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The Sala Mercè (1904-1913)

Adrià Gual (1872-1943), dramaturge, director, actor, pedagogue, scene director, painter and theorist, also collaborated as from the first moment with Graner, preparing the editing of the first “Musical vision”, which went into premiere the day of the inauguration of the Sala Mercè on November 4th 1904-. With music of Joaquín Grant and song text by Manuel Folch i Torres, and under the title “Montserrat”, the spectacle began with projections of the silhouette of the mythical mountain and ended with the image of the “Virgen de la Moreneta”, patroness of Catalonia, which legendary origins are situated in the Santa Cueva of this mountain.

The inauguration of the hall was foreseen for Saturday October 29th 1904, however it got postponed until Thursday November 4th at 5 PM. Its audience was “highly aristocratic and select, with among the spectators the gubernator as well as the most distinguished families”, as said by an article in La Vanguardia of the same day, recollected by Antoni González in the catalogue of the exhibition “Gaudí i Verdaguer”, Barcelona 2002, p. 19.

The spectacles on the program of the Sala Mercè were projected with rigor and sensibility and offered high quality. Baldelló says: “The lyrical sense of the final spectacle was outstanding. Beside, it reproduced the theme of some popular songs or historical facts written explicitly by the best poets and musicians”. The most important authors of those days, such as the poet Josep Carner, presented some of their works in this hall. Soon Lluís Graner founded the company “Espectáculos y Audiciones Graner” and started to exhibit theatre performances in the Teatro Principal of Barcelona, where “La Santa Espina” by dramaturge Àngel Guimerà went into premiere, and where concerts were presented by Casals, Malats, Granados and Paderewski. However, soon the project accumulated debts and ended up ruining the sala Mercè.

Grutas Fantásticas
On December 22nd 904 the “Grutas Fantásticas” (“Fantastic caverns”) were inaugurated in the basement of the Sala Mercè, right under the projection hall. You could reach them through the ramp which began at the waiting room as well as through the entrance of number 11 of Calle d’En Bot, today the Plaza Villa de Madrid. Given the strong inclination of the tribune of the projection hall –situated on top -, the roof of this place simulated perfectly a cavern. Inspired by the caves of Artà and of the Drac de Manacor (Mallorca), Gaudí positioned a series of stalactites and stalagmites which reinforced the sensation of standing in a real cavern. As always, the lightening was also taken care of perfectly and the electric coloured electric were invisible to the eyes of the audience. Every corner showed the surprise of a diorama, a plastic frame or some misleading feature to entertain the audience. A natural waterfall which filled up the entire hall with its refreshing roaring or the reproduction of a volcano, with its crater expelling fictive fire and lava, were some of the elements which provoked the admiration of both the younger and older visitors. And also the dioramas which were constantly renovated in order to maintain the above mentioned surprising effects. In the caves were presented many spectacles, such as the “Cueva de Fray Marín”, the “Anunciación”, the “Pesebre Artístico”, the “Nacimiento del Señor”, the “Huida de Egipto”, “El mercado de Teherán”, “Las tropas rusas de Manchuria” and “El Belén”. Tokutoshi Torii takes these examples in order to underline the religious decoration of the “caverns”, and reminds us that in those days Gaudí was designing the Birth Façade Sagrada Familia Temple.

On April 23rd 1908 the last activity was programmed in the Caverns.

Gaudí incorporates the concept of the caves in many of his works. Besides the caverns of the Sala Mercè, we also find references of natural caves in Park Güell, the shelters with stalactites of the principal façade of the Colonia Güell church, the Belen of the Birth Façade of the Sagrada Familia Temple, or even the First Mystery of Gloria of the Rosario Monumental of Montserrat, which the architect located in a cave in the mountain. However, it is also important to underline the tendency of those days to incorporate the shapes of caves in similar spectacle halls. For instance, the Electro-Cinemágico, inaugurated in calle Caspe almost at the same time as Sala Mercè, also simulated a cavern.

The Sala Mercè was inaugurated on November 4th 1904 and has functioned as a movie theatre from 1909 until 1913. Some years later it would become the “Atlàntic Cinema” (1936-1939) and finally the Cine Atlántico, active until 1987. The building was smashed in 1988 in order to construct the Hotel Citadines.

Lluís Graner (1893-1929)
Lluís Graner is known as a realist painter. After he had studied in la Llotja, he has lived in Paris from 1886 till 1891. Later he travelled to the United States from where he returned to his native Barcelona with the idea to create a spectacle hall. On November 3rd 1904 the Sala Mercè was inaugurated on October 14th 1905 the Teatro Principal of Barcelona exhibited the first performance administrated by the company “Espectáculos y Audiciones Graner”. The spectacles presented in the la Sala Mercè and the Teatro Principal had a lot of success among their audience, but they accumulated debts. Ruined, Graner returned to the United States, where he would paint portraits of the North Americans. In 1927, once he had recovered financially, he returned to Barcelona where he died on May 7th 1929.

“Cómo era la Sala Mercè”. Description by father Baldelló, famous musician and friend of Gaudí. Organist of the Santa María del Mar. He wrote an article about the bells of the Sagrada Familia.
Bassegoda, Joan: “El gran Gaudí”. Sabadell, 1989
González Moreno, Antoni: “La Sala Mercè, una obra mestra menor d’Antoni Gaudí”. En AA.VV: “Gaudí i Verdaguer. Tradició i modernitat a la Barcelona del canvi de segle, 1878-1912”. Barcelona, 2002
Torii, Tokutoshi: “El mundo enigmático de Gaudí”. Madrid, 1983