Salvador Dalí, the master of Surrealism and one of the most important artists of the 20th century, had a special relationship with Figueres – his birthplace and the place of his death. Yet his relationship with Figueres goes beyond happy circumstance and the city's undoubted universal appeal. Indeed, it always had a special place in the great artist's heart, even during his "golden years" when he lived in Paris and New York.
Dalí's most important legacy to the city of Figueres is the theatre-museum that bears his name. It is one of the most popular museums in Europe, and is reason enough alone to visit the city at any time of year.
Yet Figueres, the capital of the region of Alt Empordà, is also an important centre of culture, gastronomy and shopping and has plenty to offer the more adventurous visitor. Here, we present a brief guide to the city, following in Dalí's footsteps.
DALÍ'S BIRTH HOUSE
Salvador Dalí Domènech was born in Figueres on 11 May 1904 to a wealthy family. His father was a solicitor. The house is located at no. 20 Carrer de Monturiol, and is known as Cara Puig. It is a modernist building designed by a famous architect, Josep Azemar, the city's chief architect between 1899 and 1914. Figueres also boasts several other buildings designed by Azemar, including a number of houses on La Rambla.
The painter's only sister, Anna María Dalí, was also born here.
The house is currently closed to visitors due to an ongoing legal dispute. There are long-standing plans to convert this publicly owned property into a cultural centre showcasing personal items belonging to Dalí, but no public opening date has yet been set.
CHURCH OF SANT PERE
Figueres' largest church is where Dalí was baptised and where his family regularly attended mass. The site dates back to the year 1020, and it still houses some remains of its Roman past. However, the current building is mainly of Gothic construction, although it has undergone multiple extensions over the years. The baptismal font is the same one in which Dalí himself was baptised.
Institut de Batxillerat Ramon Muntaner - © Lumitas
Dalí began his education in a state primary school. Two years later, however, his parents moved him to the Hispano-French School of the Immaculate Conception. There he learned his third language, French (he already spoke Catalan and Castilian). This undoubtedly influenced his later work as a Surrealist painter in Paris. He began his secondary schooling at the Marist Brothers' school, and subsequently moved to Figueres college.
The college site is now occupied by the Institut Ramon Muntaner (Pça. de l'Institut, on the corner of Carrer Muntaner). It has been substantially changed and remodelled over the years, but retains the cloisters of the original Franciscan Convent, where you can still get a feel for what the place was like during Dalí's time.
Dalí founded Studium with a few friends from college, publishing his first written works in this magazine.
MUSEU DE L'EMPORDÀ
Museu de l'Empordà - © Kippelboy
This is one of Figueres' must-see museums. It is located at the end of La Rambla and houses the Institute's collections. Its collection includes fascinating paintings by several prominent Catalan artists of the late 19th century, as well as works by local artists such as Joan Núñez, Dalí's former master at the Figueres School of Art, where the grand master received his first formal art training.
TOY MUSEUM OF CATALONIA
This is one of Spain's most important museums of its type and is located in a former mansion that once belonged to the Baron of Terrades. It subsequently housed Café Paris, a prominent café on La Rambla and one of Dalí's favourite haunts. It has now been converted into a museum and contains a permanent exhibition of artefacts from the artist's early life, including a family photo album and a stuffed teddy bear known as "Marquina", which the poet Federico García Lorca mentioned explicitly in one of his letters to Dalí. "Don Osito Marquina es mono y remono", wrote Lorca in 1928.
SANT FERRAN CASTLE
This imposing military castle, which covers 32 hectares (80 acres), was built in the 18th century. It overlooks the city and a large part of the Empordà region. This vast edifice is certainly worth a visit. By virtue of its size, it is one of the largest in Europe. In fact, it is so big that you can sail a dinghy in its water tanks.
Salvador Dalí completed his military service at this castle.
Cafés were an important part of daily life across Spain in the early 20th century. The most iconic example in Figueres was the Cafeteria Astoria, which overlooked the city's main street, La Rambla. The bar area remains exactly as it was during Dalí's time, and he was a frequent visitor. There are numerous photos of the artist spending time at the café.
The Duran Hotel, located at no. 5 Carrer de Lasauca next to La Rambla, is one of Figueres' most prestigious addresses. Dalí would stay here whenever he returned to the city of his birth, until he later bought Torre Galatea. He used to stay in room 101, and Gala in room 102. He also used to dine there on a regular basis, as the Ca la Teta was one of his favourite restaurants. Dalí had an enduring friendship with the owner, Durán, as demonstrated by the many photos of the artist on the walls of the hotel.
It remains one of the city's finest hotels, and the cellar (El Celler) is preserved exactly as it would have looked in Dalí's time.
The restaurant serves up excellent local cuisine, with a lunch menu that offers great value for money.
PLAÇA GALA-SALVADOR DALÍ
The square that stands in front of the theatre-museum was entirely remodelled when the theatre was constructed. Dalí turned the space into a unique sculpture park, featuring representations of himself along with other artists such as Antonin Mercè and Wolf Wostel. Would we have expected anything else?
This is undoubtedly the "star" attraction of Figueres. It was created by Dalí himself, when he converted the former municipal theatre (where his works were exhibited for the first time as part of a joint exhibition in 1919) into a vast museum housing a multitude of works that the artist left to the city.
The centre has around 30 different spaces, along with the rooms in Torre Galatea, where Dalí lived towards the end of his life. It also houses his burial tomb.
Torre Galatea now forms part of the Dalí Theatre-Museum complex. Along with the dome of the theatre-museum itself, it is the oldest part of the building.
The tower dates from the 17th century, and was formerly part of the city's fortifications, half-way between the city centre and Sant Ferran Castle. Originally known as Torre Gorgot, it was converted into a municipal water tower in the 19th century.
Dalí bought the tower with the intention of living there. He renamed it Torre Galatea, in homage to Gala, and completely transformed its appearance, adding the colourful façade and bread and eggs.
Gala died in Port Lligat, at the couple's Cadaqués home, on 10 June 1982. Dalí then moved to the Castle of Púbol, which he had given to Gala as a gift. However, when a fire broke out in the castle in 1984, he was forced to leave. It was then that he moved to Torre Galatea. Dalí lived there from October 1984, and died there on 23 January 1989.
It now forms part of the Dalí Theatre-Museum complex.
Dalí Theatre-Museum - © albTotxo
One of the annexes to the Dalí Theatre-Museum houses a collection of 37 gold and precious stone jewels that Dalí produced between 1940 and 1970. Alongside the jewels, the exhibition also features the associated design drawings and paintings.
GUIDED TOUR: FIGUERES, THE BIRTHPLACE OF DALÍ
The Figueres Tourist Information Centre offers a guided tour of the
city centre, which covers several of the places mentioned.
For more information:
Tel.: +34 972 503 155 or +34 607 678 306
Follow in the footstep of the legendary Salvador Dali. Thanks to the Renfe-SNCF en Coopération high-speed trains, the city of Figueres has never been this close!