Sitges, an old fishing town located at the foot of the massif of El Garraf, with mythical origins in the ´Blanca Subur´ – the Iberian town described 3,000 years ago by Greek sailors –, is today an outstanding destination on the international tourism map and a privileged centre for congresses, conventions and outstanding cultural events. The cosmopolitan prestige of Sitges was born more than a century ago, when Santiago Rusiñol moved there and made the town one of the meeting points for artists and intellectuals who formed part of the Catalan Art Nouveau movement. Since then, Sitges has been linked to art and tourism. You only need to take a walk through the town to understand why: Sitges has a special light that captivates.
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In the streets of the first part of the stroll (leaving from the train station square in the direction of plaça del Cap de la Vila) you can appreciate much of the legacy of the indianos, who contributed for over a century and a half to the town development of Sitges; with pretensions of modernity, they encouraged the demolition of the old walls, the coming of the railway and the construction of new houses in keeping with the diverse architectural styles of the period: the Catalan Art Nouveau, the neoclassic, the eclectic and the noucentista (early 20th century Catalan movement).In avinguda d´Artur Carbonell and the carrer de Francesc Gumà, carrer de Sant Isidre and carrer de l´Illa de Cuba are many of these houses that belonged to indianos. Specifically in carrer de l´Illa de Cuba is Villa Avelina, at number 37, a Catalan Art Nouveau building constructed by the architect Gaietà Buïgas – the same who designed the monument to Christopher Columbus in Barcelona – and the Casa de Manuel Planas i Carbonell, at number 21. Notice the details in the wrought iron, ceramics and carpentry. It is the use of these materials in architecture that marked and differentiated the Catalan Art Nouveau movement and elevated the old crafts of blacksmith, cabinetmaker and ceramist to the category of art.
The indianos were also the first to encourage leisure activities arranged by organizations such as the Casino Prado Suburense, in carrer de Francesc Gumà, which was later the location of the Catalan Art Nouveau festivals organized by Rusiñol between 1892 and 1899.In plaça del Cap de la Vila the Casa Bartomeu Carbonell in the form of a bow stands out (also known as the Casa del Rellotge). The walk can continue through carrer Major to arrive atplaça de l´Ajuntament, where you find the old Market, an interesting example of Catalan Art Nouveau architecture conceived for public use, today an exhibition centre. Nearby, the town hall, in civil gothic style built in 1889 on the foundations and supporting walls of the medieval castle.
Very close by, crowning La Punta, one of the most photographed churches in Catalonia, the church of Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla, built in 1670.
In plaça del Baluard you should stop and enjoy the Mediterranean breeze and the serenity offered by the vast panorama of the sea and the promenade that extends to the west with two kilometres of beaches. Walking towards the east, we have a remarkable view of the Racó de la Calma, the Cau Ferrat and Maricel, with the bridge that unites the two buildings: Maricel de Mar and Maricel de Terra.
In 1892 and 1893 Rusiñol bought two fisherman´s houses from the 14th century built by the sea. He demolished them and built the Cau Ferrat, his house-workshop. The most important artists of the end of the 19th century visited the Cau Ferrat and Sitges. Two years after Rusiñol´s death, in 1933, it became the Museu Cau Ferrat (Cau Ferrat Museum).
Opposite the Cau Ferrat is Maricel, built on the site of the old Hospital de Sant Joan (14th century). The North American financier Charles Deering, friend of Ramon Casas, attracted by the bohemian atmosphere of the Sitges of the period, acquired it together with two fisherman´s houses to turn it into a palace that would be a residence and a museum. He commissioned the work and architectural elements to the multifaceted Miquel Utrillo, who used part of the medieval construction. Today the rooms of the Palau Maricel and the terraces decorated with popular ceramic are used for receptions, congresses and guided visits in the summer; the part overlooking the sea houses the Museu Maricel (Maricel Museum).
To the east, at the end of carrer de Fonollar, we find the Baluard Vidal i Quadras, from where there is a fantastic view over the beach of Sant Sebastià, which invites you to take a short stroll by the sea until reaching the old cemetery. The cemetery has a series of Catalan Art Nouveau sculptures by Reynés and Josep Llimona, among others.
Return to plaça del Baluard and go down passeig de la Ribera, where of special interest are the buildings at numbers 17, 18, 20, 22 and 29, the houses named after Antoni Serra Ferrer, Francesc Robert Yarzabal, Simó Llauradó, Marina Planas and Isabel Ferret Martorell, respectively, and the monument to El Greco, testimony of Rusiñol´s admiration for the figure and work of the great Cretan artist, and of his skill in persuading the whole town to help pay for the erection of this monument. You are recommended to continue along the promenadeand observe the mansions in the residential area of El Terramar, the first city-garden in Catalonia (1918-1933), where we also find the gardens of Terramar. At the start of the 20th century, Sitges would become one of the main centres of noucentista architecture and one of the first summer holiday centres for the Catalan bourgeoisie. We continue to the sanctuary of la Mare de Déu del Vinyet, one of the most traditional symbols of the identity of Sitges. Worshiping the Mother of God has been documented since the 14th century. The current building was constructed between 1727 and 1733.
If you return to the town along the same passeig de la Ribera, you should turn at carrer de Bonaire to reach the Museu Romàntic Can Llopis (Can Llopis Romantic Museum). In this impressive house, built outside the town in 1793, you can appreciate the splendour of a period when trade with America was the motor of Sitges´ economy and of the area.
Let us not forget other places of interest such as the building of the Hospital de Sant Joan Baptista, constructed between 1910 and 1912, an interesting work by the architect Josep Font i Gumà surrounded by a large garden. The hospital – today a residence – has various attractions that invite us to visit: the chapel, with a 16th century altarpiece painted by Jaume Forner, the adjacent muscatel vineyards and, above all, the cellar where the highly appreciated Sitges malmsey is made and also the muscat.Now outside the town, 10 minutes by car along the C-31, or by train, we find the small town ofGarraf, with the characteristic row of bathing huts on the beach and the Celler de Garraf, a work by Gaudí and his disciple Francesc Berenguer, a magnificent example of Catalan Art Nouveau architecture that now houses a restaurant.