Every city has something that makes it unique. It might be a historical event, magnificent building or famous person. In Barcelona, the famous person would be Antoni Gaudi and the magnificent building would be La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Both Gaudi and La Sagrada Familia where highlights on our tour today.
We decided to try something new this trip. We hired an experienced tour guide to guide us through the labyrinth city streets of Barcelona and provide an informational commentary during our tour. Our guide Monica is a Catalan native and lifelong inhabitant of Barcelona, so was very knowledgeable on local history and architecture. She met us at 10:00am at our hotel lobby, we all walk outside, she hailed us a taxi and we were off!
Our first stop was Park Guell, which is in the north part of the city. This park was originally part of a failed development plan with his friend and patron Eusebi Guell. Guell wanted to create an English garden village for elites of the city to move out of the downtown. However, the plan was not well received as the site was too remote. After 14 years there was only one 1 client, and the development folded. However, by that time Gaudi had designed the grounds, a common market and meeting area, a “show house” in which he lived until a year before his death, a guardhouse, and the framework for a church. The city acquired the park and currently maintains it.
One of the things that was evident by the park was Gaudi’s infusion of nature into his design. Nowhere in the park are there corners or straight lines. This is because Gaudi knew there were no straight lines found in nature. He also used the examples of nature in using trees and shrubbery that could withstand the hot, arid Barcelona climate and not require constant watering. In addition, he designed the garden area to collect rain water by insisting on sand in the garden area, which would seep through the ground and into hollow columns in the market area below, and collect in a cistern for use by the community.
My Thoughts on Park Guell
To me, Gaudi had a mystical, almost whimsical approach to his designs. In addition to his dislike of straight lines and corners, he also liked brightly colored tile mosaics, symbolism and local superstitious customs. The entrance to the garden is guarded by a brightly tiled dragon (which is now a salamander due to some moronic vandals in the 1980s.)
It is clear by Park Guell that Gaudi put a lot of thought and effort not just in his design, but in the functional use of his creations. This effort is plainly seen in his magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia.
La Sagrada Familia
We took a taxi down to our next stop, the great Sagrada Familia. This cathedral consumed Gaudi’s attention from 1883 until the end of his life in 1926. It is the legacy of his life, a cathedral like no other I’ve ever seen. This cathedral was started in 1882 but is still not completed. At the time of Gaudi’s death only a quarter of the project was finished. Although he knew that he would not live to see it completed, nonetheless he worked tirelessly on the project for over 40 years. Local history suggests that Gaudi was distracted thinking about the cathedral design and wasn’t paying attention. He was struck by a tram while crossing the street and died from his injuries.
My Thoughts on La Sagrada Familia
Gaudi’s love of design with nature elements can be seen in this cathedral, as well as many modernist design concepts popular during his time. While I have no evidence to support this, I have always wondered if Gaudi influenced Spanish artists like Picasso and Salvador Dali. There are many Gaudi-like designs found in their paintings. As Gaudi grew older, he embraced his Roman Catholic faith even stronger. This shows in the design of the cathedral. “La Sagrada Familia” is Spanish for “The Sacred Family”, and Gaudi has design elements to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Apostles, the Holy Trinity, and tenets of the Catholic faith. He pored over lighting, sound as well as structural design elements in his cathedral design. It is truly awe inspiring.
We visited Sagrada Familia in 2004 but was excited to see more completed in the last 13 years. I have visited dozens of cathedrals during my travels, and Sagrada Familia is one of my personal favorites. It is very different from the “classical” cathedrals in the rest of Europe. You may love it or hate it, but you will definitely have an opinion. Per our tour guide Monica, it is now Spain’s most visited building. The influx of tourist visitor money has expedited the building process. It is on schedule to be completed in 2026. I hope we can return to see it then.
La Pedrera and Casa Batllo
The last two Gaudi buildings we visited were Casa Mila (AKA “La Pedrera”) and Casa Batllo. Both of these buildings can be found on Passeig de Gracia, one of the main avenues in Barcelona. The avenue and the buildings were created as a part of “Eixample”, a planned expansion of Barcelona in the mid 1800s away from the Gothic Quarter to a more organized and systematic street layout.
DJ and I visited La Pedrera back in 2004, and due to the crowds waiting to get in to both buildings on this day, we decided to forego a visit this time. Instead, Monica took us around to many buildings in the area that were originally family homes, but over the years have been converted to shops. She took us into one shop that still had the kitchen from the original design, but now was a small dining room for a restaurant.
This tour took us most of the day. Afterwards we had a late lunch, a siesta, and relaxed for the rest of the day. Debra did some shopping and we had a LATE dinner (10:30pm) before retiring for the evening to rest up for the next day.