Friday, April 20, 2012

A Gaudí day

We left Andorra right after breakfast in order to have enough daylight left to jump right into Barcelona. We succeeded; the roads were relatively clear, the children relatively quiet, and the navigator relatively reliable on how to get there. After a harrowing descent into the bowels of the hotel to park our car, we skipped unpacking to head right out for our first taste of modernisme, the Catalan version of art nouveau. In the early 20th century Barcelona was transformed by this movement, and this influence is most visible in L’Eixample, the grid-plan district that was developed from the 1870s on, in which our hotel was located.

The most famous modernisme architect was Antoni Gaudí, whose family originally came from somewhere in the Auvergne, our neck of the woods. You can read more about his life and architecture here and here, but in my opinion the key is integration of ceramics, stained glass, wrought iron and woodwork into his structures, in addition to the recurring themes of religion and nature. Our first glimpse was Casa Milà (La Pedrera), with its ice-cream eaves. The building was finished in 1912 and is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list along with his other works in Barcelona. Steel structure and curtain walls enforce the façade (which is self-supporting), and an underground parking area and separate lifts and stairs for the owners and their servants were pioneer features in architecture of this type.

We were still blocks away from our next destination when we could already see the construction cranes and towers of Barcelona’s landmark Sagrada Família. Gaudi spent the last years of his life working on the church, and even now, 100 years later, the church has yet to be finished. The construction is funded exclusively by private donations and entry fees, and I found estimates of date of finish starting with 2020.

Completed, the church will have 18 spires: a dozen 330 ft spires representing the apostles will stand in groups of four and mark the three entry facades. Four taller towers dedicated to the Evangelists will surround the two tallest central towers: a 400 ft tower of Mary and a 550 ft Jesus tower. Circling the building will be an exterior ambulatory, and the recently finished Passion façade will chronicle the life of Christ along with the Nativity (only façade Gaudí lived to see finished) and Glory facades. Gaudí lived on site for more than a decade, and is buried in the crypt which is visible from windows within the church.

The interior was like no other church that I’ve seen before – in place of a hushed, severe, dark atmosphere was light, curves… beauty. I can’t find the words to describe it, you must visit it yourself.

A quick train ride and we emerged near Casa Batlló. Gaudí based the work on the legend of St. George and the dragon, conveyed with skull-like balconies and a dragon-back roof. Gaudí introduced several new techniques in the treatment of materials in his architecture, and one example is trencadís, which utilizes waste ceramic pieces. The façade is covered with mosaics utilizing this technique.

We spent two nights in Barcelona, and I’ll jump ahead to our final morning because we hopped aboard the #24 bus to Park Güell, the 30 acre garden that was supposed to be a 60-residence gated community. My favorite feature of the park was the mosaics, possibly best represented by the dragon fountain near the entrance of the park, but visible throughout with the largest-scale being on the grand terrace.

The focal point of the park, a long mosaic bench in the form of a sea serpent surrounds a plaza that has a great view over the city. Rumor has it that to design the curvature of the bench surface Gaudí used the shape of buttocks left by a naked workman sitting in wet clay. True or not, what is a fact is that he designed a water system in which rain that falls on the plaza flows into and through the columns of the “market” and power the park’s fountains. (The market is a forest of columns with an undulating mosaic canopy under which the communities produce market would have been staged, and a good example of Gaudí’s incorporation of nature into his work, just like in the arcade of columns that imitates a surfer’s “perfect wave.”)

And here we had reasons 1 through 7 why Barcelona is my favorite European city to date, #1-4 being the four Gaudí works, #5 being the ease of public transportation, #6 being the grid plan (with the blocks of houses with trimmed corners forming octagonal squares at all intersections) and #7 the buttock bench in Park Güell. More reasons to follow as the second day in Barcelona was spent on the Ramblas and in the Gothic quarter, Barri Gòtic.


  1. So interesting. I had read about the Barcelona church, but I didn't know the other facts in your post. What a great idea for the water for the fountains. Ingenious!

  2. I'm anxious to get to Barcelona, I'm hoping this summer.
    And I had no idea Gaudi's family was from Auvergne, what an interesting fact! :)

  3. As one of the buildings on my "list" I was delighted to read your account of it. It makes me even more keen to see it now. Such an extraordinary architect, and still under-appreciated.

  4. Barcelona is definitely on my 'bucket list' and this post has added some extra lustre to my desire to go to Spain.

    The Sagrada Familia has fascinated me for the longest time and your photos were great as they showed me views that I haven't seen before.

    Happy days to all in your adventurous family and thank you for including this in this month's Post Of the Month club.

  5. Definitely on my bucket list. Love Gaudi - so creative!

  6. I love Gaudi! Barceona is one of my favourite cities

  7. I absolutely love Gaudi and Barcelona. We went there on a day trip but would love to go back there and spend a long weekend!

    Erin x


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