Barcelona's Mulberry Mansion: Casa Lleó Morera
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
Lying at the at the intersection of Paseo de Gracia and Consell de Cent is a true Spanish treasure, Casa Lleó Morera. The Art Nouveau mansion is often overshadowed by its showy neighbor Casa Batlló.
But it shouldn't be. It's lovely and vastly under appreciated. When the tourists clamor to Gaudi's Casa Batlló or La Pedrera, you can come here and feast your eyes on beautiful art and architecture.
History of Casa Lleó Morera
Francesca Morera i Ortiz inherited the building, built in 1864 and previously called Casa Rocamora, from her uncle, Antoni Morera i Busó. In 1902, she commissioned the acclaimed architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to completely renovate the exterior and interior of the building in an Art Nouveau style.
Sadly, Oritz died in 1904 before the mansion was completed. Her son, Albert Lleó i Morera, moved in with his family, bestowing the current name on the house. Lleó Morera means the "Lion and Mulberry Tree House."
While not as famous as Antoni Gaudi, Montaner was a genius himself. His buildings are characterized by a mixture of constructive rationalism and the ornamentation and curvilinear lines characteristic of Modernism.
For Casa Lleó Morera, he gathered the best craftsmen and artisans, to stunning effect. His chosen sculptor, Eusebi Arnau, was particularly renowned.
After the 1920s, Modernism fell out of fashion and the building fell into disrepair. At the outset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Modernist buildings were criticized as opulent symbols of the bourgeoise power. Some were deliberately vandalized.
Montaner's lovely cupola tower on Casa Lleó Morera's rooftop was seriously damaged by machine gun fire during the violence. Much later, in the 1980s, it was restored by architect and historian Oscar Tusquets.
In 1943, a leather goods company named Loewe moved into the ground floor. They tore out the statues and windows, smashing them with axes. A doorman saved some of the busts from the sculptures. He sold them to artist Salvador Dali. You can see them at Teatre-Museu in nearby Figueras.
A property group acquired Casa Lleó Morera in 2006 and completely restored it. The interior was restored in 2012 and opened to the public in 2014.
Then, there was a scuffle over three steps.
The building closed down in 2017 years. The issue was over wheelchair access. Access is required for all buildings open to the public. But artistic monuments can't be altered to provide access. So the Modernist staircase could not be altered.
A quandary. So what happened? It's a bit of a mystery.
On Casa Lleó Morera's Facebook page, it's described as "permanently closed." Its website is silent on the matter. But, on TripAdvisor, they are people who profess to have been inside in 2019. A puzzling contradiction indeed.
It appears that one way to visit the interior of the casa is to attend an event there. They have a monthly microteatro. But it's worth admiring just for the exterior alone.
The Three Pearls on the "Block of Discord"
The Greek Legend
Casa Lleó Morera is located on the prestigious Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona's Manzana de la Discordia, or "Block of Discord."
The city block's nickname originates from a famous Greek legend, the Judgment of Paris. The Greek gods held a wedding but didn't invite Eris, the goddess of discord, who sowed misery wherever she went.
Aggrieved by the snub, Eris arrived anyway, bearing a poisoned "gift" of a golden apple. It was inscribed with the words "for the fairest." As Eris anticipated, the goddesses squabbled to claim the apple. Finally, Paris, the Prince of Troy, selected Aphrodite over Hera and Athena.
The Block of Discord Battle Over The Apple
The word "manzana" can mean both city block and apple in Spanish. And on the Manzana block, there was a fierce architectural rivalry, akin to the golden apple. Three Modernist buildings on the tony Passeig de Gràcia vied for the title of the fairest building.
The competition was fierce. Each one tried to top the last one built. They all had disparate styles.
Casa Batlló was the showiest. Its architect, the acclaimed Antoni Gaudí conjured a building in the image of a dragon. It had a bone-like facade and eerie skull-like balconies, capped by a sinuously scaled roof with a solitary sword-like tower.
Right next door to Casa Batlló is Casa Amatller, with colorful neo-Gothic elements. It was built in 1900 for a chocolate baron and the building gives out chocolate samples on tours.
Then, there's our lovely Casa Lléo Morera. It's the only house on the Block of Discord to win the Barcelona Arts Building Annual Award, in 2006. So you might say it won the competition by being publicly declared the fairest.
The Casa Lleó Morera was revolutionary in its day for the different forms of artistry on the exterior. It occupies the street corner. It has two beautiful facades that mirror each other, with a tower of sorts dividing them.
The most striking thing is the beautiful curved balconies with ornate floral designs and lions. The ones on the second floor are elongated. The ones on the third floor are rounded. The fourth floor has a set of gallery windows.
The overall effect evokes a convent cloister.
The facade also references the family name. You can see mulberry flowers and lions embedded in the design in different materials.
The facade's topped by a tiempetto, or tower. It exceeded the maximum height allowed by ordinance, so special permission was sought and granted.
I must admit that last time I was in Barcelona, I didn't venture inside.
If you do, and assuming the building's open, you'll be enveloped in exuberant color. If it isn't, bask in the exterior and take this video tour. I also read that you can see one of the original ceiling inside the Loewe store.
The Casa Lleó Morera website provides a good tour. In the building's foyer, there are mosaic mulberry flowers in white and yellow set against pink and green in the staircase and the stairway.
The entrance hall opens into two large drawings rooms overlooking the Passeig de Gràcia. The main drawing room is the work of Gaspar Homar and has a beautiful wood ceiling panel. The different colors of the wood give the effect of a painting. You can see the influence of Japanese art.
Heading into the Gallery, there's a eye catching wooden fireplace with floral decorations.
But the piece de resistance of Casa Lleó Morera is in the large area that comprises the dining room and living room. There's a brilliantly colored semi-circular stained glass window done by Antoni Rigalt. The Artist is also known for another of his great works: the inverted dome of the Palau de la Música Catalana.
It's looks so vibrant and alive you can almost hear the birds tweeting.
There's also a beautiful mosaic that depicts members of the Lleó Morera family.
The only problem with the interior is that there's not one stick of furniture left!
If you're in Barcelona and on the Modernist trail, don't forget to cast your eyes on one of the prettiest homes on the Block of Discord. I like that it's so personalized and reflects the history and traditions of the Lleó Morera family. It's a welcome contrast to the bland sometimes industrialized look of modern housing.