The former episcopal palace of Astorga suffered a terrible fire in 1886. Its destruction was certainly a tragedy but the result was the construction of a splendid new palace designed by the Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. It was the then Bishop Joan Baptista Grau i Vallespinós, who decided to entrust the project to the famous modernist architect, as both knew one another and had kept alive an old friendship. Work began in 1889, but after the bishop’s death in 1893, problems began to arise between the council and the architect which finally led to Gaudí abandoning the project. Nonetheless, the work still bore the stamp of Gaudí and was finally completed by Ricardo Garcia Guereta in 1913.
When Gaudí was commissioned to build the episcopal palace he was engaged in various other projects so, in order not to delay construction, he used photographs, drawings and all information available on the site for the project, a project that was approved in 1889.
The architecture of the Episcopal Palace of Astorga has four cylindrical towers on the main facade and is surrounded by a moat, and clearly there is a medieval air about it. Its appearance was inspired by its function and purpose, but also responds to a fashion of the time: the Gothic. The Gothic style was very important in the late nineteenth century, used by Gaudí in his early works such as the College of the Sisters of Bellesguard and La Casa Botines.
The building material used was gray granite from nearby Bierzo, which conferred a certain organic structure and harmony with the natural and urban environment, especially as the neighbouring cathedral is built of the same material. Furthermore, despite its historical and traditional aspects, the building also incorporated some more modern elements that appear frequently in the mature work of Gaudí, such as the arches of the main entrance and tall chimneys on the lateral walls.
As for the interior, the ground floor contains a large hall from which there soars a noble staircase of great height and flanked by large triangular windows , a structure which is very similar to the one Gaudí used in the Guell Palace . The whole construction is supported by pillars with decorated capitals and vaults supported on arches with ceramic glazing.
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Text: Rosa Vázquez
Photos: Commons Wikipedia (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)
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