Santa Clotilde Gardens were created through the determination of an eminent personality in the first half of the twentieth century: the Marquis of Roviralta. Raül Roviralta i Astoul, the most active promoter of welfare and social work in Catalonia at that time, was also able to devote time and effort to such a laborious project as the design and creation of these gardens. His love of Lloret de Mar came through his first wife, Clotilde Rocamora, whom he met when she was studying in the school of French nuns of the Immaculate Conception, which was opened in the town in 1903. He developed the idea at an early age; in 1917 when he was only 25 years old, he moved to Lloret de Mar to look for land where he might build an isolated property, in contact with nature and open to the sea. The fact that these gardens were for him the true labour of his life was shown forever in 1952, when he was made a member of the nobility and the new marquis chose the name of Roviralta de Santa Clotilde. The purchase of the land, which was used for vineyards in the area known as La Boadella, took place in October 1918. Roviralta’s next step was to find the right person to design the project. Time has shown that his choice was the right one: the person who in a few years became fundamental in Catalan architecture and landscaping, Nicolau María Rubió i Tudurí. However, at that time he was only a promising architect who had qualified two years earlier. Nicolau was the brother of Ferran Rubió i Tudurí, Roviralta’s partner in his pharmaceutical company. The future marquis explained the situation in his handwritten notes: “Santa Clotilde […] is the result of joining together seven vineyards that belonged to the Messrs. Macia [Macià], Blanch, Cruz, Zaragoza, Calapuig, Bonanit and Carles. It was my intention from the very start to build a country house there – and for that purpose I commissioned a plan of the garden from Don Nicolás Rubió, brother of Fernando and son of Don Mariano Rubió Bellver, General of Engineers, an educated man of great prestige, soul of Barcelona Universal Exposition in 1929 and engineer manager of the Tibidabo Company Limited […] The years went by and I continued carrying out the plan that Rubió drew until it was completely finished in 1926.” (Transcription of Raül de Roviralta’s handwritten notes, 20 August 1927. Santa Clotilde Archive).
However, Roviralta did not only carry out a series of concepts proposed by the young architect; he included his own ideas in the design. In this way, there was symbiosis between the promoter’s contributions and those of the landscaper, a fructiferous exchange of notions and styles that was very interesting for the final result. Raül de Roviralta was aware of the works of the Neapolitan artist, architect and garden designer, Pirro Ligorio, particularly his magnificent furniture, advised by two new collaborators: the artist Domènec Carles and his wife, the sculptor Maria Llimona. The first house in the gardens, which was called the garage house (sic), was built in 1927. Clotilde Rocamora’s death and Roviralta’s second marriage to Odila Arenys in 1928, meant that the garage house because the provisional residence of the new couple. However, he very soon began the construction of the main house in the gardens, in 1929. In its design, Roviralta had no further help than his own knowledge and the advice of Domènec Carles: “A few days ago I began building the house at Santa Clotilde. I’m building it without an architect. I think it will be all right. (Carles is assisting me, a magnificent help).” (Raül de Roviralta’s handwritten notes, late 1930).
It was in August 1934 when the couple were finally able to move into the new house. When they were building the big house, they also worked on decorating the gardens. Again with the help of Domènec Carles, Roviralta bought different sculptures and asked the painter’s wife, Maria Llimona, to make a group of mermaids in bronze.
Owing to their particular character and sophistication, Santa Clotilde Gardens immediately aroused the admiration and interest of Catalan society at the time. For example, the magazine D’Ací i d’Allà, the first Catalan magazine in the European style, which presented bourgeois modernity through articles on art, literature, culture and society, published in 1934 “Una casa vora el mar. Santa Clotilde”, in which the new house and its gardens were described as a truly idyllic project.
This admiration for a project that was finally completed must have been a great satisfaction for Raül de Roviralta. However, the marquis did not stop working on maintaining and improving the garden.
In 1958, he decided to redesign it and had new species planted to replace the original predator eucalyptus.
At some times, fourteen gardeners were working full time planting the new species, in addition to the marquis’s complete involvement.
The years since then have witnessed the recognition of the qualities and uniqueness of Santa Clotilde by different administrations. Thus, in 1972, the gardens were designated a Picturesque Landscape by the Spanish government, and in 1994, the Catalan government (Generalitat) listed them as a Cultural Property of National Interest (BCIN) in the category of Historical Garden, within the reclassification of picturesque landscapes that then formed the Cultural Heritage of Catalonia.
The Roviralta family donated the gardens to Lloret de Mar Corporation as a consequence of the application of town planning legislation, in a long process that took from 1990 to June 1997, but maintained ownership of the two buildings and the gardens next to the houses. The gardens are a Public Green Zone and form part of a fundamental strategy to position Lloret de Mar as a resort that offers the possibility of alternative tourism to the traditional sun and beach holidays of the Costa Brava.
Thanks to Rubió i Tudurí, Santa Clotilde Gardens benefit from a design that was able to adapt carefully to the truly difficult relief of the terrain. This can be seen in the photograph below, in which the plan of the gardens overlies an orthophoto of the area.
General design of Santa Clotilde Gardens
In the first place, the design begins with lines of sight that recreate architectonic lines with curtains of trees. In this way, continuity is achieved between the garden and surrounding nature, without losing the autonomy of the space. In this sense, the sea plays a vital role in the gardens: it helps to create continuity, unlike the English landscaping model, which usually presents the garden in isolation from its environs.
Another aspect of the garden, differentiating it from other European gardens, is the absence of surrounding walls, which were substituted by gentle earth banks. This obtains greater oxygenation of the garden and appeals to the natural aspect. It differs from the Italian model, which uses walls of trees as barriers around the perimeter.
The technique used here is to make steps in the land with terracing, where the paths cross by means of ramps and steps between the different heights. The buildings are in the highest part of the land and crown the gardens that descend towards the sea, which is an undeniable aesthetic criterion from a conical perspective.
The gardens are arranged around the main stairway, known as the Stairway of the Mermaids, which goes from the terrace around the house to the sea and is crossed by three paths. The central steps and paths meet in a large space that resembles a Mediterranean amphitheatre with classic symmetry. The slopes of the land allow visitors to see how the garden meets the sea from different strategic vantage points. In this way, the coves of la Boadella and Santa Cristina look like the natural prolongation of the different terraces.
Main spaces in the structure of Santa Clotilde Gardens
Rubió i Tudurí’s talent created the gardens in a very particular style, thanks to the way in which he adapted to design to the relief of the terrain. The architect began with a series of visual strategies based on the three main elements in the gardens: vegetation, sculptures and water.
Symmetries and visual concentrations: an appropriate use of the plant fences, which make walls, and particular elements, the position of the sculptures, to direct visitors’ eyes towards a series of strategic points, such as the descent of the main stairway to the sea.
Dialogue between the gardens and the environs: the Mediterranean Sea and the rugged coast in the surroundings help to create a great visual effect.
Use of the vegetation: Species and colours are another resource to enjoy the view. The effect of the contrast is enhanced by the blue of the sky, the permanently green vegetation and the white sculptures.
All together, a series of visual strategies were deliberately used by Rubió i Tudurí to provoke the active participation of the visitors in the gardens. The position of these elements subtly invites frequent movements and changes of position, in search of the different perspectives of the landscape. The gardens can be visited according to thirteen points – successive stages from the entry point. These points can be grouped according to their typology: promenades and paths, squares, vantage points and steps.
Promenades and paths
These run parallel to the sea and connect the squares with vantage points. They contain sculptures of neo-classic busts.
The pergola is the part of the gardens used as a museum, with a series of banners that give general information about the garden and the people who helped to create it.
Conceived as places for contemplation, most of the squares have benches where visitors can rest. The Square of the Mermaids is in the centre, where the three main paths in the gardens meet. Exquisitely designed, it is surrounded by magnificent cypresses and adorned by four neo-classic busts and the two bronze mermaids.
These are a series of positions with views over the sea. There are two of them, at opposite ends of the gardens, as well as the main stairway, the Stairway of the Mermaids, which despite not being a viewpoint, descends to the sea and provides an impressive perspective. La Boadella viewpoint is also a strategic point for watching the birds in the area: gulls and other seabirds, the mouth of the River Tordera and the coves of S’Agulla, Santa Cristina and la Boadella.
These are among the most characteristic elements in the gardens and totally necessary because of height of the terrain. As they adapt to the complicated relief, the stairways provide excellent views over the surrounding scenery. The Stairway of the Mermaids is the main one, the true central axis allowing the gardens to adapt to the terrain. It is adorned by five bronze sculptures of mermaids.
In the design of the gardens, of nineteenth century inspiration as remarked above, not only the architecture aims to achieve a work of art; the elements of the garden respect a similar criterion.
Three elements contribute to defining the Santa Clotilde’s particular style: the vegetation, the sculptures and water.
Regarding the vegetation, Rubió i Tudurí decided that most of the species used should be autochthonous and characteristic of the Mediterranean climate. They were planted beginning in the 1920s, and consisted both of trees and shrubs with perennial leaves – pines, cypresses and cedars – and of deciduous trees – lime and aspen. With this variety he succeeded in creating great diversity in the colours, by contrasting the shades of green in the perennial trees with the variety of colours in the deciduous species, whose leaves change colour depending on the season. However, the gardens also include some species from other latitudes which he decided to adapt, such as Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara), Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) and Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa).
The design of the proposed vegetation, the selection and specific position of the plants aimed to achieve a series of effects, particularly two: on one hand, the careful contrast with the natural woodland on the eastern side of the entrance to the gardens; on the other, in order to transmit the nineteenth century notion of domesticated nature, the use of topiary art in some places. This refers to the technique of systematically pruning different plant species to create architectonic spaces and artistic elements.
Another aspect to highlight in the design of the vegetation is the use of some elements with a symbolic significance. Three of these can be noted:
Few flowers: this decision alludes to the model of Renaissance gardens, acknowledging it as a source of inspiration. The chromatic effect of the green masses of trees and smaller plants, nearly all with perennial leaves, predominates in the gardens. This is a strategy to give the plant ensemble rigorous homogeneity, only altered by the whiteness of the sculptures.
Use of ivy: some examples of this species were planted in the countersteps of the stairways, with a very attractive result. This is a technique that efficiently integrates the stairways into the gardens, naturalising them and transmitting a unified notion of the space. After experimenting with this technique in Santa Clotilde, Rubió i Tudurí, used it in many other gardens.
Use of bay trees: bay is a tree that has traditionally been linked with Lloret de Mar, as the name of the town and its coat of arms indicate. In contrast, a plant should be mentioned that is characteristic of many Mediterranean gardens but which was not planted in Santa Clotilde: palm trees. When he was planning the vegetation, Rubió i Tudurí had to discard it because it would have been a strange species in a place that took as its initial point of reference the model of Italian gardens, inspired by the Renaissance.