Situated in the heart of the district of the Eixample, the Universitat Gardens form a large green semi-circle around the historical building of the Universitat de Barcelona. Walking into the gardens is like walking into a cool, calm world. The light penetrates through the thick vegetation and, among the eighty species of plants in the garden we can find some of the oldest trees in the city.
Although the main door of the Universitat de Barcelona building is the entrance which is more common among students than visitors, it is true to say that, once you have passed though the great majestic vestibule, on walking out into the garden we find one of the most surprising perspectives.
Two large stone vases, full of elegant decorative leaves, guard a low stairway shaded by pittosporum tobira, as tall as trees. On the landing upstairs, a rectangular trough receives water which falls from a hose which spouts from a minute circular pond with a small fountain situated a little higher.
The rest areas
When we arrive at the top of the stairs, the garden stretches along both sides and is enclosed, at the end, by a high railing which separates it from the outside. In the centre there is the entrance door from Carrer de la Diputació, which is open at weekends and on holidays, when the university is closed.
All around, we find wrought iron benches for sitting and resting or reading peacefully under the shade of the overhanging trees that, from time to time, let rays of sunshine pass through.
In the water, protected by the aquatic plants and sharing the space with a few fish, the frogs can be heard quite loudly. On either side, the parterres full of ivy, ferns and seasonal flowers accompany us to the highest part of the garden.
As well as the fish and the frogs, in this garden we can enjoy several birds that take shelter here from the noise of such a central area as the Plaça de la Universitat.
These are two examples of classical gardens which allow us to see what these areas were like at the end of the nineteenth century. On either side of the main door entrance, to the right is the Science patio and to the left, the Arts patio, which are connected by a corridor.
The patios are enclosed areas, similar to a monastery cloister, and around them rise the faculty buildings. In the centre, there is a pond and at the four corners stone benches and broad flower beds covered by a diaphanous ferns and where large trees grow. In the Arts patio, bitter orange trees, a couple of cypress trees and at the back, a giant banyan tree stand. In the Science patio, there are magnolias, cypress and another large ficus.
The Universitat gardens are especially well-known for their botanical importance. There are exotic species such as the ombu, the only tree that grows in the Argentine Pampa and under which the roots lie; the yucca, with several examples that belong to the first plantations from the end of the nineteenth century; the yew; the Himalaya cedar tree, and the camphor tree. We recommend you make your way over to the large yucca ( Yucca elephantipes) that were replanted from the Botanical Gardens in the 18th century. Near the yucca we find the aloes ( Aloe), stone pine ( Pinus Pinea) and photinias ( Photinia serrulata); the yew ( Taxus Baccata), which forms part of the catalogue of trees of local interest; the Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara) and a camphor tree ( Cinnamomum camphora); Turkish oaks ( Quercus cerris) and the Australian silver-oak (Grevillea Robusta), Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), sycamores (Acer pseudoplatanus).
There are typical Mediterranean trees as well, such as Holm oak, cypress, carob, olive tree, bitter orange, fig and the Italian stone pine.
Palm tres and ginkgo ( Ginkgo biloba) , one of which is catalogued as a tree of local interest, maidenhair, acacias, Japanese privet and jacarandas also form part of the vegetation of these gardens, where there are large shrubs, such as the Balearic boxwood, which stands next to the entrance from Carrer Aribau. Next to the small pond where there is a plaque which dedicates the gardens to Ferran Soldevila, we find a display of winter hydrangeas (Bergenia cordifolia). We also find oleander (Nerium Oleander), rosewood (Tipuana tipu), Mediterranean cypress (Cupresus Sermpervirens), European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) and arborvitaes (Thuja orientalis).
The vegetation in the Universitat de Barcelona gardens is closely linked to the first botanical gardens in the city, as it contains a large number of plants that were originally planted there.
In 1784, a botanical garden connected to the Royal College of Surgery was created near the Carrer de la Cera on land ceded by Antoni de Meca i Cardona, Marquis of Ciutadilla, with the aim of facilitating the teaching of Botany. Between 1830 and 1846, the Sant Victorià Royal College of Pharmacy also had a small botanical garden, situated in Carrer d'Escudellers.
When Barcelona recovered its university in 1842, (it had been transferred in 1717 to Cervera by Felip V after the War of Succession), it was provisionally installed in the unused Carme convent and remained there until the last third of the nineteenth century. During these years, the garden of the old convent was transformed into a botanical garden and destined to the teaching of Science and Pharmacy.
In 1859, construction work on the present day building in the Plaça de la Universitat began, and the building was inaugurated in 1871. Many of the plants from the old botanical garden of the Marquis de Ciutadilla were transplanted into the gardens of the new Universitat de Barcelona. They are all that remains of the species that were contained in the first gardens dedicated to the study of botany.
The two ponds -the circular one that feeds into a channel that leads to another rectangular one, and another irregularly shaped pond, dedicated to Carles Soldevila, were constructed during a remodelling process of these gardens in the thirties, carried out by Josep Domènech. The University Gardens nearly disappeared because of university population saturation between the 1950s and 1970s. Despite the various changes made to the original neo-medieval project by Elies Rogent, which he designed together as part of a University and Gardens project, these still have charm, a lushness, balance and presence, in other words, a radically different atmosphere to what we find just past the fence that surrounds them.
When the gardens were opened to the public in 1995, they were dedicated to the historian Ferran Soldevila.
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