changes gave more prominence to the Plaza de Catalunya and the Eixample became a pole of urban attraction. They would not be the only changes in these years, as Romero points out in the book: “Unlike previous periods, Catalan businessmen were the owners of the majority of the new establishments, so they displaced the Italians, who until then had monopolized the sector.”