EL PALAU DE LA VIRREINA
The Palau de la Virreina, situated on the Rambla near the Boqueria Market, houses the Centro de la Imagen (Center of the Image), which exhibits photo and audiovisual projects. If you’re ever interested in visiting its exhibitions, you can do so for free. We’re not bringing up this building necessarily for its current use, though. Its history is much more interesting.
“Palau de la Virreina” translates to the Palace of the Vicereine. Thus, a viceroy and his wife must serve as the origin of the building and its name.
Back in the 18th century, Manuel d’Amat y Junyent, the Marquis de Castellbell and the then Viceroy of Peru, commissioned two houses to be built in Barcelona: one of these being the Palau, the other a house in Gràcia (currently where the Plaça de la Virreina is situated today). It was to be his residence after returning from Peru to Barcelona in 1777. The construction was started in 1772 and completed in 1778. The palace would go on to be inhabited in 1779 by Manuel and his wife, Maria Francesca de Fiveller de Clasquerí i de Bru, who was 49 years younger than him.
There’s a good story there, you’re probably thinking, and you’re right.
Maria Francesca, who had been living at the Monestir de Jonqueres since a young age — a decision made by her parents, against her wishes — would meet a man, Antoni d’Amat i Rocabertí, when he went to visit his sisters at the monastery in 1777. She was twenty years old at the time, he was 35. They fell in love, it seems, and agreed to marry. Marriage, it should be pointed out, was the only way for a girl to be allowed to leave the monastery.
On the day of the wedding, however, Antoni would leave Maria Francesca standing at the altar. No explanation was given, and Maria Francesca was devastated.
In comes Manuel d’Amat. The last name should look familiar as Antoni bears the same one. Manuel was Antoni’s uncle. Even before returning to Barcelona, Manuel was aware of the engagement between his nephew and Maria Francesca. When Antoni left her in such dramatic fashion, Manuel offered to marry her to spare her and her family the humiliation. The family accepted his offer, and the two were wed on June 3rd, 1779 at the church of the Monestir de Jonqueres.
The marriage didn’t last long. Manuel would pass away on February 14th, 1782, leaving Maria Francesca widowed. Not only that, he left her as beneficiary of his assets and named Antoni as his universal heir. You can imagine the tension. Disagreements and disputes arose between them, but, in 1788, they would come to an agreement on what belonged to whom.
Three years later, on October 3rd, 1781, as she was attending mass, Maria Francesca went into convulsions and fainted. She was transported to her parents’ house and passed away without ever regaining consciousness.
It is said that Maria Francesca can still be seen wandering around the palace today. Barcelona, as we are coming to recognize, is not lacking in urban legends.
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
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