Around the World: In Barcelona, In Search of Antonio Gaudi
Barcelona is a splendid city, one that really requires multiple visits for full appreciation. The city’s cultural ambience is absolutely extraordinary. Among the must see attractions are the magnificent Miro Museum and equally impressive Picasso Museum, both of which deserve lengthy visits instead of the cursory browses given them by tourists who don’t know how to stop and see the paintings.
But what distinguishes Barcelona from other cities with impressive cultural attributes and an equally thriving arts scene is the presence of the iconic architecture of Antonio Gaudi (June 25, 1852 to June 10, 1926), whose amazing ‘Modernismo’ style buildings are absolutely unique – and magnificent.
‘Modernismo’ is the Spanish version of Art Nouveau, and Antonio Gaudi is its master. The collection of his buildings is exquisite and exciting. They’re scattered throughout town, but all are easily accessed for exterior viewing. Seeing them all is an essential part of any tour of Barcelona.
Gaudi’s most famous building and his masterwork is good place to start your Gaudi tour. It is the Templo de la Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family), a construction that is so unique and spectacular it will stop you in your tracks.
The Templo de la Sagrada Familia is one of the world’s most unusual places of worship. It is cathedral-like in its majestic dimensions, and every inch of it, outside and in, is covered with decorative elements representing the natural world, religion, Catalonian culture and very essential elements of architectural tradition.
Plain and precious stone, wood, ironwork, wood, mosaics and tiles are used to cover the surfaces with elaborate sculptural details that can seem overwhelming in a positive sort of way.
Templo de la Sagrada Familia has a fascinating history, stretching from the start of construction in 1882 and its completion in November 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church and proclaimed it a minor basilica.
Templo de la Sagrada Familia is a considered a key symbol of Barcelona and its sophisticated cultural ambience.
Actually, Gaudi planned the church as a cathedral in the Gothic basilica style. It’s built mostly of stone, but it has a lot of iron, mosaic and clay used in its main structure and in the 18 soaring, glittering towers that further adorn the building.
The largest tower is intended to symbolize Christ, while another is designated as representing the Virgin Mary, and twelve represent the apostles with four indicating that they stand for the evangelists.
The facade of Templo de la Sagreda Familia is a massive labyrinth of statues small and large, as well as priceless sculptures depicting events in the life of Jesus. There are sculpted vines and flowers, columns that rise out of concrete or stone carved artificial tree trunks, while enormous and soaring pillars are supported by gigantic stone tortoises.
Gaudi, who during his later years lived a monk-like life, resided in his workshop at the Templo de la Sagrada Familia, supervised all of the labor-intensive work that was done on the building and continually refined his vision and style.
Unfortunately, Gaudi died at the height of his career and stylistic evolution, On June 25, 1926, he was taking his daily walk along Gran Via de les Corts Catalenes and, between Brione and Bailen Streets, he was knocked down by a tram, and passed out. He was wearing worn inexpensive clothing, and nobody recognized him. Finally, a policeman hailed a cab and transported him to Santa Creu Hospital, where he was eventually recognized. But the doctors were unable to save his life.
A huge crowd of mourners attended his memorial service at the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, inside the crypt of Templo de la Sagrada Familia. He is buried inside the church. When you visit the church, you can see the crypt and access the Nave, Crypt, Museum, Shop, and the Passion and Nativity towers.
If you go up to the towers, you must do so by elevator and stairs. The structure and decoration are fascinating, and the panoramic view of Barcelona is simply amazing.
Other Gaudi architectural masterpieces are located throughout Barcelona.
The magnificently designed Parque Guell (or Guell Park), a magnificent public space, features a fantastic and rather whimsical collection of structures, including a mosaic-covered bench that looks like a serpentine monster winding through the park. There is a mosaic pagoda, as well as several gingerbread houses, grottos and subterranean paths. A spectacular staircase divided by a huge sculptural dragon leads to a plaza supported by 86 pillars. The park pavilion is pure fantasy.
Not to be confused with Guell Park, Guell Palace is the mansion Gaudi designed for one of his best clients and patrons, the industrialist tycoon Eusebi Guell. The mansion is characterized by elegant columns that frame graceful arches, and has a roof that’s covered with towers and sculpted chimneys. You may recognize Guell Palace or Palau Guell from the movies. The mansion was used as a location in Antonioni's film, “The Passenger,” as the backdrop for the first meeting between Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider.
More must sees on the Gaudi tour include the master builder’s distinctive residences, most of which are still privately owned and lived in.
Casa Mila, an apartment building with a wavy facade, is also known as La Pedrera or The Quarry because of all the stone used in its construction. The roof has ventilation units that look like armored warrior knights who are dressed to go into battle.
Casa Vicens features a gorgeous blue and white checkerboard and latticework facade, and it has numerous towers perched on its roof. In 2007, Casa Vicens was put up for sale and the asking price was 27 million Euros or approximately 40 million US dollars.
Casa Battlo is a smaller residential building with a brilliantly intricate
facade, much of which is covered with a mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles that range in color from golden and orange to green and blue. The building has curved shell-like balconies and the arched roof looks like the back of a dragon. The building’s design is said to be based on the legend of St. George and the dragon. St. George is the patron saint of Catalonia, and Gaudi was proud of his Catalan heritage and fascinated by Catalan tradition and culture.
All of Gaudi’s buildings, most of which are located in Barcelona and have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are characterized by the architect’s highly individual and absolutely brilliant style. Gaudi’s work, vision and lifestyle have fascinated tourists from around the world for a century, and will continue to do so.
In Gaudi buildings with public access, you’ll also find displays of the
master builders architectural drawings and models, as well as other memorabilia. Any visit to Barcelona is incomplete without a Gaudi tour, guided or self-conducted, of the city.
For further information about Gaudi and his buildings, and travel to Barcelona visit https://www.barcelonaturisme.com/