Will Barcelona ever get its own Hermitage Museum?
City council's refusal to grant planning permission for a branch of the famous Russian art venue is a severe blow to a project that could end up in Madrid
The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg is the second-largest art museum in the world (after the Louvre in Paris), but opening a Barcelona branch of the museum founded by Russian empress, Catherine the Great, is proving to be no easy matter.
This week, the Barcelona city council denied planning permission to build a branch of the famous Russian museum in the Nova Bocana area of the city's port (next to the luxury W hotel), arguing that the project did not meet the necessary technical requirements.
Expressing "surprise" at the council's decision, the museum's promoters said they had followed the process of applying for planning permission to the letter, and were eager to see the formal "content and motivation" behind the refusal to give the project the go-ahead.
Going back to 2012, the city council has never embraced the idea of opening a branch of the Hermitage in the port area, expressing doubts about its private funding and reluctant to draw yet more people to an area of the city that it considers to already be overcrowded.
A "valuable legacy" for Barcelona
Yet the promoters insist that the Hermitage would provide an economic boost to the city and create "synergies with the city's museum, cultural and educational ecosystem," while providing Barcelona with "a relevant and valuable legacy."
Specifically, the Hermitage's promoters point to a municipal report in 2018 that approves the use of the Nova Bocana area for "cultural purposes" and that says the local transport network is sufficient to "absorb the new influx" that building such a project would generate.
Yet, commenting on the issue on Wednesday evening, deputy mayor, Jaume Collboni, stood behind the council's decision, insisting that they are "in favor of private cultural initiatives" and that they can find "alternative places" for the museum.
One of the reports on which the council based its refusal to grant permission suggests locating the venue at other sites on the periphery of the port area, such as the Sant Bertran dock, near the container port, or Parc de la Barceloneta, towards the Vila Olímpica area.
Meanwhile, the Madrid city council appears interested in taking advantage of the row by offering the promoters the possibility of opening the museum in the Spanish capital, saying it will contact the promoters about the "suitability" of the project in the coming weeks.
Ups and downs of expansion
The Hermitage Museum currently has branches in Amsterdam and in Vyborg, Leningrad Oblast (Russia), and also one devoted to research in Ferrara, in Italy, as well as an educational center that opened in November in the Siberian city of Omsk.
However, the museum's attempts at expansion have not always gone smoothly. Hermitage branches opened in London and Las Vegas in 2000 and 2001, respectively, but were closed down in 2007 and 2008 due to a lack of visitors.
Meanwhile, the Vilnius Guggenheim Hermitage Museum was supposed to open in the capital of Lithuania in 2011, but the project was later smothered by a corruption scandal involving an investigation into illegal funding.
Last year, renowned Japanese architect, Toyo Ito, was chosen to design Barcelona's Hermitage museum, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that the elegant 16,000-square-meter, four-storey building will ever grace Barcelona's port.