The most sarcastic mailbox in Barcelona
A detail immersed in the frenzy of the Gothic quarter
The party mood and the frenetic crowding make its way the famous Christmas markets.
Walking through the narrow streets can be a suffocating experience making it difficult to observe the beauty and the details hidden between the faces and the hasty legs of tourists. Everybody is busy for the Christmas shopping or distracted by the magic of the period.
Fortunately, the city has its moments of respite from the hectic chaos. The shops don’t open before nine in the morning. The cold of these days has delayed even more the Christmas crowds. I walk through the gothic barrio, I breathe the fresh air while the sun timidly spreads its veil of light on the large stones of the wall, of the cathedral and above all of the Archdeacon’s House.
And it is this building that hides a detail with a curious history.
The Archdeacon’s House
The Archdeacon’s House is located near the Cathedral and is an integral part of the imposing city wall. It underwent various renovations during its over 900 years of history. Today we find the Historical Archives of Barcelona but in the past the Barcelona Lawyers Association took its seat in 1895. In 1902 the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner was commissioned to decorate the building and to design a mailbox ad hoc.
The latter was the cause of a famous anecdote.
The story goes that the projected design was not very popular with the dean of the college, who, however, preferred it to the architect’s alternative of writing. A very popular phrase: “Lawyers and prosecutors, two by two in hell”. So the design that we can still see today was accepted immediately!
But what does the decoration proposed by Montaner show so controversial?
Five swallows, an ivy branch and a turtle can be seen skilfully carved around the edges of the mailbox. Nature has always given great inspiration to architectural works such as for Gaudì or metaphorical as in this case. In fact, every animal represents peculiarities.
The allegorical meaning is as sharp as a knife blade.
The swallows fly fast and high above our heads and often arouse our admiration. The ivy, on the other hand, creeps and expands everywhere taking breath away everything. Finally, we know that the turtle is slow, long-lived and heedless of man’s haste
With subtle criticism and sarcasm, one of the most famous architects of Barcelona brought to light a reality of that time and of today too. Justice should be quick and admirable like swallows but due to the bureaucratic labyrinth that is created like an ivy plant it is slow and obsolete like a turtle for the rhythms of the human being. A detail with a profound meaning placed right at the entrance of what was once the representative building of justice in Barcelona.
The house today
The Archdeacon’s House has passed and be the Historical Archive of Barcelona in 1922. Today in its beautiful cloister these days hosts the exhibition Quan plovien octavetes: clandestinitat, premsa i propaganda antifranquista. A series of documents and prints from the Franco period against the dictatorship.
The mailbox remains there in its place, admonishing and reminding what justice is still characterized today. Currently, it is said that touching the turtle brings good luck, which unfortunately has caused it to its current rounded and shiny appearance.
I remain to observe the facade, the passers-by who invade the streets. I’m late and I have to go home. I wish I could fly like swallows, but the multitude of passers-by will make me delay. I just have to go quietly at a tortoise pace.
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