Hospital of Pilgrims in Altafulla

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This historical landmark is a building presently known as the old “Hospital de Pelegrins” (Hospital of Pilgrims) located in Altafulla, a town in the province of Tarragona on the southern coast of Catalonia. The Renaissance style building (XVI – XVII centuries) housed the laboratory of the chemist and naturalist Antoni de Martí i Franquès (Altafulla, 1750 – Tarragona, 1832), where he developed a eudiometrical procedure to determine the composition of atmospheric air. Currently, the building belongs to the town council.

Throughout his life, Martí built up a remarkable library that included the most important contemporary European scientific publications, as well as a laboratory where he conducted his experimental activities.

He lived in his hometown of Altafulla until 1798, when he moved to the city of Tarragona, which is where he died in August 1832, but it was in Altafulla where he carried out much of his experimental work. However, he spent periods of time in Barcelona where he entered into contact with scientific institutions, and in 1786 he was elected a member of the Real Academia de Ciencias y Artes de Barcelona (Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona).

Martí conducted exhaustive experimental work on the study of atmospheric air. His key paper on this subject (Memoir on the
Quantity of Vital Air in the Atmosphere, and the Different Methods of Measuring it) was read on May 12th, 1790, at the Royal
Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona and had a significant impact abroad. Abridged translations of this paper into
French, English and German were published respectively in the Journal de physique, de chimie et d’histoire naturelle, the
Philosophical Magazine and the Annalen der Physik. The paper was the fruit of Martí’s eudiometrical experiments carried out in the summer of 1787 and was already written in terms of antiphlogistic chemistry. Martí was very well acquainted with the different eudiometrical tests known up to that time. The subject of his essay was the examination of the suitability and accuracy of these tests, with the intention of presenting his own device for the analysis of atmospheric air. Martí favoured the sulphide test using a solution of calcium sulphide impregnated with nitrogen as the eudiometrical means. Martí stated that he had repeated this procedure on so many days that the uniformity of the results obtained clearly demonstrated the exactness of the method. His firm conclusion was that in all seasons, in every month and at all hours, the air of his country taken in the open fields was always composed of between 21 and 22 parts oxygen, and between 78 and 79 parts nitrogen.

Martí’s eudiometrical test had a significant impact on chemists interested in the composition of the atmospheric air. Between 1820 and 1823, Martí’s eudiometrical test was still being used by Eugène Julia de Fontenelle (professor of medical chemistry at the Paris Faculty of Medicine) in a study on the unhealthy emanations from marshes, latrines, stables and sewers. In 1837, Dalton praised Martí’s eudiometrical test in the following terms: “It was to de Martí of Spain we owe the most successful attempt with the quadrisulphuret of lime to abstract the oxygen fromatmospheric air. His memoir, printed in 1795, and reprinted in the Journal de Physique, vol. lii., 1801, may still be read with interest.”