THE BARCELONA DRAGON THAT ALWAYS KEEPS ITS COOL
One of the first things Barcelona tourists make it a point to do upon visiting the Ciutat Comtal (“City of Counts”) is to walk down its famed Les Rambles. Who doesn’t enjoy a stroll down the charming promenade, that is, when it’s not overrun by its 200,000 daily pedestrians?
There are so many details you might miss along the 1.2-kilometer stretch, but we’d bet that most people have spotted the painted, zinc dragon sculpture hanging outside the Casa Bruno Cuadros (La Rambla, 82). After taking photos of the floating metal beast, many might wonder the significance of its placement there.
On March 4, 1854, Bruno Cuadros i Vidal, a businessman who had moved to Barcelona to pursue work, rented out the ground floor of a three-story building on the Rambla at Pla de la Boqueria and installed an umbrella, fan and porcelain goods shop. Business went so well that he was able to buy the building outright in 1858 and renovated the entire building, installing his family’s home on the floor above the shop. And so, Casa Bruno Cuadros was born. Thanks to the rent from the upper floor tenants, the building largely paid for itself.
The successful umbrella business would remain there and be maintained by the Cuadros family for 126 years; the last owner was Bruno’s great grandson. Even today, the building is still commonly referred to as La Casa dels Paraigües (“House of Umbrellas”). It wasn’t until 1883, when Cuadros contracted the renowned modernista architect, Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, to completely remodel the building’s façade and interior, as well as add another floor, that the “house” would take on the appearance it still displays today. When the project was completed in 1888, the final result was yet another stunning example of Art Nouveau but with an oriental touch; Vilaseca received the First Prize in Decoration Award from the Barcelona City Council for the work.
The Eastern-style decoration was dictated by Bruno Cuadros himself, as he was a dreamer who lived and breathed art. He wanted this particular type of decoration because he sold prints on cotton and linen fabrics, as well as cultured pearl necklaces and other items, which were imported from Japan. One of the most noticeable decorative additions to the building was the magnificent, yet strange, dragon, meant to advertise the shop, along with the giant umbrella on the façade. The fire-breathing beast is clutching a hanging gas lamp with its front paws and a Japanese fan in its back paw; there is also an umbrella suspended below him. It measures three meters long, from tail to snout, and weighs 250 kilograms. As we said, it’s likely to grab your attention.
Thanks to both Vilaseca and Cuadros, the Rambla is home to one of Barcelona’s most iconic dragons; and that’s saying a lot for a city with a deep fascination with the winged serpentine creature. Since the Chinese-style Cuadros dragon was installed in 1888, it has presided over the same corner, though it no longer spews flames out of its mouth.
Why a Chinese dragon, though? Well, if you research the symbolism of the dragon in Chinese culture, you’ll find a wealth of information. The most interesting detail for our purposes, though, is that dragons are considered magical beings that can cause weather changes and summon rain. Dragons are also considered auspicious and lucky. Could it be that Bruno Cuadros took these two facts and decided that the dragon would be the perfect guardian and champion for a shop selling an apparatus that offers protection from the rain? No one can know for sure, since there is no record of what the inspiration was, but it would be fitting if it were true.
When the umbrella shop closed for good, Banco Sabadell moved into the ground floor to install offices. Back then, in June 1980, scaffolding was mounted, covering the building and alarming any Barcelonian who caught sight or wind of the occurrence. Would they dare tear down such a celebrated historical property? La Vanguardia had to print a story to calm people down, explaining that yes, indeed they were doing work on the building, but the building would remain; it was just for renovating the shop to fit the bank’s needs.
In 2019, after 131 years watching over the corner, the dragon got an overdue makeover. Tres Ranas was in charge of the restoration project, retouching it with paint and wiring it so that its eyes and mouth could light up, without requiring fire this time.
BBVA is the latest tenant of the “Umbrella House.”
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
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