“What I saw in Barcelona – Gaudí – was the work of such strength, such faith, of an extraordinary technical capacity, manifested during a whole life of genius; of a man who carved the stones before his eyes in well thought out pattern…. Gaudí was a great artist; only those who move the sensitive hearts of gentle people remain” – Le Corbusier (Swiss-French Architect)
The first day in Barcelona had been a rapid breakneck tour of the city that raced recklessly through history, culture, sport and sights without any real plan or semblance of sensible order. Today we intended to be more focussed and specifically we were going to visit the buildings of the renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.
Antoni Gaudi or …
Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet (to give him his full name) was an architect who belonged to the Modernist Art Nouveau movement of the early twentieth century and was famous for his unique style and highly individualistic designs. We had already come across some Gaudi creations previously on our travels, the Casa Botines in León and then El Capricho in Comillas but Gaudi didn’t do a lot more work outside of Catalonia so to see his work properly then it really has to be in Barcelona where he was prolific.
Whilst leaving his indelible mark specifically on this city at the same time he contributed his architectural legacy to the heritage to the World in general.
I mentioned before that the bus tour had taken us along the Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district of Barcelona heading for the Casa Milà when one particular building had caught our attention. It turned out to be the Casa Batlló and so this was the building that we headed towards first of all.
Casa Batlló in Barcelona…
Gaudi designed Casa Batlló in a prosperous middle class district of Barcelona for a wealthy city Aristocrat who was carrying out a complete refurbishment of the property that had originally been built in 1877.
It is a unique and fabulous building that defies any sort of description and is a place that really has to be seen to be fully appreciated. From the road outside the building looks stunning and the local name for the building is ‘casa dels ossos’, literally the house of bones, and the building has a visceral, skeletal, organic quality. Much of the façade is decorated with a mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles that begins in shades of golden orange and moves and merges harmoniously and without effort into greens and blues.
It is a wonderful riot of style and outrageous architectural ideas and designs and stepping inside is like being given the privilege of sharing the inside of the mind of a genius. Every room is a treasure store and the attention to detail is immaculate. The ground floor, in particular, is rather astonishing with tracery, irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. It seems that Gaudi’s objective was if possible to avoid straight lines completely.
My favourite part of the building was the roof with its forest of coloured chimneys decorating a terrace which is arched and is said to represent the spine of a dragon. A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the sword of Saint George the patron saint of Catalonia, which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.
Casa Milà in Barcelona…
After we left Casa Batlló we walked the short distance to the next Gaudi masterpiece, the Casa Milà and paid our entry fee to visit the exhibition rooms and the roof with its sculptured chimneys and ventilation shafts. Casa Milà reminded me of the slopes of a volcano, flowing layer upon layer like Mount Vesuvius and with more curves than Marilyn Monroe. I have to say that it didn’t excite me as much as Casa Batlló but once again I liked the roof with its decorated chimneys and from where there was a good view of the city and a clear line of sight towards our third intended visit – the Sagrada Familia.
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona…
It was quite pricey to get in but then I had to take into consideration that this is the principal source of fund-raising because the long drawn out construction is not supported financially by any of the National State of Spain, the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, the Province or City of Barcelona or the Catholic Church (it already has one Cathedral, why does it need another?)
Work on the Cathedral began in 1882 and is currently due for completion in 2026 and although I say long drawn out and nearly one hundred and fifty years may seem a very long time, to put this into some sort of perspective, you can’t really expect to build a cathedral in just a couple of years.
Building a Cathedral takes a long time…
In England York Mister took two hundred and forty-two years, but by comparison St Paul’s in London was rushed up in only thirty-one, Notre Dame in Paris took one hundred and eighty-five years, Seville in Spain one hundred and eighteen years and St Peter’s in Rome one hundred and twenty years. Even the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington, USA took forty-two years and although this might seem like snail’s pace construction all of these were positively rapid compared to Milan at five hundred and seventy-nine years and Cologne in Germany at six hundred and thirty-two years.
So we purchased our entry tickets and went inside into a surreal world of a combination of church and building site with stone and brick side by side with pews and confessional boxes and we wandered around the great nave and the side chapels and then made our way to the entrance to the lift that would take us to the top of the twin towers soaring high above the half-finished building and which took us closer to the stone carvings, the allegorical friezes and the sometimes curious selection of material used in the construction. Reaching the top the bonus was a glorious view over all of Barcelona with a riot of colourful but not especially attractive boxy buildings leading all the way down to the Mediterranean Sea.
Down again at ground level we walked through the forest of scaffolding to the main doors and then left taking time to admire the sculptured nativity scene in its prominent position between doors and spires. At first glance this all seems rather chaotic but with its avoidance of straight lines and right angles, and its forest-like columns of trees, it embodies Gaudí’s belief that construction should follow the example of nature.
The fluidity of the design creates the illusion of fusion – columns and arches melt into a viscous panorama that foams, drips and provides refuge for plants, animals and people and as we stood and admired it I hoped that although it is difficult to get inside the mind of a genius that I might at least be able to understand just a little of what it all meant.
And so our day of architectural sightseeing drew to a close, we knew all about Gaudi, hadn’t been robbed and later we went to the same restaurant where they remembered to charge us for the wine this time but to compensate for this forgot the beers. I liked this place so it was a shame that this was the end of our time in Barcelona and tomorrow we would be leaving for Girona.
More posts about Antoni Gaudi:
Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Antoni Gaudi
Twelve Treasures of Spain, La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Cantabria, Comillas and Antoni Gaudi
Click on any image below to enter the slideshow…
La Sagrada was far more building site than cathedral when we were there a few years ago. It looks as if a lot of progress has been made.
Did you see Casa Vicens while you were there? It’s probably my favourite Gaudi building after Caso Battlo, but looks really spooky.
Darn it, I missed that one!
The longer I walk this earth, the more in awe I am of what the mind can dream up and the hand that can make it a reality.
Gaudi must have been a most interesting person. All of his architecture makes me feel I am a child again and I am in wonderland. Thank you for sharing these photos, Andrew.
Well written Andrew. I have been to Barcelona on 4 different holidays and have chased muggers (in the days when I could run) and visited all the Gaudi venues.
My most memorable Gaudi masterpiece was The Parc Gruell. Just as we entered through the gates, I felt something hit my nearly bald, hatless head with formidable force. And then – horror of horrors – it started running down my face.
I stood there stunned …in both senses of the word. Larissa brought me back to reality by saying that I had been hit by a bird dropping to end all bird droppings! Just by the size of the deposit, it must have been an EAGLE, not a pigeon. And one with diarrhoea at that.
Events started to resemble a Roger Corman horror film. A veritable tsunami of bird excreta was now travelling south via my beard and moustache …with the intention of entering my mouth.
Two horrified tourists passing by, nearly passed out. They looked at me appalled and almost hostile: as though they were questioning MY personal hygiene!
God bless the third tourist who walked by though: he did not speak a word of English, but gave Larissa his packet of tissues and his unopened bottle of drinking water. She cleaned me up. Quite a job. The guy refused the 5 euro note we determinedly tried to thrust on him. Wherever that young man is today (12 years later), may the wind be in your sails my son.
So, whenever I hear the name Antonio Gaudi, I always think this: we were both hit by something horrid. His tram proved more solid than what hit me.
And I am grateful for the distinction.
At the time, mind, I bemoaned the fact that I’d been assailed by a substance not solid enough!
Good story Dai!
Wow! I had no idea it took so long to build those other cathedrals. It really puts it into perspective. Amazing, considering most people won’t wait 10 seconds for a web page to load; that we should expect dozens if not hundreds of years to construct such magnificent buildings.
I fear us humans are losing our ability to be patient in today’s digital world.
One of my greatest pleasures on my stays in NYC – I can feel another coming on, as it is long overdue – has been walking up to the Cathedral of St John The Divine on the fringes of Harlem. What a cathedral! It was started in 1892, and is still not complete, even though it is massive and equal in size to Liverpool’s huge Anglican cathedral.
The fact it is incomplete has led to wags calling it St John The Unfinished. (!!!)
I should go back there, not least because one of my heroes was recently memorialised there in their Poets Corner. I refer to the great American writer James Baldwin. (5000 people attended his funeral there in 1987, incidentally.)
Talking of men with that first name: I note that James Gandolfini’s funeral was held there recently.
Gaudi was saying: “My client is not in a hurry”.
An excellent thought – thanks Victor.
Barcelona and all the Gaudi’s buildings are fantastic! I live in the city for 3 years while I was doing my PhD research, and I studied in a spanish school in barcelona. I could visit the city lots of times and enjoy it again and again. I never got tired of walking through its streets!
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What a nice and inspiring post. I stayed in Barcelona for one year when I was young. It’s a beautiful city.
When I stayed there, one friend of mine told me a story about La Sagrada Família.
It’s was a fairytale that said that there once was a pretty daughter of a king (pretty of course 🙂 , and there was an “Important” rich man who wanted to marry her. She didn’t want to marry him at all. but she made a promise, that for her fathers sake she should marry him, but first when the Sagrada Família was finished!
As we can see she didn’t have to marry this man :-)…yet.
wow. I am not sure I have seen such beautiful buildings 🙂
I love Barcelona and I love Gaudi! Good quote by Le Corbusier.
Excellent post! Sagrada Famiglia is an incredible building. I loved reading about the Casa Batlo because while I saw the amazing facade, I didn’t get inside. Next time I hope!
Thanks for the comment. I hope you get to see it from the inside one day.
Nice emotional description of Gaudi’s heritage!
This is a great site! It has a lot of one of the things I like best – Travel.
Such a nice trip down memory lane for me, Andrew! 🙂
Part of the fun of traveling is checking out the amazing variety of architecture in each country and learning about the creative people who design these incredible structures. Thanks for sharing the photos and story about Gaudi! Anita
Great post! Casa Batlló comes right out of a fairy tale.
I think I would have to say that Casa Batlló is my favourite Gaudi house.
Thank you for bringing us right into your vacation. Oh, how I love good travel stories. I wish everyone who could afford to travel knew how to tell of their experiences as well as you.
Thanks, I appreciate that!
I love Barcelona and have visited many times, but i still haven’t been inside the Sagrada Familia. I must put that right soon.
Be sure to put it on your Christmas wish list!
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Very nice photo of the Casa Batlló Andrew. I’ve seen this house and wonder how you managed this vantage point – atop a double decker tour bus? All the best in the New Year. ~James
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What a house – in my opinion best tourist attraction in Barcelona!
I am Spanish living in Barcelona… i’m so glad reading that so many people like my city. I love travelling and I’ve been in many countries ….. but there is so much to see in the world!!!!!
I read one you comment in Crystal Trulove blog, I looked into yours… and surprise!!!! you had visited my city!
Barcelona of course, but also Catalonia!
Great post and I was also amazed at the time taken to build the other cathedrals. I love Gaudi’s creations but have never been inside either Casa. Perhaps next time. Wilbur
They are well worth a visit!
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Wow! Love your blog. The pics of the different structures are awesome…..amazing. I’ll be back.They make me want to pack a bag! Thanks for sharing. Cheers!
P.S. By the way, thanks for checking out my blog.
Thanks, I appreciate that!
Thanks for sharing, I’m going to Barcelona soon and this has given me food for thought!
I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for the comment. My bit of advice is to take the city bus tour.
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5-600 years of construction for a cathedral; explains why there’s so much emotions when we walk in – the number of hands and people and lives that have come and gone. Highly educational post, as usual. And hey, seems you’re friendly with Gaudi! 😉
I can never resist a Cathedral or a Gaudi!
I remember going to Tours Cathedral literally a life time ago, more or less, and that took so long that the bottom is Norman architecture and the very top is eighteenth century, with the other styles in between. Not exactly “thrown up” as my Dad used to say!
Tours Cathedral is very impressive. On family holidays my dad used to like to visit churches. They were never locked in the 1960s. The first Cathedral that I remember visiting is the new Coventry. I went there on a school visit probably about 1963/4 shortly after it was opened for business!
I love Sagrada Familia. I take clients there at least 3-4 times a year. And it’s amazing to me to be able to see the progress with each visit –the new stained glass, the new door…I don’t know of another place in the world where you can see this sort of ‘progress’. Another interesting fact is that the current architect overseeing the construction is very old, and they are looking for another one soon. As you saw in each aspect of the exterior, each architect leaves his mark on the sculpture of the building (since all of Gaudi’s plans were lost by the bombing during the Spanish civil war) and so the future of what the cathedral will look like is still not written!
What an amazing building, and how exciting to be part of living history.
Thanks for the additional information. I didn’t know about the lost plans!
Great Gaudi post, what an inglorious end the genius suffered! Loved the cathedral facts – it almost seemed that the new Wembley took as long!
…and I will be going there soon to see Grimsby Town!
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She bangs her head on the desk one more time. Go to Spain and decide to skip Barcelona. Really? My only excuse was that it was pre-travel writing days and I knew nothing apparently. Gaudi and I have a date in this lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, love the post and photos, as she bangs her head one more time….
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