Historical walks through the 20th century Barcelona  

Nou Barris

The Woods
Cinque Terre
Mountains and fjords
Northern Lights


The Institut Mental de la Santa Creu was built towards the end of the 19th century on land far from the city of Barcelona. It was officially opened as a pioneering centre for treating mental illnesses, although the Spanish Civil War and Francoist dictatorship had an adverse effect on its operations, turning it into an obsolete and loss-making institution. Today the buildings that remain from that large complex house the headquarters of the Nou Barris District and other municipal facilities.

It was in the mid 19th century that the Hospital de la Santa Creu, which was located in the Raval neighbourhood, launched a project to build a centre for the mentally ill beyond the city walls. The psychiatrist Emili Pi i Molist came up with the idea for the new centre, following the progressive model that was being developed all over Europe. The complex was designed by Josep Oriol i Bernadet and built under the supervision of the architects Elies Rogent and Josep Artigas between 1885 and 1915, in the historicist style .

The complex had 12 wings and room for 700 patients. It had rooms segregated by sex and social class, a dining room, a kitchen, workshops, a library, an infirmary and pharmacy, baths, allotments, a theatre and its own church. It was the city's biggest building when it was opened and became a benchmark psychiatric institution. Its patients were looked after by the religious orders of the Germans i les Germanes Hospitalàries de la Santa Creu.

The disastrous military uprising of July 1936 and outbreak of the Spanish Civil War unleashed a revolutionary wave that led to acts of violence against ecclesiastical properties. The Institut Mental's church, which was dedicated to St Raphael, was ransacked but spared destruction. A film from that period, made by the National Labour Confederation (CNT), shows a group of militiamen inside the grounds, shooting at fascist soldiers. The militiamen pillaged its religious symbols and piled them up outside. The film is the first documentary of the building that we know of, although it has not been precisely dated and could be a re-creation of the events.

After the war, the centre continued to be run by Dr Torras Buxeda, who ran it from 1934 until 1960. At the start of the post-war period the Institut Mental suffered a budgetary and material deficit which worsened conditions for its patients. Added to that was the increased number of people diagnosed with learning disabilities during the Franco dictatorship, in response to the incorporation of national Catholic morality at all levels of society.

A movement began in the 1970s which denounced the social exclusion of mental patients, depriving them of their basic rights, and the arbitrary nature of their diagnoses. Numerous meetings were organised at the Institut Mental between workers and patients to examine the issue in greater depth. This renovation led to a reduction in the number of patients, and centres like the Institut Mental were no longer profitable. By then, work had begun on dismantling the complex, despite opposition from staff, the families of patients and some of the area's local residents who found its closure counter-productive for the neighbourhood.

It was finally closed down in 1987. Most of the wings were pulled down, except for the main body and the first wing in the women's section which today houses the headquarters of the Nou Barris District, a public library, a Guàrdia Urbana [city police] station and other municipal offices. Part of the land was turned into the Parc Central de Nou Barris and the rest was built on. The Església de Sant Rafael is the only element to have been abandoned and has suffered serious deterioration. Local neighbourhood groups are calling for it to be renovated as part of the district's heritage.

Address: <p>Plaça Major de Nou Barris</p> || Coordinates: (LAT, LONG): 41.436918000, 2.170640000

  • Periods:
  • Second Republic
  • Civil War
  • Francoism
  • Transition