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Centennial Josep Danés


    On the 15th August 1923, the first stone of the new sanctuary-hotel complex of Núria was laid, a project of the architect of the bishopric of Urgell Josep Danés and Torras (1891-1955), a member of the second generation of noucentista architects.


    Already since the end of the 19th century, in addition to shepherds, devotees and pilgrims, Núria was increasingly visited by hikers, skiers, summer holidaymakers and tourists. The bishopric of Urgell was aware that they had to enlarge the sanctuary and its hostelries and, therefore, it promoted different projects. It also worked hard to find a way to facilitate access to Vall de Núria, whether by funicular railway, road or rack railway (the chosen option).

    • The neo-Gothic project of Calixte Freixa (1883)

      Calixte Freixa’s project conditioned all subsequent projects. The decision to locate the current neo-Gothic (begun in 1883 and inaugurated in 1911) under the Roc Malé looking towards the entrance of the valley was a radical decision: to demolish the old 19th century sanctuary in order to create a whole new architectural and landscape scenography that was to be coherent with the principles of monumentality and symmetry.

    • The urban development project of Bernat Pejoan and Joan Matabosch (1918)

      In 1918, Bishop Joan Benlloch asked the State to grant the bishopric the communal land around the sanctuary (1 km2), which until then had belonged to the residents of Queralbs, in order to carry out the new project drawn up in 1918 by the diocesan architect Bernat Pejoan and the engineer Joan Matabosch. The project foresaw an urbanisation with an avenue with twenty-two villas and gardens in front of the current temple (which was replaced by a neo-Romanesque one). The State forestry engineers’ corps refused to approve the project, considering that it went against the “natural charms of the site”.

    • The project by Josep Danés (1923)

      “In the field work [Josep Danés] was tireless. I remember that when I was twenty years old, it was difficult for me to follow him measuring very uneven terrain in small villages in the Pyrenees. He used to tell me that during the first years of his marriage and practice they would go together [with his wife] to take measurements, and to Núria, as there was still no funicular from Ribes on foot.(Francesc Rodamilans, draughtsman)


      The new bishop of Urgell, Justí Guitart, commissioned a new project to Josep Danés in 1922; the architect, a good hiker, had just finished his degree five years ago and was 31 years old. His first task was to go to Núria with the tachymeter loaded on muleback along the old Queralbs road in order to quickly measure the angles, distances and unevenness of the space of the new complex.


    “The architect designs with the pencil, but also with the eraser” (Josep Danés)

    The first sketches drawn by Danés at the beginning of 1922 were the result of an ambitious program defined in collaboration with the bishop and the administrator of the sanctuary, Mn. Antoni Bataller. The new complex was to make it possible to accommodate 1,500 people; it foresaw a hotel with kitchens, dining-rooms and cafeteria; hostelries with cells; apartments with kitchens for families; residence for the bishop, priests and seminarians; porter’s lodge, administration and reception to allocate rooms; information office and hiring of guides and mounts; writing office, space for carabineers and civic, forest and rural guards; telephone, telegraph, medical services and first-aid kit, barber’s shop, canteens and groceries; souvenir shop, exhibition of jewels and dresses of the virgin; museum of Núria and the Pyrenees; public library, forge and carpenter’s workshop. Outside the complex, in Pla de l’Hort, there was the slaughter house, the corrals, barns, stables for the mounts, rooms for shepherds, stable lads and laborers.


    His model was of a large monastery with a large courtyard or cloister in the central point of which was located a large neo-Romanesque temple with two bell towers, which would constitute the axis of symmetry of the whole complex and from where 6 large compact pavilions would be articulated intertwined which, on days of blizzard and snow, could be toured inside without the need to go outside. For good climatic insulation, in addition to central heating, slate was chosen as the appropriate material for waterproofing the roofs; double glazing was planned and a pavement resistant to hikers’ shod shoes was chosen. Josep Danés would also apply similar criteria to the chalet-hotel in La Molina that he designed for the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya (inaugurated in 1925).


    “Many are the beauties that are admired in Switzerland, in its mountains, in its valleys and in its rivers... when the projects for the enlargement of Núria are finished, it will be like transferring the vision of Switzerland to the Pyrenees and a short distance from Barcelona” (Bernat Pejoan-Joan Matabosch, 1918).


    Artistic inspiration is not innate. Through the consultation of books, illustrated press, photographs, imported postcards or his own drawings, the result of his fieldwork in the Pyrenees, the architect had a sufficiently broad repertoire of visual culture from which to draw inspiration to start making the first sketches on paper.


    At the time of designing, four were the architect’s main sources of inspiration: traditional Pyrenean architecture (in particular, the light shafts and dormers of the wealthy houses in the Vall d'Aran), Romanesque architecture, the Swiss hospice of the Great St. Bernard (especially well known following the proclamation in 1923 of St. Bernat of Aosta as the patron saint of mountaineers and skiers) and the old wooden bridges of Lucerne. The fact that Switzerland and the Alps were a priority source has to do with the fact that it was there that mountain tourism was “invented” as early as the end of 18th century. Since then, all the high mountains of the world (including the Pyrenees) have been reinterpreted through alpine filters.


    “I am very sure that if you were up here you would stop the work... It’s a pity to see work in Núria. Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, the thermometer was 5 degrees below zero... How do you want them to touch the iron with these temperatures? Ramon says that his fingers were numb...” [letter from Mn. Bonaventura Carrera to Josep Danés, October 27,1929]


    “The mules, by pulling them hard, could each climb a length of 4.50 m. and weigh 140 kilos; to exceed this limit would be imprudent and it would almost be too daring to go beyond the limits already indicated. Those straits are very dangerous and if the heads touch, they throw the mule into the river” [letter from builder Pere Guillamet to Josep Danés, June 2, 1928]


    During the long winters, the works were at a standstill. The commitment to start building the new sanctuary-hotel before the arrival of the rack railway conditioned everything: the materials should not exceed a certain weight or a certain size so that they could be moved without risk by a horse-drawn carriage.


    “It has happened that Núria is within everyone’s reach and a new world has been discovered for many, and we see doctors thinking of building sanatoriums there, hotel managers of large hotels, architects and contractors, building chalets and even golf courses... and there are even those who want to do it all.” [Federació d’Entitats Excursionistes de Catalunya, 1933]


    In spite of all the economic and technical difficulties, the works progressed: the house of Sant Justí (named after Bishop Guitart), was finished in 1925; that of Sant Antoni (in memory of Mn. Antoni Bataller, administrator) in 1928; that of Sant Josep (in memory of the architect Josep Danés) in 1929, and that of Sant Gil began to be built in 1930-31. In 1928, the company Ferrocarrils de Muntanya de Grans Pendents (Mountain Railways to Steep Slopes) began to build the rack railway. With the arrival of the rack railway in February 1931, very soon the conflicting interests on Núria were accentuated with the risk (frustrated) of carrying out a second urbanization project, which caused particular discomfort to the Federació d’Entitats Excursionistes de Catalunya (Federation of Hiking Clubs of Catalonia). It was not always easy to find a certain consensus among the various institutional agents involved (Queralbs Town Council, Generalitat, bishopric and FMGP).


    “All architects are planners; there are fewer good work managers and there none good administrators.” (Josep Danés)


    After the Civil War, Josep Danés continued to work at Núria until his death in 1955. These were decisive years in explaining the current physiognomy of the sanctuary, which culminated with the construction of the artificial pond (1956). In a pragmatic manner and with not a few doses of economic realism, the long-held “dream” of building a great basilica inspired by the Romanesque, always considered a more “patriotic and national” style than the Gothic, was abandoned. The current Romanesque façade-belfry, with large and expressionistic granite ashlars, was designed in the years 1946-1953 with the aim of hiding the unfinished neo-Gothic façade, acting as a screen. The original idea of building two pavilions to enclose the whole complex was also abandoned. Instead, another floor was added to the existing pavilions, the light shafts were removed and the walls were plastered to achieve greater insulation. All of this gave the complex a functional and more modern feel, accentuating the openness of the architecture to the landscape.


    “Under Mr. Danés, everything worked. The stonecutters, carpenters, locksmiths, building workers, worked very well. He made everything easy for the bosses: very precise sketches, plans at the most convenient scales and, if necessary, life-size...” (Francesc Rodamilans, draughtsman)


    Josep Danés not only designed the architecture of Núria, but during his 32 years of service at the sanctuary he also carried out other tasks such as advising on how to restore the Romanesque virgin, how to reuse the various parts of the old Baroque altarpiece that had been dismantled, or the design of a wide variety of objects. From his hand came graphic designs to promote his project, wrought iron railings, lamps, altars (such as the missing altar of the virgin, the unrealized altar of Sant Bernat), the ski lockers, glassware, designs for the ceramic floor of the hotel's dining rooms, as well as his own pictorial decoration. Some of these designs show the incorporation of Art Deco aesthetics, based more on geometric and stylized forms than on organic ones, showing the influence of the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925.


    “[the sanctuary character of the place] prevented to make an architecture of ornaments and taffetas, which also did not agree with the grandeur of nature, in front of which a humble form seems well suited, nor were the economic means to be distracted in doing frivolous things, but to focus on satisfying endless problems.” (Josep Danés)


    In short, Danés’ Project is entirely consistent with the language of architectural Noucentisme and regionalism that, despite the humble forms that were claimed, did not renounce to give monumentality to the exterior set reinterpreting elements of traditional Pyrenean architecture from certain alpine and Swiss filters, with a clear desire to adapt and dialogue with the landscape environment. In the interior rooms, priority was given to transmit the idea of modern and elegant comfort with Art Deco touches.

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