mailbox - Casa de l'Ardiaca

Barcelona’s secret mailbox & its lucky turtle

Did you know that in Barcelona there is a figure of a turtle that gives good luck to those who touch it? Did you know that this figure is part of an artistic postbox designed by one of the great modernist architects? Did you know that this sculpture makes allegory to justice? And that all this in a building that wisely amalgamates Gothic, Renaissance and Modernism architecture?

We are talking about the mailbox of Casa de l’Ardiaca, located on Carrer de Santa Llúcia, 1, next to the famous Cathedral of Barcelona. It is located outside a curious building with several centuries of existence.

It is worth knowing a bit of its history to interpret and appreciate the grandeur of the place.

Casa de l’Ardiaca

The Casa de l’Ardiaca was in its beginnings a convent-fortress built by templars in the 12th century, taking advantage of one of the walls of the old Roman wall of the city. The place was occupied, later, by members of the Church. Between the years before and after the turn of the century from the XIV to the XV, the archdeacon Lluís Desplà i Oms carried out an important remodeling using the Gothic style as a basis, although he impregnated it with Renaissance notes.The result of this action was the name by which this unique house is known, which was perpetuated as the residence of this ecclesiastical hierarchy until the confiscation of Mendizábal in 1835, the date on which the building was expropriated.

During the following years the place came to be used as a courthouse and, even, as an artists’ workshop.

In 1895 the building was acquired by the Colegio de Abogados de Barcelona (Bar Association of Barcelona), moving from its old headquarters in the Plaza de Sant Felip Neri and the services of the architect Lluis Doménech i Montaner were hired to carry out a remodeling of the house.

Among the works to be carried out was the realization of this mailbox, in which an allegorical motive towards justice, the activity developed by the bar association, should be exalted in a fundamental way.

For that, he used white marble (very noble) and following the naturalist guidelines of modernism he designed the rectangular piece in which five swallows, a turtle and an ivy with seven leaves are carved. In addition, on the upper left is the coat of arms of the bar (with the sword and scales of justice).

And you will wonder what is the meaning of those figures sculpted on the stone and what possible relationship they have between them and justice. Well, although it may seem strange to you, it is loaded with a strong artistic symbolism:

Justice is defined as the freedom and speed of action (the swallows), which due to the immense administrative and procedural tangle (the ivy) leads to a slowness of action (the turtle). And all this seasoned with the coat of arms of the bar association.

Needless to say, the dean of the moment did not like this work and wanted to change it. He requested the pertinent explanations to the architect, who after justifying himself released the famous phrase of “lawyers and solicitors, go to hell in two and two”. Finally the dean agreed to keep it.

The building was acquired by the Barcelona City Council in 1919. Two years later it became the headquarters of the Municipal Historical Archive.

And thanks to this little story and the characters that made it possible, we can now enjoy both the interior courtyard of the Casa de l’Ardiaca (a small cloister with a fountain in its center) and its exterior where you can discover the beautiful mailbox.

And one last piece of advice. Do not forget to caress the shell of the turtle, according to the locals, it will bring you good luck!

We love Barcelona. We love Catalonia. We want you to fall in love with it too!