Tag Archives: Architecture

Thursday Doors, Palau De La Musica in Barcelona

Palau De La Musica 04

The Palau is an icon of modernist architecture in the city, if there were to be an arm wrestling competition with the Gaudi experience then this would hold its own for sure.  It is an exercise in opulence, grand salons, tiled columns decorated to reflect nature and a concert hall that would surely distract any performer or spectator through a musical performance of any kind.

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Grimsby Dock Tower and The Torre del Mangia in Siena

Grimsby Dock Tower

Lincolnshire is a flat county, a great deal of it struggles to rise even above sea level and this means that any tall building can be seen for miles around.

In the south there is the Boston Stump (St Botolph’s Church, the largest Parish Church in England) in the centre there is Lincoln Cathedral (third largest Cathedral in England) and in Grimsby there is the Dock Tower.

This is a water tower built in 1852 to provide hydraulic lifting power to operate the giant lock gates of the dock. It was designed by a man called James William Wild who had visited Siena in Italy and had so admired the place that he based his design for the Grimsby Dock Tower on the Torre del Mangia tower on the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena city centre.

Torre del Mangia

This piece of Italianate architecture on the Humber Estuary may not be Portmeirion in Wales by Sir Clough William-Ellis but is a very fine building.

This is Portmeirion in a photo taken on holiday in 1985…

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At three hundred and thirty feet it is the highest building in Lincolnshire, fifty feet higher than either the Boston Stump or Lincoln Cathedral. If it were in Bristol or Newcastle or Manchester then it would be a major tourist attraction but it is in Grimsby and hardly any one visits Grimsby so not many people have seen it.

002tower2Dock Tower
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Or have they? Let me take you two hundred miles or so south to the County of Berkshire and to Legoland Windsor.

Legoland is a theme park and one of the attractions is a zone called ‘miniland’ which is basically a model of London built out of Lego bricks and here there is Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral and a whole host of other famous landmarks.

There isn’t much room for anywhere else but right there alongside the buildings of the capital is a model representing docks – not Portsmouth or Dover or Southampton but Grimsby. Grimsby! To me that is completely astounding and I can find no explanation as to why the designers of ‘miniland’ should select the remote town of Grimsby to be represented in this way, maybe they got lost on their way over from Sweden.

There are about two hundred visitors to Grimsby every year (I imagine), there isn’t even a dedicated Tourist Information Office, but there are over two million visitors to Legoland so a lot more people have visited Grimsby than they ever realise.

If, like me, you find this hard to believe then here it is…

Legoland Grimsby with key.

The Dock Tower (1), Grimsby Port Offices (2), Corporation Bridge (3) and Victoria Flour Mills (4).

In Rimini in Italy there is a theme park called Italia in Miniatura where there is a small scale model of Siena and the Torre del Mangia …

Siena in Miniature

Mini-Europe is a theme park located near Brussels in Belgium and has reproductions of monuments in the European Union on show at a scale of 1:25. Approximately eighty cities and three hundred and fifty buildings are represented and Italy is represented by six mini-models including Siena…

Siena at Mini-Europe

Travels in Spain, Barcelona and Leaving the Best Till Last

Casa De La Musica 09

‘For us, the hall ranks alongside the Musikverein in Vienna, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, or the Royal Albert Hall in London’  – Lluís Millet

Friday the 15th June was my birthday and on account of having one or two glasses of wine over what was really sensible I was surprised next morning over breakfast to find so many night time pictures in my camera of the Sagrada Familia; also, I was wearing a brand new Barcelona tee-shirt.  Wow, I must have way too many because it turned out that I had been shopping as well!

It was our last half day in Barcelona and after breakfast I walked to the tourist office and bought tickets to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palau De La Musica Catalana and on the way back to the IBIS hotel I bought another Barcelona tee-shirt and the only explanation that I have for that is that the alcohol was still working its way through my system.  I am pleased to report however that I hadn’t lost complete control of my senses or of my wallet because it was only a cheap tourist shop and not the official Sagrada Familia boutique with prices to match the height of the towers.

After packing and checking out we set out now on foot back towards the old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona which was relatively straight-forward now that we had mastered the geography of the grid system of Eixample and within half an hour or so we were close to our intended destination.  Actually, even though we had made an unscheduled stop at a market hall we were about thirty minutes early.

Palau De La Musica 06

We had bought scheduled tickets for the Palau De La Musica and this seems to be the preferred way of doing things in Barcelona these days.  There are discounts for booking on-line and a guaranteed timed visit but, maybe I am a bit old fashioned here, the system seems to rob a city visit of any spontaneity and imposes time pressures that are a bit of a burden and I found that I was forever keeping an eye on the clock I suppose that a city that has thirty-five million visitors a year needs to have some sort of organisation.  Some statistics suggest that Barcelona is the fifth most visited city in Europe after London, Paris, Rome and Prague.

So we waited for the visit to begin and the sense of expectation began to rise as we sensed that what was about to begin was going to be rather spectacular.  And we were not disappointed.

Palau De La Musica 05

The Palau is an icon of modernist architecture in the city, if there were to be an arm wrestling competition with the Gaudi experience then this would hold its own for sure.  It is an exercise in opulence, grand salons, tiled columns decorated to reflect nature and a concert hall that would surely distract any performer or spectator through a musical performance of any kind.

And at the very top of the building a great glass dome, a drop of water hanging from the ceiling like a tear from a melting icicle with reflections of the sun, a source of both light and inspiration.  Effectively, this is a large skylight, the centre of which forms an inverted dome over the rectangular auditorium, the dome is described as ‘a giant droplet just about to fall from the ceiling‘, or ‘one of the most remarkable works of stained glass art of our times’. The effect is such that the hall is claimed to be the only auditorium in Europe that is illuminated during daylight hours entirely by natural light.

Palau De La Musica 03Palau De La Musica 07

For me this was the highlight of the visit to Barcelona and we had saved the best till last.  In a city that has Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia the Palau De La Musica was easily the best of all attractions and my advice to anyone going to the city would be to make this an absolute priority visit.  It has grand architecture, a riot of colour, opulent decoration and a rich musical history.  It left me wide eyed and open mouthed, overawed and drooling.

It was fabulous and I could have stayed there all day but the tour was drawing to an inevitable close and after a final look around the ornate reception area we were back on the streets and in  our favourite bar at Plaça Catalunya making an assessment of our visit before returning to the hotel to take a taxi back to the airport and a flight home.  I was planning to pick out my top five places in Barcelona but it was impossible, I had enjoyed everything about the city and the short five day visit.  I might have to go back!

Barcelona Tee Shirt

Travels in Spain, Barcelona and The Palau De La Musica

IMG_0296Palau De La Musica 02Palau De La Musica 04Palau De La Musica 03Catalan Flag Palau De La Musica

Travels in Spain, Park Guell in Barcelona

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Travels in Spain, Casa Batlló in Barcelona

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Travels in Spain, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi

Casa Batlo Barcelona Gaudi

“Allow me to state here how much I love Barcelona, an admirable city, a city full of life, intense, a port open to the past and future.” – Le Corbusier

I don’t really like sightseeing bus tours.  It seems to me that they flash by anything worth seeing with indecent haste without stopping and then spend several minutes at red lights and busy road junctions where there is nothing of any interest to see at all.  Today however I was persuaded to take the bus tour.

Our plan was to take the bus several stops to the outskirts of the city to a place called Park Guell, another of the must see Gaudi sites in Barcelona.  Everything went according to plan until we reached the entrance and it was full and without pre-booked tickets no admission available until late afternoon.  We didn’t have pre-booked tickets so were obliged to reschedule our day and return to the bus stop.  This involved a rather steep hill and a lot of complaints.

Back on the bus we took our seats on the top deck in the sun and soon the bus started to move and joined the Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district of Barcelona and heading for Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Milà but only a short way along across the street we saw the most amazing building imaginable that also turned out to be the work of the famous architect – the Casa Batlló, recently restored as a museum and now open to the public.

We left the bus and feared that this would be another place where pre-booking is advisable but were delighted to discover that all we had to do was buy a ticket and walk straight in.  No fuss, no bother!

Casa Batlo Gaudi Barcelona

Casa Batlló is a unique and fabulous building that defies any sort of written description that can do it justice. It is a building that 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 through greens and turquoise and into blues.

Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet was a Catalan architect with a name which quite frankly is a bit of a mouthful so thankfully he is usually referred to by the simplified version of Antoni Gaudí.   He  belonged to the European Modernist Art Nouveau movement and was famous for his unique style and highly individualistic designs.  He designed Casa Batlló, in a prosperous middle class district of Barcelona for a wealthy city Aristocrat who was carrying out an expensive refurbishment of the property that had originally been built in 1877.

Casa Battlo exterior

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 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 to completely avoid straight lines and wherever possible to use nature as inspiration.

My favourite part of the building was the roof with its forest of coloured chimneys decorating a terrace which is arched and is likened by students of Gaudi to the backbone 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 Battlo Roof

Visit over and after lunch at Plaça Catalunya we returned to the bus and endured a rather tedious journey through the city and along the coast and after about an hour of this I remembered all of the reasons that I don’t like city bus tours and chastised myself for breaking my vow never to do it again.

My mind wandered as we followed the route and now I digress.  As far as I can make out there are seven places in the World called Barcelona, this one of course then three in South America, in Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil, one in the Philippines, one in New York State USA and most unlikely of all a small hamlet in Cornwall, England.

Eventually we arrived back at Park Guell and climbed a grueling hill for the second time today to the entrance.  Park Guell is the architect’s vision of a Barcelona middle class housing development far away from the grime of the industrial city and the fishing port and we presented our tickets and made our way inside.

Barcelona dragonIMG_0022

Actually the whole project turned out to be rather overly ambitious and the houses that were planned were never built but before it was abandoned Gaudi designed and built the infrastructure of roads, terraces and parks and he did himself live there for twenty years before his death in a house that is now the Gaudi House Museum.  After Park Guell Gaudi had another project to move onto – La Sagrada Familia.

Like a lot of artistic people Gaudi tended towards eccentricity and because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, many cab drivers refused to pick him up as he walked about the city for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare.

On 7th June 1926 Gaudi was rather carelessly run over by a tram and because no one recognised him he was taken to a pauper’s hospital.  His friends found him the next day but when they tried to move him into a better hospital, Gaudi refused, reportedly saying “I belong here among the poor.”  He died three days later on and was buried in the crypt of his Cathedral, La Sagrada Família.

Antoni Gaudi Comillas Cantabria Spain

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Travels in Spain, Barcelona and the Sagrada Familia

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“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…” – Le Corbusier (Swiss Architect)

We had been to Barcelona before but didn’t hesitate for a moment to go again.  It might be the pickpocket capital of Spain, maybe even Europe, but a couple of months earlier we had survived a few days in Naples without any thieving mishaps so felt confident that we could handle ourselves in Barcelona.

We arrived in the afternoon and completely out of character hopped in a taxi to take us the short ride to our accommodation, the budget hotel IBIS in Eixample which claimed to be close to the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Cathedral of the Catalan genius architect Antoni Gaudi.  We were not to be disappointed because it was only a five minute easy stroll away.

After approving our rooms we walked there immediately but couldn’t go inside to visit because it was sold out for the day so we had to satisfy ourselves with a walk around the exterior and then booking some entrance tickets for later in the week.

Sagrada Familia Detail

It was quite pricey to get in but then this is the principal source of fund raising because the long drawn out construction is not supported financially by the National State of Spain, the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, the Province or City of Barcelona or even the Catholic Church (it points out that it already has one Cathedral in Barcelona, why does it need another?)  The only source of income is visitor receipts and construction costs are currently estimated at €1 million a month.  That is a lot of visitors.

Work on the Cathedral began in 1882 and it is 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 – except perhaps for the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City which was built in just two years but, if you ask me, doesn’t really look like a Cathedral in the traditional  sense – so I am not counting it (it’s my blog!)

So just how long does it take to build a Cathedral?

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 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 – a shame then you might think that Allied bombers knocked it down in the space of just a few nights during the Second-World-War!

St_Michael's_Cathedral_ruins,_Coventry

I digress here but the bombing story reminded me that the German Luftwaffe similarly destroyed Coventry Cathedral in 1940 in just one bombing raid.  This Cathedral with the third highest spire in England after Salisbury and Norwich had taken sixty years to build between 1373 and 1433 which I suppose you might consider quite quick, but not as rapid as the new Coventry Cathedral which was built in only six years and which, in a national poll in the 1990s, was voted Britain’s favourite twentieth century building.

I remember going there on a school visit in about 1964.

Back now to Barcelona.

So we purchased our entry tickets and went inside into a surreal world of a combination of church and building site with pallets of stone and brick side by side with pews and confessional boxes and we wandered around the great nave and the side chapels through soaring arches that look like giant trees with a fluidity of the design that 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 like Gaudi that I might at least be able to understand just a little of what it all meant.

Sagrada Familia 02

As it happens, I am not certain about what I think about Sagrada Familia. It confuses me. It is a piece of Disney World.  Although it was consecrated as a Minor Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 (there are currently one thousand seven hundred and fifty Catholic Minor Basilicas and including the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona has nine) I am unsure if this is a place of worship or a Barcelona theme park.  George Orwell said it was “one of the most hideous buildings in the world” .

When the final stone is set in place, the Sagrada Família will be the world’s tallest church, soaring five hundred and sixty feet into the sky. Second highest (currently first) will be Ulm Cathedral in Germany at five hundred and thirty feet high and Lincoln Cathedral in England (currently second) is five hundred and twenty-five.  It will also be the strangest looking and possibly the most controversial place of worship ever built on such an epic scale. Looking for all the world like a cluster of gigantic stone termites’ nest or perhaps a petrified forest, this hugely ambitious church has confounded architects, critics and historians ever since its unprecedented shape became apparent.

Sagrada Familia Statues

Looking ahead I wonder if after completion in 2026 (maybe?) the tourists can be kept away and it can become a genuine Temple of Worship? Currently it is the second most visited place in Spain after the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Will they ever stop that?  Personally, I doubt it. Currently attendance at Mass at Sagrada Familia requires an invitation, rather like the Queen’s Garden Parties in the UK.

When complete, the Basilica will boast no fewer than eighteen spires – eight have been built so far, twelve representing Christ’s apostles, four the evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), one the Blessed Virgin Mary and the tallest, Christ the Saviour

It is a magnificent but ultimately pointless building that I suspect will never achieve its original objective. I preferred the Gothic Cathedral in Barcelona Old Town which we visited a few days later.

Maybe I am just old fashioned and I am reminded of my Dad’s negative reaction to the church in the village where we lived when they started serving afternoon tea and cakes, he was outraged that the Vicar would think about turning a church into a café. It is probably a Starbucks now.

I am getting to be like my Dad but that is not such a bad thing!

Sagrada Familia at Night

Building A Cathedral

Sagrada Familia Cathedral Barcelona

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, 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.

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Durham Cathedral Door Knocker

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art

Riga Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was an international architectural style that flourished for only  a relatively brief period in Europe between 1880 and 1914.  It was an elaborate statement of increasing bourgeois wealth and influence and a rejection of the aristocratic stoic classicism that had previously dominated.

This period happily coincided with a time of growth and prosperity in Riga, which by 1900 had become the third largest city in the Russian Empire after Moscow and St. Petersburg and it has over eight hundred fine examples of Art Nouveau buildings across the city.  These are the legacy of Latvian Romanticism, which was the classical era of Latvian culture that made Riga one of the European centres of Art Nouveau.

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