March 10, 2013

Visiting Gaudí in Barcelona

Rarely is a city so defined by one artist or architect. Often there are several monuments or important buildings designed or created by one individual, but these are alongside others, both famous and unknown. However, the city of Barcelona is different. Yes, its streets are lined with buildings by many architects, but the work by one individual dominates that of all others. And the buildings designed by this artist are unlike any others. These houses, churches, and buildings seem more suited to exist in the imagination than a busy urban setting. And, of course, the artist in question is Antón Gaudí.

As I have said previously, I prefer wandering city streets to visiting the hallowed halls of museums. Because of the numerous fairy tale facades created by Antón Gaudí the streets of Barcelona truly have become a museum. Gaudí lived in the beginning of the 20th century and was a prominent member of the Modernista (art nueveau) movement in Spain. The designs of his buildings are very flowing and mimic the patterns of nature.

Casa Batlló or House of Bones

We began our Gaudí tour on Passeig de Gracia a few blocks from our hotel. The first house we came upon was the Casa Batlló or House of Bones. The facade of this building tells the story of Saint George and the Dragon with the windows and balconies representing the bones of the dragon, the colorful tiles its scales, the roof its tail, and the chimneys the sword of Saint George. The inside of this house is open to the public to tour, however, we elected to move on to the next building.

Casa Batlló or House of Bones

Less than a block away is Casa Milà, better know as la Pedrera. This is a large, sand-colored apartment building crowned with chimneys that look like something directly out of a Star Wars movie. Nothing is square or symmetrical in this building and the balconies are adorned with wrought-iron banisters shaped like leaves and vines. Again, there is a portion of this building that the public can visit, but we opted to admire it from the sidewalk.

Casa Milà or la Pedrera

The balconies of la Pedrera.

The next stop on our architecture tour is often referred to as Gaudí's masterpiece, la Sagrada Familia (or the Church of the Sacred Family). Even after seeing Gaudí's other works and photographs of this church, nothing could have prepared to see it in person. This building truly is like no other structure in the world. First, construction continues on it to this day. When he designed it, Gaudí wanted the building of the church to be funded solely by donations and so when it is completed it will have taken over a century to construct. Next, the design of the facades of la Sagrada Familia cannot accurately be described in words, it is best to just see it.

La Sagrada Familia

Construction continues at la Sagrada Familia.

Is it beautiful? Is it gaudy? I will let you judge that for yourself.

A tree with white doves on one of the facades of la Sagrada Familia.

The final stop on our architecture walk around Barcelona was Park Güell. Designed by Gaudí as a gated community that never came to fruition, it is now a city park. Located on a hill above the Eixample neighborhood of the city, it boasts impressive views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea below. The majority of the structures that are located in Park Güell were intended to be community gathering places - park benches, a covered area to house a farmer's market, a school, a church, and more. Everything is covered in bright-colored tile mosaics giving the park a playful, happy atmosphere.

A gingerbread looking building at the entrance to Park Güell.

The day we were at Park Güell was beautiful and sunny. It was filled with people sitting on the benches, wandering about, and enjoying the view. It was a perfect place to pause and reflect. We sat down to relax and be thankful for being able to visit an amazing destination like Barcelona and for having the opportunity to travel around Spain.

The ceiling mosaic in a covered area that was intended to host a farmer's market at Park Güell.

So, what impression did Barcelona's famous architect, the city, and the country of Spain have on me? I can't say I love Gaudí's work; however, I can say I will never forget it. And while there are many other places in the world I have enjoyed visiting or hope to see in the future, I cannot wait to return to Spain.

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