Tag Archives: Architecture

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

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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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Spanish Islands, Lanzarote

Lanzarote Postcard Multi Picture

What now seems an awful long time ago I used to like going on holiday to the Canary Islands, that agreeable part of Spain which is located just off the north-western African coast and in December 1983, before I was even thirty years old, I flew to Lanzarote with a group of friends with the intention of having a pre-Christmas party week in the sun.

We landed at a sunny but windy Arrecife airport around about mid-morning and the Cosmos holiday transport then drove us the short distance to our accommodation in the resort of Puerto del Carmen.  I liked it immediately with its low level construction, natural building materials and the paintwork everywhere a uniform green, in complimentary harmony with the environment and the landscape.  At this point my only previous visit to Spain had been to Benidorm on the Costa Blanca and this place was in total contrast to the high rise world that I was to a certain extent anticipating.

The explanation for this building restraint is the achievement of the artist and architect Cesar Manrique who was born in Arrecife in 1919.  He was passionate about his island and successfully lobbied the local authorities to introduce building controls which prevented the excesses of neighbouring Gran Canaria and Tenerife which from the 1960s on were busy trying to emulate the costas of the mainland in an orgy of high rise concrete and steel construction.  Manrique had a major influence on the planning regulations in Lanzarote, when he recognised its tourist potential and lobbied successfully to encourage sympathetic development of tourism.

Lanzarote Postcard 1983

As a result of this sustainable development, ten years or so after my visit, Lanzarote was named a UNESCO biosphere site which is a status that is awarded in recognition that a place can demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature and of the 621 biosphere sites around the world, Lanzarote is the only entire island to win the prestigious classification.

The UNESCO website praises the island’s ecological charms, including a profusion of unique and endangered species and it praises the way that “…the idea of mass tourism was rejected and, under the influence of the celebrated local artist César Manrique, priority has been given to blend tourist infrastructure with the beautiful but inhospitable environment.”

I am going to fast-forward now for a short while because sadly there are always corrupt people who are prepared to take advantage of these opportunities and recently Lanzarote has been rocked by building scandals and corruption and since May 2009, police have arrested at least twenty-four politicians and businessmen, including the former president of the Lanzarote provincial government and the former mayor of Arrecife in connection with illegal building permits that have led UNESCO to threaten withdrawal of the status if the concept has been compromised.  The Canary Island Supreme Court has declared that twenty-four hotels have been illegally built in coastal resorts such as Playa Blanca, eight of which are modern luxury hotels that qualified for a total of €23.6m in EU grants, partly thanks to the biosphere status. The EU anti-corruption office has demanded the money be returned.

Anyway, back now to 1983 and after we had settled into our first floor apartment we wasted no time in getting familiar with the bars of Puerto del Carmen and we took a stroll along the rather untidy promenade behind the black sand beach and found somewhere for lunch and in the afternoon, encouraged by the fine weather we made our way to the sand and spent some time swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.  I expect Puerto del Carmen has changed rather a lot in thirty years but then it was small and friendly and we enjoyed ourselves there.

Fuerteventura Cofete 01

After a couple of days of visiting the beach and sitting around in bars we decided to do some sightseeing around the island so we walked into the commercial area of Puerto Del Carmen and found a car hire office with the sort of prices that suited our budget – cheap – and you only get what you pay for of course because being at the lower end of the scale we were allocated a clapped out old grey/blue Daihatsu Jeep which regardless of the fact that it was completely worn out seemed perfect for what we had in mind.

First things first though and after taking possession of the rattling bone shaker we had to quickly find a garage because the fuel indicator needle was hovering menacingly somewhere just below empty!  This seemed to irritate my brother Richard more than the rest of us and he immediately declared an intention to take it back in the same state.  We found a petrol station put a small amount of fuel in the tank and drove out of the town towards the arid stretch of black lava fields, glittering salt marshes and sweeping coastal mountains beyond.

Lanzarote island map postcard

Catalonia, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi

Barcelona Gaudi Postcard

“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.

Antoni Gaudi and me

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.

Casa Batlo Barcelona Gaudi

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.

Casa Mila Gaudi Barcelona Catalonia

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.

Sagrada Familia Cathedral Barcelona

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.

Gaudi Casa Batlo Barcelona Catalonia Spain

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

Casa Batlló, Barcelona

Park Guell, Barcelona

Gaudi Dragon Park Guell

Twelve Treasures of Spain – La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Sagrada Familia Cathedral Barcelona

“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)

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain

was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited.  Tenth in the competition and the final Cathedral in the list is the unfinished Gaudi masterpiece Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

We travelled to Barcelona in 2005 before I had really heard about or fully appreciated the architecture of Antoni Gaudi so this place came as a real surprise.  On a sightseeing day we were walking along the Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district of Barcelona and heading for the Casa Milà, which some might say is Gaudi’s most famous creation, when across the street we saw the most amazing building that I have ever seen that turned out to be the Casa Batlló.

We visited the Casa Batlló and then with heads swimming from the architectural experience and lesson moved on to Casa Milà where from the roof, along one of Barcelona’s long straight Avenues we could see La Sagrada Familia just over a kilometre away – so that was where we went next.

I remember that 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 the Catholic Church.

La Sagrada Familia Barcelona  Sagrada Familia Barcelona Catalonia Spain

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 Medieval 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.  Even the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington 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 – 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!

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.

Antoni Gaudi Comillas Cantabria Spain

But 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 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 and 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 sea front.

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 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.

Sagrada Familia Barcelona Catalonia Spain

More posts about Antoni Gaudi:

Catalonia, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Antoni Gaudi

Cantabria, Comillas and Antoni Gaudi

Casa Batlló, Barcelona

Park Guell, Barcelona

Portugal, Bom Jesus do Monte

Bom Jesus do Monte

The plan now was to drive north to the City of Braga and visit the park of Bom Jesus do Monte and although this was only a short journey this wasn’t nearly as straight forward as it should have been.

Tired of paying motorway toll charges I decided to take the old road instead which runs close by and often parallel.  What made this so difficult was the curious system of road signs that the Portuguese have.  One minute you are happily following signs to a destination and then suddenly, usually at a roundabout or busy junction, they simply disappear and taking the right option becomes a bit of a lottery.  It was all too confusing so after only a short while I abandoned the old road and found a way back to the motorway.

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