The concept of the Ritz hotels
Luxury, sophistication and personalised service.
César Ritz marked a turning point in modern luxury hotels:
Large rooms, indirect lighting, light fabrics, fresh flowers, paint on the walls instead of wallpaper, decorative fireplaces and, for the first time, all rooms had their own bathroom with marble baths, tiled walls and top quality piping.
An impeccable, personalised customer service was also of great important. Gourmet cuisine was also introduced under the guidance of Auguste Escoffier, with an extensive menu and quality wines, transforming the traditional guest dining rooms into sophisticated restaurants.
César Ritz (1850-1918)
Swiss businessman and hotel owner, considered the founding father of the modern hotel trade.
In the late 19th century he founded the Ritz Development Company hotel chain, revolutionising the history of the traditional hotel trade and introducing the new concept of luxury hotels.
He founded the Ritz hotels in Paris, London, Madrid and Barcelona.
César Ritz died in 1918, one year after the Ritz Barcelona had opened.
The founders of the Ritz Barcelona
The company Hotel Ritz de Barcelona, SA was formed in June 1917.
The founding partners were Gonzalo Arnús and Francesc Cambó.
The first board of directors was formed by Gonzalo Arnús (chairman), Eusebio Güell (secretary) and Juan Antonio Güell, Lluís Bosch and Francesc Cambó. This was latest expanded.
Jacint Montllor, then the manager of the Ritz in Madrid, was proposed to head the project and to manage the future luxury hotel in Barcelona.
A Ritz in Barcelona
After the First World War and in view of the Universal Exhibition of Barcelona in 1929, the Catalan politician Francesc Cambó, supported by a group of public figures he was close to, asked César Ritz to build the first luxury hotel in Barcelona to promote the city and to accommodate the most important celebrities. This request was somewhat exceptional as Ritz hotels had only be opened in capital cities, although the Swiss businessman accepted.
The location of the best hotel in the city
One the company Hotel Ritz de Barcelona SA had been formed, a fantastic location was purchased. It was a privileged plot on the corner of Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes and Roger de Lluria, where the Granvia Theatre was located. The year was 1916 and a sign was erected to announce the construction of what was to be the best hotel in the city.
Construction of the hotel
The founders of the company Hotel Ritz de Barcelona SA, Francesc Cambó and Gonzalo Arnús, selected Eduard Ferrés as the project's architect.
Building was a slow and complicated process due to the First World War, which ended in 1918. Scarcity of materials, high prices and frequent riots meant that the planned investment was exceeded several times.
Three years after starting the work, the complications were overcome and the Barcelona Ritz was ready to open its doors.
Open but not inaugurated
1919 saw great social instability in the city. In February of that same year, a general strike was called when workers' wages were cut. As a result, a decree was proclaimed in which the eight-hour working day was established.
The inauguration was planned for 22nd October, but the environment was not the best for inaugurating the Ritz. What is more, an act of sabotage on the hotel piping and a strike by kitchen staff at the end of September made the situation worse. The management therefore decided to postpone the official inauguration and to open the hotel only with the staff it had available.
The first banquets
One of the first banquets to be prepared at the Ritz was in early 1920, when the kitchen staff's strike had ended. It was for the employees of El Noticiero Univeral, who were celebrating the introduction of not having to work on a Sunday.
From then on, the prestige of the kitchen at the Ritz began to rise and reached such a level that it started to serve banquets outside the hotel and even the city. In one year, it had offered 288 banquets with 10,234 diners.
The first Royal visit
In 1922, the king Alfonso XIII visited Barcelona to oversee the progress of the work on the Palace of Pedralbes and he stayed at the Ritz. It became royal accommodation for the first time.
1923 saw the military coup of general Primo de Rivera. The king and queen returned to Barcelona, with Primo de Rivera, and once again stayed at the hotel, which prepared most of the banquets held during their visit.
In 1924, the Palace of Pedralbes was officially inaugurated and the whole court returned to Barcelona. The Ritz hotel was filled with celebrities and held banquets for the royalty. A few months afterwards, the Ritz received the visit of the king and queen of Italy.
As Barcelona became more and more well-known worldwide, the most famous celebrities to visit the city stayed at the Ritz.
The Ritz and the Universal Exhibition
1929 was a year of official visits for the Ritz: the king and queen of Denmark, queen Marie of Romania and the president of the Republic of Portugal visited the hotel at the start of the year.
On 19th May 1929, king Alfonso XIII declared the opening of the Barcelona Universal Exhibition. After the opening ceremony, the royalty and their entourage visited the exhibition, which included a replica of a room at the Ritz. A banquet was held in the evening, in which the Ritz was responsible for the decoration and the banquet down to the tiniest of details.
In view of the great boom that the exhibition had meant for the city, the management decided to expand the hotel with another 60 rooms and other facilities to give a total of 250 rooms.
Times of crisis
At the end of the Universal Exhibition, Primo de Rivera resigned and the king replaced him with general Berenguer. The atmosphere was once again unstable and filled with tension. In February 1931, general Berenguer called an election, against the wishes of the majority of the political representatives. The anti-monarchical forces proclaimed the republic and the royal family had to go into exile. Alcalá Zamora was elected president on 10th December.
Given all these events, the Ritz underwent a severe crisis until 1931, as guests no longer stayed there and occupancy and revenues dwindled.
Seizure of the Ritz
On 22nd July 1936, shortly after the Spanish Civil War had broken out, the Ritz hotel was seized by the FOSIG (Federación Obrera de Sindicatos de la Industria Gastronómica - Workers' Federation of Food Industry Unions) and collectivised, with the ideal of nationalising the hotel industry and eliminating ostentation, christening it with the name Hotel Gastronómico N.º1. The basements became an air raid shelter.
During this time, it was also inhabited as a front hospital for the Red Cross. In early 1937, the Generalitat recovered the hotel and used it to accommodate its official visitors. It was also the headquarters for the social services sub-section of health.
Finally, thanks to Josep Tarradellas who did not allow it to become the headquarters of the Finance Department, the Ritz once again recovered its spirit.
After the war
After the Spanish Civil War, the hotel management changed and was taken over by Ramón Tarragó. The new manager drew up a plan of action and expansion, with discipline and strict control.
Despite the war, there was always white bread available at the Ritz, although it was subject to very strict coupon-based control. The electricity was also irregular, so the hotel installed a system to produce its own light, etc. Hence, with difficulties and restrictions, yet an excellent team of professionals, the hotel was able to build itself back up.
Noteworthy visits 1940-1960
SM Rey Leopoldo de Bélgica
SM Rey Umberto de Italia
Noteworthy visits 1961-1970
SM Rey Simeón de Bulgaria
SM Rey Miguel de Rumanía
Príncipe Rainiero de Monaco
Noteworthy visits 1971-1980
Luís García Berlanga
Noteworthy visits 1981-1990
Diego Armando Maradona
Noteworthy visits 1991-2000
Noteworthy visits 1991-2000
Paul David Hewson (Bono, U2)
SM Reina Noor de Jordania
Sir Sean Connery
Catherine Zeta Jones
In 2017, the current El Palace continues with its ambitious comprehensive refurbishment in order to recover the splendour, classic style and glamour of its greatest years.
Special attention has been paid to offering top-class cuisine and the public areas, presidential suites and standard rooms have been carefully restored with handmade carpets, restored antiques and exact replicas of objects such as lamps and curtains.
Once of the most noteworthy works has been the seventh floor, with the creation of the Diana Garden. A romantic 750 m2 area with more than fifty species of plants, fountains, pergolas and a pool, inspired by the Barcelona of the twenties and its loveliest gardens
The history of El Palace since it was founded.