It’s now Thursday 4 May, and we first walked to look at a number of Antonio Gaudi houses in Passeig de Gracia – the Champs Elyssee of Barcelona – a short walk from where we are living. They are amazing as you will see from the pictures. The style of art and architecture at the turn of the 20th-century has been given different terms in different countries – including Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Secessionist, Reformist, and Modernismo here in Spain.
There were two Gaudi houses in close proximity, both amazing while at the same time being incredibly different. Casa Batilo and Casa Mila (after their owners). We considered going into Casa Mila (known by many as the Pedrera – the quarry in Spanish), the most ornate of them, but there was a long queue which would have taken ages. We had a very good look from the outside, and then went into the shop from which we were able to take a look at a little of the inside decoration – enough to to get a bit of an idea of how it looked. The shop itself was definitely worth a visit.
It is not only the Gaudi houses that are amazing, although they are the most extreme. The whole area is a wonderful place to wander as much of the architecture is ‘modernismo’ in style, all just beautiful. A lot of lovely balconies, with amazing wrought iron work, and superb street lamps.
We spent ages in the area, then walked on towards Sagrada Familia which was our objective as we had bookings. We found a very nice Japanese restaurant with a Menu of the Day and had a lovely lunch.
The Sagrada Familia
Then on to the Sagrada Familia (the Sacred or Holy Family). It is a cathedral (we understand Gaudi referred to it as an ‘Expiatory Temple’). Gaudi was the architect on the building from 1883 when he was 31 years old. The foundation stone was laid in 1882 with a different architect in charge, but he only lasted a year – he fell out with the principle promoter. Gaudi then worked on it until 1926, when he was killed in a traffic accident (age 74) – run over by a tram!
We had a fantastic Spanish woman as our guide – called Cristina. She really brought Gaudi’s creation to life with a huge amount of information. It is an overwhelming and completely awe inspiring place. From your first glance of the outside of the building, to the first astonishing minutes inside, it is really overpowering. Every aspect is beautiful. Gaudi knew from the start what he wanted to build and he never wavered. There are 3 main ‘fronts’ or ‘facades’ to the building, the Nativity, the Passion, and the Glory. One of the most amazing decisions Gaudi made was to build one section completely rather than take a horizontal approach and work on all 3 simultaneously. Knowing he was unlikely to live to see the completion of the building, this way he was able to leave a blueprint for how he wanted the whole temple to look. The building is full of light, and there is so much in there that you just walk around goggle eyed along with the many other tourists – they have 10,000 per day! It is a completely inspirational and extremely pleasurable experience. There is also a very good museum which traces the progress over its 135 years of construction so far. The current architect insists it will be completed in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death. It is tempting to come back every couple of years and see the progress!
If you come to Europe, make sure you get to Visit this amazing creation.
We arrived home very tired, had a light supper and were all early to bed in order to be ready for another busy ‘Gaudi’ day.
Friday 5 May – Park Guell
Today we went to another Gaudi creation – Park Guell (pronounced ‘guay’). It was about 30 minutes away and we had to be there by 9.45am so it was another early morning – relatively speaking!
This was a very interesting project. A businessman and friend of Antoni Gaudi, Eusebi Guell, bought land about 30 minutes outside Barcelona in the year 1900. He engaged Gaudi to develop it and they worked together to provide houses for wealthy people on spacious blocks of land. The houses were only to take up 20% of the block with the rest to be taken up with garden. It was based on an inspiration from Manchester where Guell and Gaudi were taken with a similar undertaking which they believed changed the lives of people living there. Hence the British word ‘Park’ – also, incidentally, a trendy marketing title – not the Spanish word ‘Parc’. At the time there was a great deal of concern about overcrowding in Barcelona leading to disease, so this project was all about creating healthy lifestyles.
The park contains some stunning features. Naturalistic columns which hold up roads or aqueducts , but lean in to give the impression of palm trees. A huge plaza – like a bull ring – with a particularly comfortable bench around the entire perimeter shaped with sinuous curves and covered in broken ceramic pieces – a Catalan tradition. You can gain an idea of this space in the video that follows.
Gate buildings – one for the concierge and one as a waiting ‘room’ with a new-fangled instrument called a telephone (1905, remember) to advise residents that a guest had arrived. They look like something from Walt Disney. Three of the planned 62 houses were built but the project went broke within a very few years with Mr Guell losing a lot of money. It was found that people did not want to live way out of the city, in a place where there was nothing to do, no public transport – only horses and carts – and none of the usual amenities or entertainments of cities. Within a few years, on the death of Mr Guell, the venture was sold to the Barcelona Municipality for a peppercorn sum, and was converted to a public park.
Whatever the outcome, it is a fascinating place to wander. Again we did it with a guide, and learned lots about Spanish history, and more about Gaudi’s approach.
We bought some lunch, ate it on the curved seats of the plaza , and then made our way back to town by bus in time to go to another guided tour – this time of the Concert Hall.
The Palau de Musica Catalana
This was another lovely thing to do. The concert hall – built by and for a choir, the Orfeo Catala, is absolutely beautiful. It was not built by Gaudi, although in many ways looks like his work, being full of Modernismo (Art Nouveau) touches. It is beautifully lit and although we did not go to a concert we were told that the acoustics are very good. In fact a visiting choir sang and sounded beautiful. The stage is just incredible with wonderful musical sculptures surrounding it at the back and around the edges.
Another pretty full day. We did the unusual for dinner and bought some salmon, and ate at home. Getting us ready to being home bodies again!