Casa Castellarnau

Locked up to the general public,  this beautiful historical house in Carrer Cavallers was once one the most prestigious address in XV century Tarragona. 

Built at the beginning of the XV century it held court to the distinguished dignitaries of the day, including Carlos I  during his visit to Tarragona in 1542. In the XVIII century it became home of Carles Castellarnau until 1954 when, a few generation later, due to mounting gambling debts, the house fell into disrepair . Things became so dire that most of the original contents of the house were sold off.  In the 1970’s the house was eventually bequeathed to the Tarragona municipality in exchange of a lifetime pension for the surviving heir.

As most of the contents were no longer there (including the staircase) the house was refurbished with period pieces from the eighteenth and nineteenth century and became partial home to the administrative office of the Museum of History of Tarragona and the Department of Historical Heritage.

The restored property is a showcase of different architectural styles starting from the ground floor where some of the original XV structure, like the patio, the spiral staircase, the gothic columns, capitals and  arches, can be seen through a glass pane at street level.  The most important modification, including the facade, took place during the ownership of the Castellarnau in the XVIII century and the house is now a showcase of XVIII furniture and work of art like the mythological themed paintings in the ballroom.

Like all respectable historical places Casa Castellarnau is said to be haunted by a ghost (please note that there are several version to this story): Carolina Castellarnau was born with severe schizophrenia and grew up totally isolated from the rest of the world, imprisoned inside a double sealed room by those ashamed of her condition. Carolina died at the age of 16 shortly before the civil war. Her ghost is said to, at times, touch the key of the grand piano and to be responsible for the unexplained electrical outages which occasionally affect the building and those nearby…

Casa Castellarnau offers an intimate insight into an era which is mostly shut away to those visiting Tarragona. Although there are many more buildings in the old city dating around the same period none has been left in such pristine condition. Most are privately owned and had their interior heavily modified, if not completely destroyed, or rebuilt to modern standard with most historical information lost.

Yet, a few years back, in a perplexing twist, our local council took the decision, amongst other things, to close Casa Castellarnau to the general public and make it only available to pre-booked groups.  For a city which relies on history as its main selling point this makes very little sense and is another example of the growing list of failures and lack of vision which has plagued the current council since it took office.

Hopefully this situation may change in the future, and Casa Castellarnau will open it’s doors again to those interested in its fascinating past, its beauty and its intrinsic links to the history of Tarragona.