The Gothic nucleus: the Contracting Hall

The original Llotja building embodies the essential characteristics of Catalan Gothic architecture: structural simplicity, reduction of internal supports and unification of space. Other civil buildings constructed in Barcelona in the same period (12th-14th centuries), such as the Drassanes (the medieval shipyard), the Hall of One Hundred or the Tinell Hall have a similar structure.

The building’s principal façade, known as the Encants, which overlooks the street that once bore that name but is now called Carrer del Consolat de Mar, had three lancet windows in the lower part and three rose windows in the upper part. The same elements also featured in the opposite façade, looking towards the sea. The walls of the lesser façades, which overlooked what is now the Pla del Palau and the old Orange-Tree Courtyard, were, and still are, extraordinarily thick, to support the thrust of the arcades of the Contracting Hall.

The most important room in the Llotja was the Contracting Hall, a large space divided into three naves covered by a structure of polychromed wooden beams. Four columns with mouldings support the arches. The polychrome of the ceiling was conserved until the 18th century, when it was repainted. The only vestige that has been found of the original work shows a delicate design with great chromatic richness. The floor was made of stone from Montjuïc. The size of the hall, the vivid colours of the ceiling and the slender columns supporting the round arches would have stunned the gaze of any merchant arriving in Barcelona from far away.

The hall was decorated with altarpieces, reliefs, paintings and stained-glass windows. The walls were also often adorned with imported tapestries and sumptuous cloths, while a part of the floor was covered with carpets. The master glazer Gil Fontanet created the stained-glass windows, which disappeared in the 18th century. These decorative elements ennobled still further the great palace of the merchant class.

The fact of having an internal clock, which struck the hours in time with the cathedral’s clock, helped to enhance the building’s prestige and heighten the merchants’ social and economic standing. The oldest existing documentation from the 15th century mentions the existence of the clock, but it is not possible to ascertain when it was acquired.