The gardens of Josep Altimira, the eccentric millionaire who returned to Barcelona from Cuba in 1860, are no ordinary gardens. They are especially famous for containing a zoo, subterranean galleries, and a hypostyle room, a pillared hall with esoteric symbolism.
The gardens’ allure is bolstered by numerous strange stories of dubious veracity surrounding Altimira’s life in Barcelona, for instance that he had a trained orangutan waiter who served drinks at his parties.
Altimira was a truly unusual man. An eccentric Freemason stock market investor with businesses in Cuba, he was known as the “Count of Monte Cristo” for his fabulous wealth. Upon acquiring the estate in 1867, he built a new house on the property called the “Tower of the Golden Dome.” The gardens were prodigious: In 1880 there were lakes, waterfalls, caves and exotic vegetation. But while the flora was astounding, the garden architecture was what made the place amazing.
The spectacular pillared hall was similar to another in nearby Parque Guell. The columns are reminiscent of those in ancient temples, and its underground location is not accidental. The portico provided access to other caves connected to the house. It is said that at various points the caves were flooded so that Altimira and his guests could boat through them.
A statue of the god Mercury, which today is preserved in Casa Garí outside Barcelona, resided in the crystal temple. The god Mercury is the equivalent of Hermes, the godly archetype most revered by the Freemasons. This type of garden, reflecting the owner’s intellectual interests, was very common at the time and had precedents in Barcelona, such as the Labyrinth Park in Horta, built in 1802.
Joseph Altimira’s princely lifestyle eventually led to his ruin. When he died in 1900, he gave all his property to nuns, the Missionary Sisters, an institution which still occupies the house. The park, however, became property of the city. The public is welcome to come bask in the 19th century grandeur of the Altimira Gardens.
Know Before You Go
Open daily 9am-9pm.